CPS calls for skills revolution to grow new generation of UK tech unicorns

  • Report calls on UK Government to help ensure Britain produces more tech unicorns – high-growth tech companies valued more than £1bn
  • Calls on Government to introduce ‘Unicorn Visas’ to help bring in talent to address UK skills gap
  • Calls for an ambitious skills and mentoring programme to nurture homegrown tech experts
  • Calls for a major skills review led by UK tech companies to address skills gap in this country

A new research paper published today by the Centre for Policy Studies, supported by UK tech firm Deliveroo, reveals how Britain can unlock the potential of its growing tech sector and expand its herd of ‘unicorns’.

‘Herding Unicorns’, written by a team led by former Government Special advisor Nick King and praised by techUK and the Coalition for a Digital Economy (Coadec), argues that any country that wants to play a leading role in the digital economy must foster the conditions to create and promote unicorn companies.

The CPS report was informed by extensive interviews with tech investors, entrepreneurs and staff at existing start-ups and scale-ups. It identifies that high-growth companies in the UK struggle to access talent with key digital skills, and that the ‘financing gap’ between British and American companies grows wider with successive rounds of fundraising.

The report calls on the Government to introduce a number of changes, including new tax incentives and a specific visa scheme to help high-growth companies address their skills problem, allowing the UK to grow its herd of unicorns further.

These include:

  • Introduce a new class of ‘Unicorn Visas’ to address a lack of talent that is holding back companies, allowing them to attract the brightest and the best from around the world with a minimum of fuss.
  • With 90% of scale-ups saying they face skills shortages – it is estimated 1.2m new tech and digitally skilled people are needed by 2022 – the Government should implement an immediate ‘skills review’ led by the private sector and unicorn companies to improve the availability of homegrown talent.
  • Help foster the next generation of Unicorn CEOs and staff through a new ‘National Tech Entrepreneur Mentoring Scheme’.
  • Boost funding availability through changes to tax-advantaged venture capital schemes such as the Enterprise Investment Scheme (EIS), the Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme (SEIS) and Venture Capital Trusts (VCTs).
  • Amend the rules governing ISAs to allow individuals to invest in privately held growth businesses and take steps to encourage UK institutional investors, and pension funds in particular, to allocate more of their capital towards growth companies.

The report contains eyewitness testimony from founders and funders about the challenges they face, together with feedback from an extensive programme of roundtables. Its findings address the two overwhelming concerns that were reported: access to talent and access to finance.

The ‘unicorn visa’ would give companies immediate access to the skills they need to grow, while the ‘unicorn skills review’ would improve home-grown talent through a comprehensive review of adult digital training at universities, further education colleges and beyond, ensuring the UK is producing the right skills for the future. The recommendations would also significantly improve the availability and quality of mentoring and guidance for entrepreneurs, and in particular improve links between high-growth firms and others looking to grow.

Nick King, Head of Business at the Centre for Policy Studies said:

“Britain’s record to date has been impressive, but we need to do more to create an environment which will allow the next generation of unicorn businesses to emerge and thrive in the UK.

“These proposals to improve the skills of the talent pool that we have in the UK, together with improving the ease of recruiting talent from further afield through ‘unicorn visas’, will help do just that.”

Will Shu, CEO and Founder at Deliveroo, said:

“Deliveroo is proud to be a British tech company growing at an extraordinary rate. But building a company that is scaling so rapidly presents a unique set of challenges, from finding the right people to sustain that growth to securing the long-term financing that will help turn great ideas into products and services that consumers know and love.

“The UK is a fantastic place to start and build a company, but in the coming years the Government has an opportunity to help more companies realise their full potential. These proposals will help boost growth and innovation, cementing the UK’s place as a global tech leader.”

Julian David, CEO of techUK, said:

“This report again highlights the importance of access to talent and finance to tech companies who with their growth are driving the UK economy forward.

“As the UK leaves the European Union it is vital that Government reinforces its commitment to making the UK the best place to start and scale a tech company. This report contains a number of recommendations that could effectively deliver on that ambition. For example, techUK agrees that the Government must simplify and streamline the immigration system to make it business-friendly to employers and explore innovative ways of encouraging investment in high growth businesses.

“techUK firmly believes that investing in the UK’s digital economy can bring significant benefits to the wider economy and local communities up and down the country, creating jobs and prosperity for all.”

Dom Hallas, Executive Director of The Coalition for a Digital Economy (Coadec), said:

“We know what tech startups and scaleups need to grow – access to world-leading talent from both the UK and abroad, access to finance that helps them scale and compete globally, and practical regulation that adapts to innovative, high-growth business models. The Government should be fully committed to tackling these core challenges to help our tech startups and scaleups thrive. This report highlights a number of excellent ways to do it.”


For further information, or to book Centre for Policy Studies spokesmen, please contact the Centre for Policy Studies Press Office on 07876 161196 or email [email protected].


  • ‘Herding Unicorns’ can be downloaded here.
  • The Centre for Policy Studies is one of Britain’s leading think tanks, and the home of a new generation of conservative thinking. Our mission is to widen enterprise, ownership and prosperity.
  • Deliveroo is an award-winning delivery service founded in 2013 by William Shu and Greg Orlowski. Deliveroo works with over 80,000 best-loved restaurants and takeaways, as well as 60,000 riders to provide the best food delivery experience in the world. Deliveroo is headquartered in London, with 2,500 employees in offices around the globe. Deliveroo operates in over 500 towns and cities across 14 markets, including Australia, Belgium, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Italy, Ireland, Netherlands, Singapore, Spain, Taiwan, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and the United Kingdom.

Date Added: Monday 4th March 2019