London's Deputy Mayor on growing businesses in the capital

03 January 2018

There are fears that Brexit will undermine London’s dominance in financial services and harm other areas of the economy. However, Deputy Mayor Rajesh Agrawal is not daunted – he sees opportunities and growth potential for both fintech and other businesses.

Is there one event that you can say shaped you and your career above all others? Was it ‘right place, right time’ or hard work?

One of the reasons I’m so passionate about helping London’s entrepreneurs and small businesses to grow is because this is a city which gave me such a fantastic opportunity to start and grow my own business.

Coming to London was a huge step, possibly the single biggest event which has shaped my career. I arrived here more than 15 years ago, from Indore in India, with just £200 in my pocket and within a few years I was able to launch my fintech start-up from my laptop. Luck might be a factor in some businesses succeeding, but hard work is essential. The fact I am now proud to be London’s Deputy Mayor for Business demonstrates the kinds of opportunities on offer in this great city.

How would you describe the market and potential for companies looking to start and scale?

I know first-hand the challenges small business owners face. The Mayor and I are determined to do everything we can to support them. That’s why we’re supporting the London Growth Hub, which connects London’s entrepreneurs with the support to help them start, scale and grow their businesses.

The Mayor’s promotional agency London & Partners delivers the Business Growth Programme to support the life sciences, tech, creative, media and telecommunications sectors, while the Mayor’s International Business Programme helps London’s businesses expand overseas.

London is the greatest place in the world to start and grow a business but there are unique challenges, not least high property costs. We are working to increase the availability of affordable workspaces and are promoting London’s world- leading creative sector. We have also launched a property advice service under the London Growth Hub to help small businesses find affordable workspace.

What are the growth opportunities for the next generation of fintech companies?

London provides access to more software developers than Stockholm, Berlin and Dublin combined. It is also home to Europe’s largest fintech 
accelerators like Barclays RISE, Level 39 and the FinTech Innovation Lab.

What’s more, the city is a centre of excellence for education, research and innovation. Combined with a strong science base, first-class infrastructure, access to finance and ties with the business world, the capital is the best place for a fintech business to grow.

From speaking to businesses across different sectors, one of their key concerns is their access to talent. As long as London can access the best and brightest – which is one of the key things which must be considered by the government as they continue Brexit negotiations – they will continue to thrive. However, if their access is constrained this will have a real impact.

In 2016, your Brexit strategy was described as a ‘three-part plan’: business gets a seat at negotiations, passporting rights secured and access to European talent is kept open. Have the events of the last year changed this at all?

There can be no doubt that this year’s General Election result moved the goalposts as far as Brexit is concerned. It showed the public have no appetite for an extreme, hard Brexit that would lead to a clean break from the European Single Market and the unnecessary economic hardship that would bring.

Alongside that, European capitals are competing for chunks of London’s business and there is a threat of losing our Euro clearing business. As such, we’re calling for continued membership of the Single Market and for the government to secure a Brexit deal which protects jobs and growth in London and across the whole of the UK.

In the light of Brexit, should British entrepreneurs be focusing on the local market, international opportunities or both?

Businesses crave certainty but, unfortunately, certainty is in short supply. London is home to many entrepreneurs who trade internationally and membership of the Single Market after we leave the European Union is something businesses need greater clarity on . Until they have that, it’s to be expected they’ll be looking at ways to retain access to important overseas markets
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