Could Dublin become Europe's post-Brexit tech hub?

UK faces battle to keep position as Europe's premier tech hub once it leaves EU

As the dust of Britain's vote to exit the EU may be beginning to settle, the most pressing question for the tech industry is 'what happens now?'.

Brexit has called the country's standing as a world-class centre for business and innovation into question, the pound is in decline and many are concerned about what the vote to leave the EU could mean for immigration, access to the single market and foreign investment in the tech industry.

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For start-ups, a recent review by tech investment bank GP Bullhound revealed that 18 out of 47 of Europe's billion-dollar companies are based in the UK, beating Sweden and Germany in second and third place.

Yet less immigration, one of the primary promises of the Leave campaign, means fewer skilled migrants will come to the UK to fill tech roles otherwise left empty due to the UK's shortage of suitably skilled workers (72 per cent of large companies and 49 per cent of SMBs have a tech skills gap problem, according to government research).

During last month's London Tech Week, minister for the digital economy Ed Vaizey warned of the consequences should the UK go through with leaving the EU, predicting it would put tech talent at "massive, massive risk".

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Romilly Dennys, executive director of Coadec, said that if the UK's tech sector is to thrive, it is vital to keep access to EU talent.

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"Even before Brexit, the sector faced a shortage of digital skills and there's now a real possibility that many EU citizens will seek opportunities elsewhere in Europe, and a restriction on freedom of movement will hamper growth and innovation in the UK," Dennys said.

Kerry Hallard, CEO of the National Outsourcing Association, added: "It is paramount that our government does everything it can to protect the rights of EU citizens living and working in the UK. The valuable skills they bring to the outsourcing industry and our country are essential to the wellbeing of out businesses and economy they will be significantly missed if those individuals are forced to leave our country."

"Coadec calls on the government to send a clear message overseas that the UK remains open, and entrepreneurial place for digital talent and investment."

If the UK fails to make up for a loss of skilled workers from the EU, other capital cities are ready to step in as Europe's tech hub.

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As the only remaining English-speaking capital city in the EU, one of the places most often mentioned to take over from London is Dublin, which is already home to the European headquarters of firms such as Facebook, Google, Twitter, Airbnb and Slack.

Niamh Bushnell, Dublin's first commissioner for start-ups who has been tasked with growing the city's burgeoning digital sector, published a reaction blog post after the outcome of the referendum.

She said: "Thanks to Brexit, almost every one of the key ingredients that made London a world class tech hub is now in question access to talent, to investment, a large customer base, a stable economy, an 'open for business' culture. And all of Britain's cities are in the same boat."

Bushnell believes Brexit could provide an opportunity for Dublin, which may now appear more attractive to foreign investors and entrepreneurs.

"We've lots to recommend us like language, culture, our committed relationship with Europe and our deep ties to the US," Bushnell continued. "We've also just pulled off an economic recovery and return to growth that ensures our credibility on the world stage.

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"Dublin still has a long way to go to fulfill its massive potential, but we don't have a huge amount to learn from other European hubs. For its size, Dublin already leads the pack."

Dublin is currently home to more than 1,200 start-ups, with a focus in travel tech, fintech and SaaS, but Bushnell believes Brexit is an opportunity to add to that number.

She said: "Thanks to Brexit we have a new opportunity to attract Europe's (and Russia's) serial or first time entrepreneurs to set up shop in Dublin. These people have likely never been more open to Dublin than they are right now, but they're also open to Berlin and Barcelona and Stockholm and Amsterdam.

"If we attract these founders to Dublin, they'll bring with them innovation. With innovation comes more funding, and with funding comes more skilled talent and the kinds of roles that define the new digital economy."

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