Championing the Safety Tech sector: one amazing year
“When we set up the Safety Tech Innovation Network a year ago, we hoped we’d find an audience. We weren’t quite prepared for what happened next.” Ryan Jackson looks back on an amazing year for Safety Tech.
Hello, I’m Ryan Jackson. I’m just about to start my seventh week as manager of the Safety Tech Innovation Network. So far, it’s been astonishing – I’ve already met so many fantastic, committed people working in the UK and overseas, all dedicated to using cutting-edge technology to make the internet a safer place.
It has to be said, that although I’m new to the Safety Tech Innovation Network, I’m actually not all that new to Safety Tech itself. In my previous role as Trade and Investment Manager for the Department of International Trade (DIT), my job was to support exports of cutting-edge new technologies, as well as attract foreign direct investment into the UK. That’s where I met Sharon Pursey, the COO of SafeToNet, which sells technologies to help children manage their online experiences. I loved what they did – their mission and their passion.
So, when the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) asked DIT to help support the growth of an emerging sector of hundreds of companies with a mission similar to SafeToNet, I jumped at the chance. Last year, we collaborated with DCMS on the Directory of Safety Tech Providers, and earlier this year we worked together on theSafety Tech Expo 2021.
In fact, in the end I became so excited about the potential of the Safety Tech sector I quit my comfortable civil service job to see what I could do to drive fast, sustainable growth of the sector as the first dedicated lead for the Safety Tech Innovation Network.
A remarkable year of growth – and connections
Now I’m here, I seem to have been fortunate enough to have arrived at the end of a defining year for the Safety Tech sector.
First, it’s been a year which has seen unprecedented sector growth. The latest DCMS report found that Safety Tech sector revenues were up 39% and employment up 30%, making it one of the fastest-growing parts of the UK tech sector. The benefits of this growth have been felt across the UK; more than half of all safety tech jobs are outside London, in regional hubs including Leeds and Edinburgh. Last year, we listed around 70 companies on our providers pages – now there are over 100.
But, more than this, it’s been a year in which sector organisations have come together as never before. New links, new networks have become established across the globe, and across disciplines, in pursuit of a shared mission.
The Safety Tech mission has, for example, been articulated in the United Nations. G7 countries have committed to supporting growth and innovation in Safety Tech. Sector organisations in Germany held a series of events. Hundreds of people attended the first Safety Tech Unconference and hundreds more, including the world’s largest brands, attended the Safety Tech Expo 2021.
We’ve also begun to have serious discussions within the sector about what we need to grow; how we can retain trust and quality in what we deliver, while scaling rapidly to meet increasing levels of demand. The DCMS Safety Tech Sector Skills and Capabilities research helped to shine a spotlight on our priorities. It found that although people love working in the sector once they join it – retention rates are far in excess of those seen in other parts of the tech sector – it continues to lack sufficient visibility. And although the need for diversity is acknowledged, not enough is being done to deliver it. As a result, the sector has come together to form a new skills and capability working group.
We’ve also begun to build the Safety Tech Innovation Network into a world-leading destination for information about the new sector. As of today, we have more than 600 members, and thousands more access the information on the website every month. Hundreds of people have attended our online events looking at issues such as consequence scanning, community moderation, user privacy and building on audience needs.
We’ve only just begun: the path to a trusted, vibrant Safety Tech sector
Despite all this progress, it sometimes feels like we’re still very much in the foothills. The Safety Tech sector has so much to offer, and its mission is compelling. It combats disinformation. Keeps children safer. Prevents toxicity. Helps protect brand reputation. Keeps some of the most repugnant content off the internet. But in truth, much more needs to be done to spread the word about the sector, so it can find new audiences and ultimately protect more online experiences.
The recent launch of the Safety Tech Challenge Fund points to one way forward. We’re delighted to be hosting the Challenge Fund on this website, and in the next few months you’ll see a series of updates about funded projects, and an in-depth discussion of the issues the fund is seeking to tackle.
We’ll be investing more into providing shared resources for the sector, with the beginnings of our Safety Tech Academy programme. Initial workstreams will focus on introducing new people to the sector via our Safety Tech 101 seminars, and on helping safety tech companies access funding.
We’ll be sharing more stories of the people leading the growth of Safety Tech – with CEOs whose innovative products are creating step-changes in our ability to detect and address harm online, as well as thought leaders who are identifying the key issues and challenges, we need to address.
We’ll be rejigging this website, so we can give more prominence to the amazing stories coming from the sector.
We’ll be increasingly working with colleagues across government to investigate the potential to grow the Safety Tech export sector.
And of course, we’ll be working with DCMS to follow the progress of the Online Safety Bill through parliament, examining its consequences for technology.
Right now, I can’t imagine a more exciting, more worthwhile place to work than Safety Tech. If you’re interested in keeping in touch, don’t forget to sign up to our newsletter. Or if you fancy a chat, to share your story or ideas for the network, I’d love to hear from you (firstname.lastname@example.org) or via LinkedIn.
Onwards and upwards!