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August 18, 2017

Level39 CEO: Giving startups David’s agility and Goliath’s strength

Mr Brabyn believes it is essential for innovation that we welcome and retain the most formidable tech talent that the world has to offer.

By Tom Ball

Barrelling around the sun at 67,000 miles per hour, the entire world is at the brink of astronomical disruptive change. Technologies such as AI and blockchain are about to completely alter the way industries carry out long established, now arduous processes and dynamic startup companies are a driving force behind this seismic shift. We learnt about the place of Level39 in this maelstrom.

To stabilise and shelter these fast moving companies, a number of incubators and programmes have emerged, providing physical support in terms of top of the range office space, in addition to access to highly influential organisations and people. Tech communities have also arisen to provide sturdy foundations, launch pads for innovation.

One such tech community is Level39, a provider of access to infrastructure, customers and talent, based in Canary Wharf. CBR spoke to the CEO of Level39, Ben Brabyn, about the host of fintech and cybersecurity startups nurtured by Level39, and how these two spaces complement one another. We also learnt about how these startups are taking on the plethora of challenges they face today.

Ben Brabyn said: “Level39 is home to the largest cluster of fintech companies in London, and indeed the largest cluster of cybersecurity companies, and of course the

Ben Brabyn, CEO, Level39

two are increasingly hand in glove. I think it is probably fair to say that the financial services are the most acute point of delivery of cybersecurity capability.”

This synergy is becoming constantly more prominent, with the financial services having been consistently the most targeted area by cyber adversaries seeking to make monetary gain from their malicious exploits.

From his perspective on the current cybersecurity situation, Brabyn said: “Sometimes you might think that some innovations are nice to have, it’s increasingly clear to every executive round here that cybersecurity is something you need to have. You may not be criticised for failing to adopt the very latest approach to a particular technology capability, but you will certainly be criticised if your existing core operations fall victim to an avoidable threat.”

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This viewpoint from Brabyn on cybersecurity being critically essential is mirrored in a recent KPMG report of UK CEOs, which found that 77 per cent of these business leaders are now taking responsibility for cybersecurity, while 70 per cent see it as an opportunity to gain new revenue. These factors are contributing to the drive behind cybersecurity, and the agile startups working with cutting edge technology.

“The demand for cybersecurity expertise here is exceptional, among all of the sectors of the economy, and of course, Canary Wharf is host to at least two types of critical national infrastructure. We have systemically important financial institutions, important not just to the UK but important to the world,” said Brabyn.

A current threat to innovation within the tech industry is the widening rift of the skills gap, the chasm is growing more and more quickly as new technologies require an increasing number of skilled people to handle vast volumes of data.

Mr Brabyn expressed his view on the importance of access to top tech talent, he said: No one in any party, in any part of government, in any part of the private sector doubts the vital importance of talent. We create conditions here in Level39 where 48 different nationalities come together and the result of that collision of perspectives and expertise is of incalculable value, I want to see more of that, and I believe that is uncontentious. We must be enormously careful to cherish our reputation as globally open and globally welcome to those who have ambition and talent.

With freedom and accessibility regarded as crucial to not only the tech industry, but across the board, Brexit naturally enters the conversation. However Brabyn believes that if the ability to retain talent and remain welcoming to skilled individuals is maintained, Brexit will be unable to impede the acceleration of ambitious startups.

Brabyn said: “If you consider what some of the threats are, Brexit comes up, but really we should not be confused by the immediacy and the drama associated with it, it is just one among many existential challenges.”

“I don’t think anyone in this environment would describe Brexit as an existential threat, there are many challenges weighing on the minds of senior executives, and it is just one among those many. What you find here are people who are purpose-led, who are working on what can be delivered, there is very little time for idol commentary on what might have been if something had been otherwise.”

Level39 CEO: giving startups David’s agility and Goliath’s strength

Rather than coasting on yesterday’s technology, tentatively and nervously navigating the current environment that is dense with threats, political and regulatory challenges, Mr Brabyn is an advocate for action.

“It is a difficult position to be in being a senior executive of a financial institution, as you consider how to deal with that difficulty, the innovators dilemma if you like, will often make them say ‘well we should keep an eye on fintech innovation, but we shouldn’t necessarily jump right in’, wrong answer. We really want to reassure and encourage ambitious and frankly brave, bold executives who step forward. Level39 exists to support them in that, to make sure they have the opportunity to engage with the most ambitious, most ambitious fintech innovators.”

READ MORE: UK CEOs finally start to show cybersecurity savvy – KPMG

Mr Brabyn believes that the innovation coming forth from developments in new technology can have huge benefits, making businesses incredibly formidable, and able to find great opportunity in the current tumultuous environment.

“Imagine if you could take David’s agility and intelligence, and couple it with Goliath’s strength, we have here not an island of brilliance surrounded by a sea of non-brilliance, the twelve hundred entrepreneurs who are based here in Level39 are surrounded by 120,000 of the world’s smartest, best connected, best funded people from anywhere,” said the Level39 CEO.

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