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倫敦:全球科技創新新熱點
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根據近期預估,2009年至今,倫敦的科技及資訊業就業人數增加11%,速度為先前的3倍。上個財務年度,創投投資亦增為3倍,達12億美元。研究者認為,接下來10年,倫敦的科技勞動力每年可望成長5%。

聚集於東倫敦的新創企業享有許多利益,倫敦對跨國企業極具吸引力,也正是因為這些利益。倫敦位於美國和亞洲之間,適合需要前往世界各地的創業者;英國為歐盟成員,表示企業可以雇用歐洲大陸的人才。此外,英國人還特別喜愛網路:人均線上購物支出約比美國人高50%。
倫敦已經成為金融科技中心,但倫敦的創意能量也同樣有價值;加州的遊戲製作人霍金斯(Trip Hawkins)就表示,他最新創立的遊戲公司會在東倫敦設點,就是為了觸及英國作家和設計師。
另一項重大誘因則是政府支持。政府已經為投資人提供稅務減免、讓部分外國企業家能更容易取得簽證;包括首相卡麥隆在內的資深政治人物,也不斷向外國企業家強調倫敦的優勢。
不過,此產業的成功也帶來新的疑慮。辦公空間成本上升可能會扼死新創企業,英國房東比較喜歡長期合約,亦不利於成長快速、不確定未來需求的公司。資本競爭變得更加激烈,此外,英國投資人可能較為缺乏耐心,不願投入科技企業需要的長期賭注。
不過,員工難尋才是最大的問題。部分原因在於英國頂尖大學缺乏科技畢業生,但那同時也是移民限制帶來的後果;英國雖然歡迎創業家,卻也難以雇請來自美國、印度、中國等地的優秀人才。
英國政府試圖解決此問題;自9月開始,學校都得教小孩寫程式,但那得等上好幾年才能提供新的軟體人才。放寬簽證規範會有幫助,但由於民眾不滿移民,加上選舉即將到來,目前實在難以推動重大改革。政治人物還在其他方面幫倒忙,例如推動其他城市的科技產業、進而吸走倫敦的資源等。
英國大企業可以提供協助,但總體觀之,美、日、中的企業,比英國企業更願意資助、收購英國科技企業。此時此刻,英國企業應該有所改變才是。(黃維德編譯)

Startups
Jammin’ in the capital
London’s creative talents have unleashed a wave of innovative technology firms
Jun 21st 2014
BENEATH a railway arch in a grubby corner of east London, the staff of Roli are making a peculiar musical instrument. The Seaboard, as the technology company’s creation is called, resembles an electric piano. But instead of keys it has a rubbery, touch-sensitive strip that is pulled and stretched with the fingers to produce a startling array of sounds. On sale since last autumn, the instrument costs up to £5,000 ($9,000) and is a big hit—would-be Seaboard players must wait up to a year to get their hands on one. Roli’s American founder, Roland Lamb, says it takes a zingy sort of a city to develop such technologies. “There is a very short list of places we could do this in,” he says. “And London is near the top.”
Roli is one of several thousand thrusting young firms being feted in London Technology Week, a showcase of British ingenuity that is due to end on June 20th. Since 2009 employment in the capital’s technology and information businesses has grown by 11%, according to a recent estimate, which represents a threefold acceleration. Funding from venture-capital firms has also tripled (see chart), to $1.2 billion in the last financial year. That is fuelling optimism. Researchers at Oxford Economics think the city’s tech workforce could grow by 5% a year for a decade.
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Clustered in the east of the city, London’s startups draw on many of the same benefits that make the British capital so appealing to multinationals. Its location, between America and Asia, makes a handy base for globetrotting entrepreneurs; EU membership means firms can hire whizz-kids from across the continent. But Britons are also unusually keen on the internet: per person they spend about 50% more on online shopping than Americans.
The chance to hobnob with executives from London’s maturer industries is another advantage. Proximity to the City has made the capital a hub for financial technology, but its creative nous is as valuable. Investors in Silicon Valley do not much care for fashion, says Chris Morton of Lyst, an online retailer in Hoxton which makes most of its sales in America. Trip Hawkins, a Californian video-game producer, says access to British writers and designers is a reason his latest company, which makes games for children, has digs in Shoreditch. For many startups, hiring clever marketers is now as crucial as snagging good programmers.
The third major draw is an enthusiastic government, which has provided tax breaks for investors and made it easy for some foreign entrepreneurs to get visas. In April Just Eat, a website that helps takeaways to sell food online, became the first company to list on the London Stock Exchange’s high-growth segment, which makes it unusually easy for a young firm to sell shares. Senior politicians—including David Cameron, the Conservative prime minister and Boris Johnson, the Tory mayor of London, are forever trumpeting the city’s benefits to entrepreneurs abroad.
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Not your correspondent’s office
Yet the industry’s success is leading to new worries. The rising cost of office space risks strangling young firms; it is already diluting clusters by dispersing startups to the capital’s more affordable suburbs. It does not help that British landlords, unlike American ones, favour long-term contracts, which disadvantage fast-growing companies unsure of their future needs.
Competition for capital is also getting fiercer. “Firms that would have been funded 18 months ago are not getting investments now,” says Tim Kay of KPMG, an accounting firm with an office in Shoreditch. While seed money is copious, bankrolling later growth is especially tricky. This reflects a long-standing concern that Britain’s investors are too impatient for the long bets that technology companies require.
But entrepreneurs’ biggest difficulty is finding staff. The problem is partly a paucity of technology graduates from Britain’s top universities. But it is also the result of restrictive immigration policies, which have put London at a disadvantage compared with rival cities such as Berlin. While welcoming to entrepreneurs, Britain is too inaccessible to the clever dicks from America, India and China that the industry needs. This has left many posts unfilled—and they will multiply if, as expected, new operations planned by Facebook and Google start hoovering up the existing talent.
Poor, priced-out geeks
The government is taking some measures to resolve the problem. From September schools will be obliged to teach children programming, but it will be many years before this provides new software engineers. Relaxing the visa rules would—but big reforms there are currently unimaginable, given great public hostility to immigration and an election looming. Politicians are causing harm in other ways, too. A bid to boost tech in other cities is diverting resources from London. By promising a referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU, Mr Cameron has also raised the shadow of a withdrawal from the union that could devastate the industry.
Britain’s big companies could provide a steadier sort of help—if they would only grasp the opportunity. Barclays, a bank, is funding several startups in Whitechapel; on June 15th a gaggle of large companies, including Virgin Media and British Airways, promised to train up to 2,000 technology apprentices. But such cases are exceptional. By and large companies from America, Japan and China have proved readier to finance and acquire young British tech firms than British ones have. It is time they changed their tune.