To Survive And Thrive After Brexit, Britain Needs to Become Silicon Valley | Opinion

Technology is the strategic power - hard and soft - of the future. This makes it even more concerning to me—an Italian entrepreneur based in London—that the UK and Europe is lagging behind. I hope that one of the unintended consequences of Brexit will be a stronger tech sector in Britain, with London becoming Europe's Silicon Valley and even competing with its counterpart in California.

Investing in tech is not a choice, it is a necessity. As the looming crisis of automation threatens to destroy 1 in 5 jobs by 2030, policymakers are struggling to envisage how a cohesive society can still function with such high rates of unemployment. Like many other challenges facing politics and society in liberal democracies, it is likely to be made more, not less, complicated by Brexit.

But if tech is the cause of the problem, tech can also provide a solution, creating jobs to offset automation's mass unemployment.

And it can secure Britain's global standing at a time when it is under threat from newly assertive players in Brussels, DC, Beijing, and even Moscow.

This cuts across both hard and soft power. Increasingly, tech companies are an indispensable part of the intelligence and defense industries—areas where Britain has traditionally played a leading role.

There are also huge soft power gains in the "digital diplomacy" that comes from dominating global electronic media.

These are strategic strengths that are being enjoyed by the United States with its tech capital in Silicon Valley, China with Shenzhen and even Russia with its Skolkovo project, headed by oligarch Viktor Vekselberg.

But Europe in general, and Britain in particular, seem unaware of what they are missing out on. And this error may be worsened by a hard and fast Brexit, which has become more likely as Brexiteer Boris Johnson takes over as prime minister.

I hope that Brexit's "creative destruction" will lead to Britain finally showing due recognition of the tech sector, and supporting it with as much vigor as it has protected out-dated industries in recent years.

London is set to become Europe's tech capital. It already has a highly educated, multilingual workforce: I employ native speakers of 10 languages, servicing overseas clients from Cologne to Kuala Lumpur.

Tech companies like mine are Britain's "invisible exporters," selling British services around the world and bringing in millions in foreign revenue. Global demand for these exports will increase significantly if the value of the post-Brexit pound drops—something that is almost certain. This will be even more pronounced for highly specialised providers with demonstrable expertise. These could be digital agencies like mine, or high-tech manufacturers like Jaguar's electric car division (which has committed to remaining in the UK.)

Brexit, of course, will make life harder for many firms like mine: the immigration and export controls that are likely to accompany Britain's exit from the EU will decimate many industries, and mine will not be untouched.

It's precisely because of those issues that the tech sector is our only hope. Immigration controls will make it harder to recruit employees like low skilled workers for manufacturing, but computer programmers and digital marketers can work remotely from their home countries and still be an integral part of a UK team.

Similarly with import-export controls, services like digital marketing are technically British exports since a digital marketing agency or software company in London is "exporting" its services to a foreign country. But since there is no movement of physical goods, this allows Britain to gain foreign income, even if physical trade becomes more difficult.

Brexit is exasperating for the vast majority of UK-based entrepreneurs, but particularly for EU nationals like myself. The only consolation is that the new economy will bring as many opportunities as it does challenges. Seizing this opportunity will mean a culture shift in the UK, across economic policy, entrepreneurship, and education.

Whereas EU subsidies focused on sectors like farming and manufacturing, post-Brexit Britain will have to divert resources into digital startups. Although there are clear political interests to protecting farms and factories, it is time for Britain to realise that some industries are firmly rooted in the past, and some belong to the future.

This can reinvigorate Britain's entrepreneurship culture, especially if the education around technology changes. Many Information Technology classes in school are painfully out of date and simply don't give tech the place it deserves in any modern syllabus.

In India, toddlers are learning to code before they learn to talk. It's a language—and a worldview—Britain will need to quickly learn if it wants to thrive.

Luca Senatore is CEO of Genie Goals, and author of "The Agency: Build - Grow - Repeat"

The views expressed in this article are the author's own.​​​​​

To Survive And Thrive After Brexit, Britain Needs to Become Silicon Valley | Opinion | Opinion