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Tech industry in the UK and the future of Tech

Tom Jones senior tax manager
(Last updated on )
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Cluster of tech symbols

At ForrestBrown we play an important role in driving innovation in the UK. It is a bold claim, but as R&D tax credit specialists we help innovative companies recoup their R&D expenditure every day. This money then gets reinvested into yet more exciting projects and our clients grow.

We work closely with entrepreneurs and investors alike to help support and scale start-ups in disruptive tech sectors across the UK. By utilising R&D tax incentives, our aim is to move towards an even more advantageous environment where the UK’s tech economy can grow and innovation is supported at every level.

As entrepreneurs ourselves, we understand the important role that R&D tax credits can play in funding our clients’ growth and helping them disrupt their markets. R&D tax credits as a source of funding can help a start-up get market-ready and scale, or help established businesses grow further.

With all that in mind, we celebrate the disruptive tech sectors in the UK and highlight some of the key movers and shakers:

  1. AgriTech
  2. BioTech
  3. CleanTech
  4. EdTech
  5. FinTech
  6. FoodTech
  7. HealthTech
  8. GreenTech
  9. InsurTech
  10. MADTech / ADTech
  11. PropTech
  12. PRTech
  13. RetailTech
  14. TravelTech
AgriTech icon

1. AgriTech

What is it?

Technology is being used to solve problems in agriculture, farming, and food production and distribution. The AgriTech sector sees scientists, technologists and engineers joining forces with start-ups and more established companies to resolve issues around waste, environmental threats and increasingly limited resources.

AgriTech focuses in part on increasing yields while minimising input, but also looks at how new technologies – such as drones, AgriBots, LED lights and Internet of Things – can be applied to improve farming. One of the most exciting areas is big data where everything from smart tractors to satellites are collecting data that can then be analysed at scale so that farmers can make more informed decisions. AgriTech promises further innovation in automatic irrigation, AI analysis for pest and disease prediction, soil management and other involved analytical tasks; enhanced hydroponics technology and UV soilless farming to allow year-round, vertical and urban growth of crops while navigating the effects of climate change.

The UK is on the verge of becoming a world leader in AgriTech and is an exciting area to watch as capital is being raised and government initiatives start coming into force. One such initiative is the Agricultural Engineering Precision Innovation Centre (Agri-EPI) to help the UK’s agri-food sector develop advanced technologies that will increase productivity and sustainability in UK agriculture.

Key areas: AgriBots | Big data | Precision farming

Big players:

Field Margin

Adama UK

Ones to watch:

Skyview Robotics

SOYL Precision Farming

Growing Underground

Further reading:

Agri-Tech and R&D

Big data and farming

R&D tax credits for engineering firms


2. BioTech

What is it?

Biotechnology is the use of living systems and organisms to develop or make products that help improve our lives. It covers diverse areas like gene-editing, biological-based medicines and tissue replacement.

BioTech looks to address major challenges like antibiotic resistance to finding a cure for cancer and age-related diseases. Scientists are now able to build entire genomes from scratch, allowing for research into a number of areas including disease detection. They can also build cells and organisms to fulfil a range of different purposes from biofuel to anti-malarial drugs to synthetic vanilla.

After struggling to find investors initially, UK biotech is booming. Analysis of official data from the Companies House register indicates that 3,456 active companies are currently involved in biotechnology research and development (R&D) activities. This represents a 65% increase from Q1 2016, when 2,095 active companies were classed as engaging in biotech R&D. Now is a great time to be in this industry and making bounds into biotech research. The government has made it part of both its Industrial Strategy and it post-Brexit strategy. 

Key areas: Genes | Translational medicine | Pharmaceuticals

Big players:

Oxford Immunotec

GW Pharmaceuiticals

Ones to watch:

Lombard Medical

Silence Therapeutics

Horizon Discovery

Further reading:

Life Sciences and R&D – Biotech Innovation Funding

Investopedia on BioTech

BioTech and Artificial Intelligence


3. CleanTech

What is it?

CleanTech is all about technologies and related business models that reduce waste and help businesses limit their negative impact on the environment. It uses emerging tech to improve products, processes and services, with a focus on supporting sustainability. Key areas are resource efficiency, minimising pollution and looking at alternative and renewable forms of energy like solar and wind power and biofuels. Exciting developments are taking place with fusion energy generation, hydrogen fuels, as well as ground- and air-source heating.

At the same time, energy storage is improving which, combined with software for energy management has the potential to decntralise energy distribution and create smarter local power grids, power electric vehicle networks and reduce waste.

As well as finding ways to improve operational performance and enhance eco-efficiency, CleanTech start-ups have been looking at how energy is stored, developing batteries capable of storing and transmitting renewable energy. Other companies are looking at electric vehicles and big data analytics for energy monitoring.

Now more than ever, clean energy and a move towards a low carbon economy are vital as resources dwindle and energy security is more of a priority for businesses. CleanTech’s focus on high growth industries has seen it make a comeback with investors and venture capitalists (VCs).

Note: CleanTech differs from green technology in that it usually refers to the emerging financial industry rather than the actual technology in which it invests.

Key areas: BioFuels | Clean energy | Energy storage

Big players:


E Leather

Ones to watch:




Further reading:

Cleantech Group


4. EdTech

What is it?

EdTech makes use of digital technology to engage learners in new and innovative ways and reduce the cost of teaching. When schools closed their doors because of the global pandemic of 2020, EdTech suddenly became very important. The UK’s EdTech developers were already working towards delivering a whole new form of teaching.

Education and learning technology disrupts how education is resourced, taught and consumed. For example, it aims to improve student engagement with gamification, mobile learning apps and immersive content like video and virtual reality.

Elsewhere, big data analytics are being used to monitor individual performance and deliver personalised learning via the most effective methods. The overall learning programmes can also be improved by insights from big data. Similarly, online and cloud technology is enabling students to access teacher-endorsed resources, submit homework, complete eLearning as well as use social media and mobile apps for more informal learning. There is also a raft of software and hardware EdTech that teaches kids how to code and this aims to inspire the next generation of coders, preparing them for the very different workplace they will enter.

The UK has one of the fastest growing EdTech sectors and is set to continue to grow thanks to the EdtechUK strategic body.

Key areas: Cloud technology | Big Data | Mobile apps

Big players:

Cirrus – Cloud e-assessment platform



Ones to watch:




Kano Computing

Further reading:

Edtech Magazine

EdTech and the future of education


5. Fintech

What is it?

FinTech covers all the new products, services, technologies and business models in financial services. FinTech companies and start-ups aim to improve the out-dated technology and solve contemporary money problem, such as lending and consumer payment.

We’ve seen mobile banking apps, contactless card payments, and digital wallets and currencies like BitCoin disrupt the financial sector in recent years. Whereas initially most FinTech was developed for the back office of financial institutions, start-ups are now mostly selling their products directly to consumers and businesses. Artificial intelligence customer service chatbots are now common and AI investment management is now emerging. Process automation meanwhile is already prevalent in accounting software and beyond.

London’s FinTech culture is world-leading and continues to be a hotbed of innovation. It is no wonder then that this sector continues to see sustained growth in investment.

Key areas: Payment | Peer-to-peer lending | Digital currencies

Big players:

YoYo Wallet


Ones to watch:


Onescan from Ensyngia

Further reading:

The Wonderful World of Fintech and R&D

Blockchains & Fintech

Start-Up Bootcamp



6. FoodTech

What is it?

In recent years, the UK has witnessed a dramatic growth in the number of start-ups who are disrupting how food is selected, preserved, processed, packaged, sold and distributed. Their aim is to improve efficiency and tackle challenges around food waste.

One of the main areas for innovation is around food processing, changing the properties of the food to improve it whether that’s in preserving it, enhancing its qualities or making it more functional. There are even businesses that are creating entirely new flavours and products by investing in molecular gastronomy.

Technology has moved on from dining experiences and is now being applied in various areas from food delivery start-ups to free-from products, big data and apps that allow consumers to make more informed choices about the food they purchase and prepare. There has been lots of innovation recently around food that is organic, sustainable and chemical-free. The availability and range of plant-based foods has surged and some analysts are predicting insect-based protein may be the next big trend to watch out for. Meanwhile, the creation of food packaging that won’t clog up the oceans has become an environmental imperative mandated by the plastic packaging tax which will come into force in April 2022.

Key areas: Preservation | Processing | Free-from | Plant-based | Recycled packaging

Big players:


Winnow Solutions

Ones to watch:



Ingredient Batching Systems




Further reading:

Molecular Gastronomy

Innovation in Baking

R&D in the Food & Beverage Industry

Free-From Revolution & the R&D Powering It


7. HealthTech

What is it?

Even before the global pandemic, healthcare was being transformed by innovative start-ups using technology to maintain and improve health. That innovation has only increased as investment pours into biotech in an attempt to find a vaccine for Covid-19 and mitigate its associated health problems.

More broadly, healthTech is concerned with improving overall patient care: this can be by making expensive equipment more accessible, investing in biomedecine right down to improving how records are organised and how appointments are made. Big data analysis is a key focus too, being used to prevent diseases, predict flu outbreaks and cut medical costs. As well as this, disruptive technology is enabling people to take control and responsibility for elements of their own care and live healthier lives.

Despite regulatory challenges and difficulties around adoption of the new tech within the healthcare system, the healthTech sector is booming and is an essential part of the future of the NHS.

Key areas: BioMedecine | Big data | Robotics

Big players:

Babylon Health

Ones to watch:


Further reading:

Can we fix the UK healthtech funding gap?

The UK looks to healthtech startups during the pandemic

Future of Healthcare


GreenTech UK

8. GreenTech

What is it?

Similar to CleanTech, this sector focuses on technology that reduces the negative impact we have on the environment. It looks at renewable and alternative energy production, recycling and covers everything from longer-lasting light bulbs to generating electricity from plants.

The GreenTech sector has attracted socially-conscious investors and will continue to attract interest as global warming and diminishing natural resources make it essential to find alternatives to fossil fuels.

Key Areas: BioFuel | Renewable energy | Batteries

Ones to watch:

Kiwi Powered


Further reading:

R&D tax relief for the renewables sector

Wind Turbines

Bristol’s Greentech Companies

InsurTech disruptive tech companies


What is it?

The insurance market is being transformed by digital technology and the innovative businesses operating in the InsurTech space.

InsurTech start-ups aim to empower the consumer by delivering insight into their risk and providing tailored and cheaper insurance.  Insurance providers are looking to technologies that can help them add value to the consumer, build brand loyalty, as well as identify and capitalise on new revenue streams. Motor insurers, for example, can receive real-time, sensor-sourced customer data and analytics to improve their offering.

There are others that leverage the Internet of Things and big data to deliver value for consumers, businesses and insurers. Data gathered from wearables, vehicles and other insured commercial assets like plant and factory machinery can allow for individualised underwriting and more tailored policies.

Key areas: MicroInsurance | Connected risk management | Asset monitoring | RegTech

Big players:

All the major insurers (from AXA to Zurich) are investing and/or operating InsurTech offerings.

Ones to watch:




Further reading:

Insurance companies are cautiously optimistic that exoskeletons can reduce injury and claims

Start Up Bootcamp – Insurance

InsurTech News

MADTech in the UK icon

10. MADTech / ADTech

What is it?

MADTech is the coming together of marketing, advertising and technology. It is a major growth area for tech where fresh marketing perspective and strategies combine to tackle issues around selling to a disengaged and intolerant audience.

Start-ups, agencies, app and software developers are using emerging technologies and big data to engage with consumers in ways that can add value and ultimately be meaningful. There are also those building tools and services to accelerate publisher revenue in a dramatically different online landscape.

With new technologies having the ability to disrupt the marketing landscape, it is an exciting area for investors and VCs.

Key areas: Predictive analytics | Geo-Targeting | Virtual reality | Augmented reality

Big players:



Ones to watch:




PropTech UK sector

11. PropTech

What is it?

The property sector, both commercial and residential, has been held back by inefficient and ultimately unhelpful processes. UK Proptech start-ups are all about solving problems around the buying and selling process and making the model more efficient and cost-effective for all involved.

A common aim is to improve the experience for the consumer through increased automation and providing them with better results via a deeper understanding of their needs. Some of the key areas are around improving consumers’ access to mortgages, finding new valuations, and selling or renting property.

London has become one of the central hubs for PropTech with start-ups seeing early-stage investments. Investment is expected to increase as more estate agents embrace Proptech.

Big players:



Ones to watch:



Further reading:

UK housing industry will use technology more than ever in 2020

PRTech icon

12. PRTech

What is it?

With the entire marketing world transformed by technology, PR is now looking to adopt a more programmatic, data-driven approach. Guesswork and observed data is no longer sufficient for businesses when it comes to measuring the success of a PR campaign.

PRTech covers everything from retargeting solutions to newswires to analytics to publishing platforms themselves. It looks at better connecting journalists with PRs, more intelligent press release targeting and cross-platform content distribution. Data is also being used to make PR activities better optimised, providing insights into what works and why. Data is now driving the key decisions and allowing agencies and businesses to see what is effective in terms of content and messaging.

Along with MADTech, the opportunities to make early-stage investments in PRTech are numerous.

Keys areas: Big Data | PR Analytics | Content Retargeting

Big players:



Ones to watch:



R&D in ecommerce

13.  RetailTech

What is it?

Of all sectors, retail has been hardest hit by the global pandemic. But innovative UK retail businesses are using the latest digital technology to keep going and help this exciting growth sector weather the storm.

One of the primary areas within RetailTech is around tightening the connection between online and physical retail, linking ‘bricks and clicks’. This includes using RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) and beacon technology to serve personalised messages and information to shoppers when the can be in store. Other RetailTech start-ups are using virtual presence – that is virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) to deliver an online or app experience that better correlates to an in-store experience.

Many retail and ecommerce businesses are looking for deeper insights into the customer journey across all channels so that they can improve the customer experience and make their marketing more targeted. Creating a genuinely omnichannel experience is a primary goal of many retailers and a focus for RetailTech.

The field of payments, in particular ‘cashless’ transactions, is also a key focus with biometric technology, like iris scanning and facial recognition, being used to improve security around payment. The rollout of 5G technology in the UK will improve access to mobile data and boost the mobility of pop-up retail shops and experiences.

There are many exciting businesses and start-ups operating in the UK’s retail technology sector.

Key areas: Wearables (RFID/Beacon) | Payments | Biometrics | VR | AR | 5G | Experiential retail

Big players:

YoYo Wallet

Box Technologies

Ones to watch:



Loyalty Lion

Further reading:

Retail Technology

R&D in eCommerce


TravelTech in the uk

14. Traveltech

What is it?

The travel technology industry looks at reducing the cost and complexity of travel as well as delivering better experiences for travellers at each stage of their journey.

Innovators in travel and tourism are developing technologies to help connect consumers and travel providers, offering more choice and more affordable options in real time. Air BnB, Uber and Kayak have all dramatically changed the way we approach travel and new start-ups continue to disrupt the sector.

Tech is being developed around mobile bookings, user ratings and reviews, tours, expense management and predictive analytics platforms. There are also apps that unlock more authentic ‘local’ experiences with events and activities.

TravelTech is at a key point in its development, with exciting and innovative start-ups entering the space all the time. There are also existing successful start-ups that are rapidly growing and looking to acquire smaller start-ups to grow further still.  As the TravelTech landscape continues to evolve, it presents exciting opportunities for investors.

Key areas:  Mobile Booking | Predictive Analytics | IoT

Big players:





Ones to watch:

Click Travel


Further reading:

Tech Developments in Travel & Tourism

ForrestBrown – helping innovative businesses grow

As R&D tax credit specialists, and yes that is all we do, we use the government’s R&D tax relief schemes to help innovative businesses fund their growth and disrupt their chosen markets. To find out more give us a call today for a free consultation.