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TechWorks remodels itself to avoid a Techxit

Concern over a post-Brexit brain drain has led UK electronics-industry group NMI to rework its operation and relaunch as TechWorks.

“We will have a Techxit on top of Brexit if we don’t do something,” said Sir Hossein Yassaie, TechWorks chairman and former Imagination Technologies CEO, at the launch event.

Yassaie pointed to the loss of engineers to work and form technology companies in the US as a concern for UK industry. In one case he cited, some 40 per cent of graduates on a computer sciences course at the University of Oxford went to work across the Atlantic, with just seven per cent remaining to work in technology in the UK.

“Maybe we haven’t been able to create a Google or Apple, yet. But we have the underlying ability to do that,” Yassaie said. “Four of the top 25 universities and research institutes worldwide are British. For a country of our size, that’s pretty good going. We have a lot of talent in the UK.”

The problem, Yassaie said, is “we create this talent, but we lose a lot of it to the US. I’m one of those people who is not happy about ARM being acquired by a foreign investor. We need big UK technology companies that are here for the long term and can make a big impact”.

Yassaie pointed to the “deep tech” areas of artificial intelligence and machine vision as areas that TechWorks wants to support in the UK, as well as 5G mobile and high-density microelectronics. “I believe next-generation AI engines will need new processors that use new ways to combine computation with memory. There is is still a long way to go; a lot of complexities that require addressing.”

The current situation sees industrial investment in R&D in the UK falling behind its peers. Yassaie pointed to the OECD’s study of worldwide R&D spending as a percentage of national GDP. The UK has not increased R&D intensity since the late 1990s and is now behind China. Germany, Israel, Japan, Korea are all leading the UK. “This is something that, especially with Brexit, we need to pick up on. Israel and Korea are doing much better than us.”

As part of its reorganisation, TechWorks has brought several private-equity chiefs onto its board, including Hermann Hauser, co-founder of Amadeus Capital Partners.

“One of the changes being made by TechWorks is to bring the financial community in and have them more actively involved,” Yassaie said.

One of the early initiatives being launched by Techworks that aims at encouraging UK-based engineers to stay is the Future Leaders Network, an experiment in helping younger engineers to build up contacts that will allow them to form and run more successful startups.

Derek Boyd, chief executive of TechWorks, said: “We have to do more to help the talent that comes into our industry.”

Keno Mario-Ghae of Imagination Technologies, who won Young Engineer of the Year at NMI’s awards ceremony last autumn, has kickstarted the pilot project with six other millennial engineers from UK industry. The aim, said Mario-Ghae, is to “build a peer-to-peer network that goes with your career through to the end. One that supports collaboration and the sharing of ideas and lets us learn from those who have gone before us”.

Mario-Ghae added: “The idea is for it to be self-led: by young people for young people.”

The aim in the short term is to build a network of around 20 that can form links with industry mentors, who can provide a warts-and-all picture of running technology firms, before scaling up to a much larger organisation supported by online tools and social media.

Mario-Ghae stressed the experimental nature of the network and that the pilot would help them find the right structure for the network.

TechWorks itself represents a larger-scale experiment into how a national industry can try to organise itself into a better position despite the turmoil imposed by a change such as Brexit.

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