The fintech sector in the UK has recorded huge sums coming from Asian and Middle Eastern investors. Speaking to the PA, Matt Warman, Minister for Digital Infrastructure, said: “The UK tech sector is home to the most innovative, most exciting and most globally scalable startups in the world, so it’s no surprise Asian investors are recognising just what a wealth of talent we have here.” Minister for Investment at the Department for International Trade, Gerry Grimstone, spoke to the PA and said: “Investors around the world are taking advantage of the UK’s high-skill, diverse economy, and it’s great to see investors in Asia have poured more than £1.7bn (two billion euros) into UK tech companies.
“We are ramping up efforts to attract investment into all corners of the UK, with our Office for Investment, Investment Council and regional Trade and Investment Hubs making it easier for businesses to find the right projects and assets that meet our strategic priorities.”
New data suggests the amount of investment raised in the first half of 2021 has also almost surpassed the total amount raised during the whole of 2020.
By the end of June, Asian and Middle Eastern investors had poured more than £1.7bn into UK tech companies.
This was equal to 13.2 percent of total inward investments made into the UK.
The pandemic ushered in a new wave of pet owners—and unleashed business opportunities for companies that cater to them.
Over the Fourth of July weekend, Americans filled airports and highways nearly as much as on holidays before the pandemic. For many people, the busy travel weekend will be followed by a return to the office and other activities out of the house. This ongoing transition period raises many important questions, including: What will happen with all the pets?
The past 18 months have been filled with reports of surging adoption rates and lengthening breeder waiting lists as Americans sought out furry companions during lockdown. Business has also been booming for pet-oriented startups. Sales on Chewy, the Amazon of pet food and supplies, rose 51 percent in Q4, according to its most recent earnings report. Barkbox, which sells personalized boxes of dog toys and treats, reported 264,000 new monthly subscribers in Q4—a 72 percent increase year-over-year. Pawsh, an app that matches dog owners with groomers, saw a 125 percent growth in customers between March and June of last year; two-thirds of new users were first-time pet owners. “Adopting a dog became a trend during the pandemic,” says Pawsh cofounder Karthik Naralasetty.
“Our hypothesis is that the group that waited for a pandemic to adopt the pet may be more frequent travelers, or people who work longer hours, which might be why they didn’t have a pet prior,” says Aaron Easterly, the CEO of pet startup Rover. If those people start to take vacations again, or work longer hours back in an office, they may be entering a new chapter of their lives as pet owners, with new challenges—requiring new solutions, potentially offered by startups. Rover, an app for finding dog walkers and sitters, says it experienced its biggest month ever in May, booking more than $ 45 million in services. (While some have worried about unprepared pet owners giving their dogs away, animal welfare groups told The New York Times there hasn’t been such a spike.)
Pet care was already a $ 100 billion industry in the US before the pandemic. A recent report from Morgan Stanley estimates that number could triple in the next decade, marking a sharp uptick in growth. “We think the US pet industry has reached an inflection point,” one analyst wrote, and they’re not alone. Investors from venture capital and private equity are out sniffing for the next big thing, whether it’s luxury items like gourmet dog food or more basic necessities like grooming services. In 2020, VC interest in pet-focused startups grew 29.5 percent from the year before, and it doesn’t appear to be slowing down.
“There are more pets than there are kids in places like San Francisco,” says David Cane, a VP at Wag, a dog-walking app. Those cities could be a breeding ground for other business opportunities, like employer-provided pet care. Wag is now in talks to offer dog-walking and dog-sitting as a corporate perk “with some organizations in the Bay Area that employ thousands of people,” says Cane, who declined to name specific companies because the deals are not finalized.
It’s not just the growing number of pet owners that’s attractive to investors; it’s also the relationship those owners have to their pets. For many people, pets have become another member of the family. “It’s evolved more to this parental relationship,” says Easterly. “Pet owners stress about finding the right training techniques, whether dog food with grain is good or bad. A lot of the stresses you see with parenting human children, you now see in the pet industry.” Especially for first-time pet-owners, those stresses can be soothed with new products and services. The amount households spend on pet care has been steadily rising since well before the pandemic, according to Morgan Stanley.
That spending continues over the lifetime of a pet, not just once or twice—for a dog, that can be upwards of 15 or 20 years. “These dogs are going to be companions for the next decade,” says Manish Joneja, the CEO of Bark, the company behind BarkBox. Bark aims to accompany its customers through their dog’s life cycle, offering different food and toy recommendations depending on the dog’s age and breed. (After a successful 2020, Bark debuted on the public market through a SPAC merger in 2021.)
The growth in pet customers—and what they’re willing to spend on—has also led to a number of new ideas about what pets need, and where business opportunities may lie. A “dog wellness” company called Barkyn raised a $ 9 million Series A in April. Small Door, a “OneMedical for pets,” is among a number of startups capitalizing on boutique veterinary care. Connected collars, fancy food dispensers, and pet clothing have also caught investors’ attention, along with more outlandish ideas, like startups for extending dogs’ life spans.
Matt Meeker, the founder of Bark, says there are still tons of ideas left to squeeze out of the space—like his personal moonshot idea, a dog-focused airline that will allow him to comfortably fly with his 130-pound Great Dane. For now, it’s still a pipe dream. But when it comes to startup ideas, it seems that every dog has its day.
For most knowledge workers, this summer spells the end of the Great Remote Work Experiment and the beginning of a return to normal. People are shuffling back into offices, dusting off desk space, and returning to their old routines. But for some people, the pandemic year has permanently changed the relationship to the office. Nicholas Bloom, an economist at Stanford, predicts that more work will likely take place remotely—22 percent of workdays in the future, compared to just 5 percent pre-pandemic.
Not every employee is ditching the office for good. But if even a small percentage do, it could create a number of “second-order effects,” says Andreas Klinger, a remote-work advocate who launched Remote First Capital in 2019. The $ 7.5 million fund looks for startups that solve remote-work problems—for example, helping startups run payroll when their employees are scattered across the globe—but also ones that “leverage remote work in a unique way.” Klinger says the potential opportunities go far beyond traditional business services. These startups begin to reimagine how the future will look if more people can uncouple where they work and where they live: “How does the world change if more people work remotely? How do countries, families, education, and daily life change?”
The answers to those questions have preoccupied not only economists and policymakers but also founders and VCs eager to capitalize on any disruption of the status quo. Some of these startups take daring views of how much an uptick in fully remote work could change peoples’ lifestyles. Galileo, an online-first school, aims to do for primary education what remote work did for distributed teams. “School was one of the most important things that kept you in a location: You can’t move because of your kids in school,” says Vlad Stan, Galileo’s founder. “With our school, it’s much easier to move from one place to another. We’re enabling people to have a more fluid life.”
The startup charges a fee in exchange for a suite of online educational tools and access to a number of in-person “learning dojos” around the world. Similar to a Montessori school, students have individualized learning plans and are self-directed throughout the day, with support from a number of online teachers.
Stan, who is currently based in Spain, says that Galileo has seen growing interest from families who are looking to live more nomadically as a result of remote work. “We started this as an experiment two years ago, just before Covid, with 20 students,” he says. Now, Galileo has 200 students from 30 countries fully enrolled.
Other startups hope to court travel-happy workers by providing housing-as-a-service. Anyplace, an Airbnb-like marketplace, lists furnished apartments that rent on month-to-month leases and include basic amenities like WiFi. When Anyplace launched in 2017, its customers were mostly freelancers or people who had independent income. Now, founder Satoru Steve Naito says he’s seeing more people who “work for tech giants like Facebook or Twitter starting to use Anyplace. So now we’re optimizing our product for remote workers.”
Recently, Anyplace started listing its own apartments designed specifically for remote workers, called Anyplace Select. Each one comes with gigabit-speed internet, standing desks, ergonomic chairs, and second monitors. “If you don’t have a great work environment, then it’s not great to work remotely,” says Naito, who has changed cities every few months for the last five years. He believes that if services like his make the nomadic lifestyle easier, then more people will take advantage of the perks of remote work and make that lifestyle more mainstream.
Startups like Anyplace and Gailieo are targeting a specific demographic: people who have the option to work from anywhere, and who actually want to hop around from city to city. By most accounts, that’s not a lot of people. Even though the number of work-from-home days is expected to increase from pre-pandemic levels, surveys like Bloom’s suggest that it’s more because employers are embracing a “hybrid” model, rather than allowing people to work remotely all the time.
“Markaaz is the world’s first and only community for small and medium businesses to connect with with each other to find everything they need to grow, run and manage their business,” said Hany Fam, founder and CEO.
A vision Fam first brought to life in California in January 2020.
“If someone had said to me 10 years ago, ‘Austin,’ I would have said, ‘Austin?! Austin?!’ And now it’s like, ‘oh yes, of course!’” he said.
Fam said the city has become the obvious choice to move his headquarters.
Friendly business climate
Fam said the business process was easier here, and people were simply, nice.
“We found just such a warm welcome from the chamber here and from so many other bodies that were just so pro-business and so willing to lean in and help us get established very quickly,” said Fam, who has business registrations in both California and New York. “This was by far and away the easiest and most pleasant experience of all of them.”
“In my research, it shows that there are certain things that are important. Austin is a little friendlier,” Butler said.
Butler’s expertise includes new ventures and entrepreneurship. He’s also published research called “Austin, Boston, Silicon Valley, and New York: Case Studies in the Location Choices of Entrepreneurs in Maintaining the Technopolis.”
Opportunities to shape the business landscape
He said startups and relocations in Austin have surged in the last three years.
Although Austin’s tech world isn’t as developed or established as some other locations, Butler said that’s a positive for many companies — like Markaaz — who want to be part of shaping the business climate.
“If you were to look at places like California or other states, and say, ‘are these states going to course correct for business in the next 12, 24 months?’ We just didn’t see that,” Fam said. “Whereas here in Austin was an opportunity to shape that trajectory in very, very positive way.”
Fam said 20 people are moving from their headquarters in California to Austin, and they hope to hire locally, expanding to 500 people in the next couple years.
Butler said it’s a similar phenomena that lead to the growth of Silicon Valley, with workers from Boston.
“Boston got to a point, to be a part of the ecosystem you had to go to the right school, you had to belong to the right clubs, the right organization. And Silicon Valley [said], ‘hey you guys come out here,’” Butler explained.
Promising source of skilled workers
Both Fam and Butler said local universities — particularly UT — offer a promising source of skilled workers.
“We have a lot of hope in the university and the universities, plural, here in Austin, particularly UT, very large campus here, that we will see more of that skew towards specialized skills in the tech sector, particularly around AI, particularly around natural language, particularly around cloud-based services, etcetera,” Fam said.
“A university that’s pumping out smart people — there’s no doubt that Tesla came here because of our engineering department,” Butler said.
Attracting like-minded people
Finally, as both new and established companies relocate for all the above reasons, it creates a domino effect.
“This is the new tech central, candidly,” Fam said. “We thought long and hard about what the trajectory would look like here, and we take great comfort actually in that migration happening from other locations.”
“They’re coming because of the cluster theory; they want to be around each other,” said Butler.
Butler said the challenge now will be for Austin to remain a friendly hub for business enterprise and maintain its startup culture.
“We don’t want to be the next Silicon Valley — we want to be Austin, Texas,” he said.