Insights from the Sifted Summit, excel London

Katharine Spence, Partner at H/Advisors Maitland, shares her key insights and learnings from the event Sifted Summit, excel London, 4-5 October 2023.

Amongst the start-ups, banks, VC, big names and small names, the overriding theme was one of opportunity – and in today’s world it’s more nuanced than ever.

San Francisco or London? Where are the best engineers, the easiest access to capital, the most sophisticated marketing and payments system infrastructures? These are all the questions that companies and investors grapple with, and the answers aren’t straightforward…….

Even though Covid ever retreats as a thing, we still can’t resist talking about pre and post the pandemic. One thing that’s seen as good – the huge shift in working patterns, Covid breaking down barriers to business with a shift to virtual that hasn’t gone away. The comment from one speaker, Suzanne Ashman from Localglobe, resonated with me as a comms professional based in London, but part of a global firm, as she put it very well – before covid it was 3 weeks in San Francisco, which was hugely disruptive to the pattern of business. Now, it’s possible to have those same meetings with those same people in Marylebone and Fitzrovia. And then there’s the planet angle too with less plane travel – win-win.

But then, while London is still a world’s hub for private capital, our regulatory system (and that of Europe) is seen as a mixed bag. One investor spoke to me about how easy and consumer-focused our banking systems are here compared to the US, with a proliferation of the world’s fintech and payment systems companies centred in the UK, but on the other hand, the fiscal framework and ability to incentivise employees through options is slower and harder to navigate than in the States. And most start-ups want to provide employees with skin in the game. Marketing is way ahead in the States, yet engineers and talent is the UK and Central Europe.

It got me thinking what was needed from communications to support the tech environment. We need to understand that companies are optimistic but cash is not free, and capital efficiency is top topic in the boardroom. Clarity of thought and narrative for the business product sits alongside intricate and complex business supplier relationships globally, to get the best services wherever they are based. And, with the nuanced environment we face, and an increasing focus on purpose-driven business, more creative solutions to get your company in front of the right audiences is essential.

Let me give you an example. A £750,000 fundraise a few years ago would have been dismissed by some VCs and a target media audience as just too low to be of interest– but speaking to one start up today exactly in this space, they have a unique product, and therefore the challenge is to find creative ways to drive awareness. Going on size of investment isn’t enough. A company investing in R&D, is going to have a very different outlook from one only focused on topline growth. And that’s ok.

The feeling I got today is that perhaps everyone in the funding ecosystem, finally, is more realistic these days in terms of numbers and expected returns, founders are savvier in finding the right investor for them – and communications needs to adapt across the board. We at H/Advisors are doing just that. We believe that our hub-and-spoke model, able to bring together over 50 offices around the world to suit client needs, and with our long experience in tech and financial services, is the key to driving awareness for companies at all stages.

One great example is a client we are working with, with a unique business model looking only at growth-stage companies for investing. We have helped them establish a reputation as a leading growth-stage company “whisperer”, and a greater understanding among target audiences of what they’re trying to achieve. This would have been harder a few years ago. We know that VCs need profile and support to differentiate themselves in the face of tough competition. We work with a group focused on early-stage investments, building their profile amongst potential institutional and retail investors ahead of a successful AIM listing – yes, there is still some IPO activity in the UK, and fingers crossed for more in 2024 – but that’s another issue.

And company-side, picking up on the point on purpose, a critical value for today’s tech start-ups, no better example than the work we are doing taking a climate tech company from start-up to one of the world’s leading solutions with global partnerships. We are proud to be part of their journey.

We are constantly challenging conventional orthodoxies, making the case for a wide range of companies with different goals and purposes. As well as the optimism in the room this week at the summit, what’s loud and clear is that transparency, credibility and future outlook in the tech environment is as important as size, talent and market opportunity.


Katharine Spence, Partner
H/Advisors Maitland