Tech Trailblazers x LNETM – 2020 Showcase
Chief Trailblazer at the Tech Trailblazers Awards
Happy new year from Tech Trailblazers and LNETM!
As would be expected from a collaboration between LNETM and Tech Trailblazers, a real range of interesting topics were covered on Monday night. I moderated a fireside chat with judges of the Tech Trailblazers awards (Dave Cartwright, Jennifer Stevens, and Dr Jacqui Taylor) which covered important topics of inclusion, diversity, and sustainability. Then, we heard from the 2020 Tech Trailblazers finalists, whose start-ups are revolutionising various areas of tech.
2021 is to be the tenth year of Tech Trailblazers; so, what better time to look both back to see what we’ve learnt, and forward to think about what’s to come?
The evening’s discussion started with a simple question: what’s next? I asked the panel of Tech Trailblazer judges, who are at the heart of the tech start-up scene, what trends they can see emerging.
Jennifer pointed out the impact of AI and Machine Learning, and the effect they’ll have on cybersecurity. Clearly, this is a top trend in start-up enterprise tech today, as many of the flash talks from 2020 finalists focused on this.
Social Conscience and Societal Force
What was clear from all three panellists was a long-overdue focus emerging in regard to social/ethical factors and the tech world. Jacqui noted the UK’s recently vowed commitment to duty of care and an ethical approach, as it enters its G7 presidency, whereas Dave pointed out his company’s deliberate efforts to forge links with women-in-tech leaders. Whilst both expressed a dislike for quotas and the need for a conscious effort towards inclusion, both also expressed its importance – Jacqui takes a different lead to the quota approach, and defines greater inclusion as a huge growth opportunity for the technology industry. Similarly, Jennifer pointed out that diverse teams lead to diverse thought and perspectives, and stated that this is the only effective way to tackle the diverse problems any start-up will face.
The impact of the Covid-19 crisis on this goal of inclusion, has been palpable. The panel focused largely on the topic of women in tech, and highlighted that a large proportion of people leaving their jobs during the pandemic have been women, i.e. mums leaving their jobs, as they found them to be incompatible with the new responsibilities of home-schooling.
Dave’s point of view was that Green Tech is finally starting to get on track to where it should be; in fact, a new ‘green tech’ category has been added to an award that he is currently judging, demonstrating the emerging prominence of this focus.
Green tech, according to Cartwright, has two main goals to work towards: environmental power solutions, and eco-friendly disposal of old tech.
What was clear from both the fireside chat and the flash talk presentations, is that the shift to the virtual world (largely accelerated by the Covid-19 crisis) is not a temporary one. Digital transformation is a primary focus for a huge majority of both tech and non-tech companies.
Styra, one of the evening’s presenters and a Tech Trailblazers 2020 finalist, focuses on authorisation in the cloud-native environment. Due to the mass transition from local servers to the cloud, there are suddenly millions more access points to an organisation’s data, and the risk factor is catapulted from somewhere in the millions of dollars, to the billions. Thus, there is a huge opening for tech which focuses on security in the cloud-native, virtual environment.
Similarly, Abnormal Security focus on email security and how demands have changed since the move to Office 365 or G-Suite. Bringing things back to the earlier point of AI and ML in cybersecurity, Abnormal Security uses advanced behavioural profiling to identify new threats.
So, if that’s what’s to come, how can we learn from the past to succeed in these exciting new spaces? Again, I asked our expert panel: what are the key lessons that you’ve learnt from your work in start-ups?
Tackling the skills gap
Times change – in tech, times change fast. No matter what, we’re all always catching up with the changes in the industry, so the skills gap is always going to exist; knowledge must evolve with the evolution of the industry. The flash talks from both Memverge and Bamboo made this very clear, as they begin to alter the very architecture of the tech world, we must all keep up-to-date. Tony from Bamboo systems pointed out that, whilst the server market has been dominated by Intel for decades, they’ve taken their eye off the ball. Whilst applications of server tech have changed, the architecture of Intel has remained the same – now Bamboo is here to shake things up.
Similarly, Jacqui pointed out the changes in funding models, and what a start-up needs to be successful. One model does not fit all, and what worked three years ago is unlikely to work today. Jennifer framed this as being ready to change with the market – having a plan, but being flexible to adapt it.
Less is more
Due to the effects of the pandemic, people do not bump into potential investors or customers at networking events anymore; it’s much more difficult to get someone to commit to a half-hour Zoom call, than it would have been to have a chat over a drink. The effect of this is a renewed importance of having a laser focus on the value of your product.
This laser focus also becomes helpful when it comes to hiring and funding: this means hiring deliberately, for exactly what and who you need, and only taking the amount of investment that you actually need.
Similarly to Jennifer’s point of only taking what funding you need, Dave quoted a CEO friend’s sage advice: “Now that we’ve got this money in the bank, we need to be more frugal than ever.” I.e. once you get the funding, don’t go crazy spending it all.
He also pointed out that, of course, money is a massively common barrier to entry, but you have to ask yourself: why is no one else doing this yet? Is it because the idea is not financially viable or profitable?
In a similar vein, Jacqui strongly urged start-ups to adopt the ‘bootstrapping’ mentality that she herself has always employed. “Money comes with strings” and organic growth is the most successful way to start a company. Though organic growth won’t always be the best model, it’s important to consider why you need the funding that you’re chasing.
Bearing in mind these points of advice and lessons learned, I look forward to this year’s (the tenth year!) Tech Trailblazers awards – perhaps we will see these future predictions become reality, and perhaps some of this wisdom will come into play too.
All in all, the event was insightful, with both a panel and an audience chock full of fascinating, experienced veterans of the enterprise tech space. The next two LNETM events are scheduled for the 22nd February and 22nd March – I’ve marked those days on my calendar already, and I suggest that you do the same!