The UK government's digital growth services tender has been awarded to Barclays Eagle Lab, it has been confirmed, meaning British startups will lose existing provider Tech Nation's offering.
Tech Nation's Digital Growth grant funding from the UK Department of Culture, Media and Sport will be phased out in March 2023, with Barclays launching its successor the following month.
In a press statement, Barclays Eagle Labs confirmed the value of the two-year grant at around £12.1 million. As part of its bid, it has promised to provide sector support to 22,000 digital-led startups, including a roll out into more UK regions ensuring 80% of its clientele are based outside of London.
A few hours ago, Tech Nation also issued its response to the news. It said the state-backed business has been prepared for this eventuality and expressed pride in its record delivering ROI to the taxpayer.
"In anticipation of the Government’s decision to award the Digital Growth Grant to another party, we have been working around the clock to secure our future and continue delivering for UK scaleups," Tech Nation said, "It is essential that any route forward for Tech Nation ensures we are able to continue to act in the best interest of the tech community and put the needs of scaleups front and centre."
The news follows a founders campaign to protect Tech Nation or at least prevent cuts to some of its most popular services, including help securing visas for talented founders overseas, and global network opportunities with potential investors.
Of course change is always challenging and we'll have to wait to see how the Barclays Eagle Lab version compares. However its bid seems to have absorbed some of the community's frustration with UK government policy, especially fears the tech visa could be curtailed given political pressure to curb immigration. Barclays immediately sought to allay those fears, noting that Tech Nation's role endorsing tech visas won't change with this tender.
Barclays Eagle Labs has 38 brick-and-mortar accelerator facilities across the UK, and also offers virtual-led startup services. It's promising 1,500 startup mentoring sessions a year funded by the new tender, and claims this will double Tech Nation's capacity.
Amanda Allan, director of Barclays Eagle Labs, said the accelerator was well established in the UK's startup ecosystem. Allan said: "We have a track record of supporting over 8000 start-ups and high-growth businesses since we launched in 2015 and we’re proud that, due to our established Eagle Labs network, we can pass through all grant funds to our delivery partners and programmes, helping to maximise the impact of the grant in supporting the UK tech ecosystem.”
The tender was an open competition, with Barclays seen offering better value for taxpayers money. A deciding factor appears to have been Barclays can channel the full grant into support services. With grant money thought to represent three quarters of Tech Nation's revenue, critics may take issue with the process. On the other side of the coin, Barclays Eagle Labs is ringfenced meaning its revenue can't be diverted into other areas in the business, it says. Barclays Eagle Labs also stresses founders will not be pressured into opening bank accounts with its core business.
Speaking for the UK government, minister for tech and the digital economy, Paul Scully, welcomed the opportunity to improve state-funded services for the country's digital startups.
Scully said: "We want to unlock the potential of the next generation of startups and scaleups and boost tech businesses in all corners of the country.
"Barclays Eagle Labs are digital industry experts and will help tens of thousands of tech firms and founders to achieve their dreams and create jobs and economic growth.”