The UK has a significant supply of both ideas and talent when it comes to the tech industry. However many promising British companies either sell out or fail altogether, rather than growing into successful global companies.
We look at four notable examples of UK tech companies who either fizzled out, or sold up.
1 – Sinclair Research
In the 1980s , British gamers and covers across the UK were more likely to be hunched over one of Sir Clive Sinclair’s computers than an American or Asian-made alternative. Although the company’s widely used ZX Spectrums were only available for domestic use, Timex were licensed to make clones that were sold elsewhere in Europe, the US and South America.
The firm’s downfall was entering the business market. Its Sinclair QL was designed to outperform IBM’s PCs, but its tape-based Microdrive storage was unreliable and the British company did not offer the kind of telephone support the corporate sector required.
After the C5 electric vehicle also failed to catch on, a cash-strapped Sir Clive sold his firm’s brand and assets in 1986 to Amstrad, another domestic computer-maker. Amstrad later faced troubles with computer storage of its own and eventually switched focus to TV set-top boxes before selling out to BSkyB.
2 – Friends Reunited
Many years before the existence of social media sites like Facebook, a Hertfordshire-based couple and their friend created a social network with millions of users across the globe.
Friends Reunited connected members with their former classmates, and later expanded to cover former colleagues, sports teams members and neighbours.
The company was bought by ITV in 2005 for £175m, but the broadcaster continued to charge users to contact each other, which meant that free social networks overtook the site in terms of popularity. ITV sold the business for just £25m in 2009, and it continued to plod along without growth until earlier this year.
3 – ARM Holdings
The computer chip designer was created in Cambridge in 1990 as a joint venture between Acorn Computers and Apple.
Apple wanted a processor to power its first hand-held device, but later sold its stake after Steve Jobs returned and ditched the product. However Apple and ARM’s relationship continued for many years, as it’s processors powered the iPod, then the iPhone and iPad.
It wasn’t just Apple who used ARM’s chips; other smartphones, smart TVs, cars, fitness trackers, smartwatches and drones also use the technology.
Instead of remaining independent, earlier this year the company was sold to Japanese company Softbank for £24bn.
4 – Swiftkey
Last but not least, comes British-born company Swiftkey.
Swiftkey in the technology that anticipates words, in order to prevent users having to enter letters individually. The London-based firm made a keyboard app for Android and iOS handsets, and is essentially the technology that allows predictive text. The software predicts what its users want to write – including emojis – after they have only entered a few keystrokes. Over time, the impressive technology makes more accurate suggestions about what the user may be about to type, based on their habits.
The company accelerated it’s growth by making it’s app free to use as of 2014; while this was a success which resulted in the installation of Swiftkey on about 300 million devices by the end of 2015, it also led to large financial losses.
Earlier this year, the business was sold for a reported £250m – making it’s founders multimillionaires, but also highlighting the issue of how many start-up tech companies feel obligated to sell once their early stage funding runs out.
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