The CEO of $2 billion startup Deliveroo backs a new 'unicorn visa' to hire talent after Brexit

DeliverooDeliveroo CEO Will Shu.

  • The CEO of $US2 billion food delivery startup Deliveroo has backed calls for a new “unicorn” tech visa that would allow fast-growing British businesses to hire foreign talent.
  • Will Shu wrote in The Telegraph that the UK should be ambitious to create more $US1 billion-plus companies.
  • The UK’s departure from the EU threatens the country’s access to international talent, and the tech sector is especially reliant on foreign developers and operators.
  • The floated unicorn visa would give the fastest-growing businesses a queue jump when it comes to hiring foreign workers.
  • The UK’s digital minister told Business Insider that the government had to ensure its post-Brexit visa system remained “friendly” to the tech industry.

The chief executive of one of Britain’s most prominent and valuable startups has backed calls for a brand new type of UK visa: The “unicorn” visa.

Will Shu, CEO of $US2 billion food delivery startup Deliveroo, backed the idea for a dedicated visa category designed to lure highly skilled foreign workers into fast-growing technology businesses. Startups worth $US1 billion or more are described as “unicorns.”

Writing in The Telegraph, Shu said he now spent half of his time as CEO interviewing candidates to help him scale Deliveroo globally. He said: “As a tech company the skills we need are changing, increasingly specialist, and of course we want excellence.

“The UK has 15 [unicorns], which is great but it’s not enough and nor is it guaranteed to continue in such a competitive global marketplace. So we should all be ambitious for Britain and want to see the next generation of unicorns founded and grown right here.”

Read more: How Brexit killed an entrepreneur’s vision to invest in British tech talent

The unicorn visa was floated in a report by the Centre of Policy Studies (CPS), a pro-free market think-tank cofounded by Margaret Thatcher. The idea is that the fastest-growing British startups should be given special treatment when it comes to hiring foreign workers, skipping the line to scoop up talent.

The UK already has a number of specialist visas available to tech workers, entrepreneurs, and investors. But, the CPS wrote, a dedicated unicorn visa would send a message about the UK’s commitment to high-growth companies, especially as Brexit threatens the influx of foreign talent.

It appears that a fast-growing business wanting to apply for this floated new visa wouldn’t necessarily need to be a unicorn, but instead show that it could become one.

The CPS wrote that companies would need an average, annualised turnover or employee growth of 40% over three years, and a minimum turnover level of £25 million. It suggested that the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and the Home Office should be responsible for setting the criteria and overseeing the visa process.

It isn’t clear how this would work in practice.

Most fast-growing startups keep their financials and growth metrics private, only publishing limited reports to the UK’s Companies House once a year. But a company would need to prove that it is genuinely fast-growing to qualify for unicorn visas. Multiple startups in the UK have claimed to be unicorns, such as Blippar, Powa, and Ve Interactive, only to collapse as journalists and backers raised doubts.

Jake Kanter/Business InsiderMargot James, the UK digital minister.

Asked how Deliveroo would prove its fast-growth status to the government, a spokesman told Business Insider: “We already provide figures in our yearly accounts but I’m sure we would be happy to work with [the government] to ensure that the scheme would work.”

Digital minister Margot James told Business Insider in an interview that the government needed to ensure the UK’s visa system remained “friendly” to the startup and tech industry after Brexit. She added that the UK wasn’t in a position to fill every tech job with British-born workers just yet.

“It’s really important that they know that we’re serious about making sure they have got continued access to global talent, be it in Europe or anywhere else,” she said.

“And that’s not to downgrade the huge importance we attach to digital skills and the need to train people in this country and the responsibilities of tech companies to train people. But the tech industry is growing at two and a half times the rate the rest of the economy, and there’s no way we can fill all the skills gaps through our own investment in skills and in the short term.”

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