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The Takeaway Economy

Don’t even mention WorldCom, but the overwhelming sense of gloom and doom in the technology sector is pervasive. In a week where all my friends seemed to be saying much the same thing, regardless of the size of company in which they work. If there’s any light at the end of the tunnel, none of them can see it yet, as they see their marketing budgets slashed and the treat of redundancy or more redundancies hanging over their businesses.

What saddens me most, is that we have some really shining examples of technology left in this country which aren’t yet owned by the Americans and yet the investment climate is now so poor that I know of one or two which are on the verge of closing-up or selling the business for a song because they simply cannot raise any investment capital. It strikes me that if Bill Gates were to write a personal reference for a small UK technology company today, the City would still reject the idea. “Gates, he’s American, what does he know”?

You can’t blame the bankers after they saw companies like Baltimore raised to almost divine status on market sentiment and crash into a small dark puddle of loose change when the Internet bubble burst.

What’s doubly sad is that in the race to become a leading information economy, we are becoming more of an outlet for some other large country’s technology franchise. A kind of software McDonalds hanging off the edge of Europe. Perhaps I’m just being old and cynical, thinking back to the days of drinking the occasional glass of wine with Clive Sinclair at Draycotts in Chelsea. I remember asking him once: “Have you ever thought of connecting a dozen or so Spectrums together to make one large computer”? I think we call it P2P today or even networking but then it was rather ahead of its time and anyway, the idea for the C5 car beckoned!

So, with little or no money for investment, the state of our home-grown industry goes from bad to worse and the best people sell themselves and their ideas, in other countries where the chances of finding support are greater. Personally, I believe Government needs a wakeup call. Stop drowning small business in new paperwork, like the Class 1A NIC in front of me and reward and support entrepreneurs and ideas in the technology sector. The alternative is a knowledge economy with very little knowledge of its own, and a feeling, echoed by many of the smaller software companies I have spoken with, that their contribution to our future is a polite irrelevance.

Being an information economy means rather more than choosing and using somebody else’s software. Wouldn't you agree?


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