An opportune time for UK digital tech companies to move into Asia

An opportune time for UK digital tech companies to move into Asia

Southeast Asia’s burgeoning digital economy and reputation for innovation have made the region an attractive destination for global companies.

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iTNews Asia speaks to Samantha Evans, Head of International at Tech Nation, a UK network of entrepreneurs, to find out more about what’s driving UK firms to increase their presence in Singapore and the region.

iTNews Asia: What are the strengths of UK digital tech companies? What can they offer to the world?

The latest Tech Nation report found that UK tech VC investment is third in the world behind only the US and China, hitting a record high of $15bn in 2020 despite COVID-19.

The UK was the fifth largest digital tech services exporter in the world, at £23.3bn (US$32bn) in 2019, sitting behind only India, the USA, China, and Germany in the global rankings. This position is driven by a relatively high number of high growth exporting tech companies in the UK, many of which are yet to realise their full exporting potential.

The UK tech start-up and scale-up ecosystem is valued at $585bn - 120% more than in 2017, and more than double the next most valuable ecosystem, Germany, at $291bn.

Sector strengths:

- AI: In 2020, UK firms that were adopting or creating Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning based technologies received £1.78bn (US$2.45bn).

The UK saw the highest rate of growth in deep tech (which includes AI and ML, but also VR/AR, quantum, advanced computing and blockchain amongst other fundamental technologies) in the world in 2020, at 17%, where China witnessed a 6% decrease, and Israel, a 30% decrease.

- EdTech: 2019 was a record year for edtech investment in the UK, with $184m raised. Edtech is essential to growth post Covid-19; reskilling and upskilling will be imperative for the global economy.

- MedTech: UK health and wellness companies raised $1.5bn in 2020. This year demonstrated the importance of physical and mental health with several bumper deals including $100m to Babylon Health, a UK digital healthcare platform which has also expanded into Asia Pacific.

- Net Zero: With COP26 being held in Scotland in November 2021, the UK saw a 21% increase in investment for climate tech and agriculture companies, reaching a record $798m in 2020.

- Fintech is a competitive strength for the UK economy. Building on the UK’s historic expertise in financial services, today’s fintechs are innovating in everything from open banking to insurtech, regtech, payments and more – the UK is Europe’s biggest Fintech hub, with international interest to match. UK fintechs make up nearly half of all fintech unicorns across Europe.

The UK also champions tech for social good where digital technology is used to tackle some of the world’s toughest challenges. Six key well-being factors that tech has positively impacted are job security, material living standards, health and longevity, education, environmental sustainability, and equal opportunity.

iTNews Asia: How important is Singapore and the APAC region for Tech Nation's digital tech companies?

It is an ideal time for UK scale-ups to be looking at growth in the Asia Pacific region.

In 2020, the region saw 40 million new internet users in Southeast Asia alone, bringing the total number to 400 million – the same size as the US market. Southeast Asia’s digital economy hit US$100 billion in 2020 and is expected to grow to US$300 billion by 2025 despite the challenges of COVID19.

We know the UK and Asia Pacific regions are joined by a passion for innovation, which is why the UK Government has commissioned Tech Nation to work with them on the Digital Trade Network which is being piloted only in Asia Pacific. The Tech Nation International Growth programme is just the start of this work to help more UK scale-ups with their growth in this dynamic region.

According to Tech Nation’s report on Unlocking Global Opportunities, for UK tech companies Singapore was one of the fastest rising global opportunities for trade, climbing 5 places in the rankings for global tech opportunity between 2019 and 2020. Australia, Singapore, Japan and South Korea were all also ranked in the Top 25 countries in Tech Nation’s Global Opportunities Index.

iTNews Asia: What are they looking for from companies in Singapore?

Evans: Tech Nation seems immense potential in Singapore, in view of the nation’s Smart Nation initiative. UK scale-ups are looking to build partnerships with corporations and governments in Singapore and the wider ASEAN region. With the International Growth programme, Tech Nation aims to enable collaboration in building technological innovation that will improve the future for UK-Singapore.

iTNews Asia: How do they plan on connecting with the industry here?

Tech Nation, supported by Plug and Play in Singapore, will create an in-market entrepreneur network to help these innovative UK scale-ups make the leap to Singapore and the wider ASEAN region by connecting them into local networks using on-the-ground expertise, accelerating their access to capital, customers and talent in the local market.

The new business-focussed in-market network will deliver a ‘soft landing’ to digital tech businesses looking to expand into Asia Pacific. This will be supported by the wider Tech Nation International programme, which is expanding its presence in the region, and the UK Department for International Trade in Asia Pacific.

iTNews Asia: Have there been any partnerships and collaborations already signed with companies/governments in Asia? What are some examples?

UK unicorns and Tech Nation Alumni include, Skyscanner, Transferwise, Darktrace, and Monzo, all of whom have presence in Asia Pacific. is the UK’s highest-valued fintech that provides fast, reliable online payments for global enterprises in more than 150 currencies with in-country acquiring, world-class fraud filters and reporting, through one Application Programming Interface (API).

 Launched in the UK in 2012, the company now has a team of over 1,000 people across 17 offices worldwide, including Hong Kong, Singapore and Australia. Last year, also acquired Australian start-up, PinPayments, which powers over 12,000 businesses across the APAC region.

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