Jennifer Arcuri, the US fintech entrepreneur whose close links to prime minister Boris Johnson led to conflict of interest allegations last year, has applied to chair a government-funded body representing UK technology companies.
Arcuri, who runs a cybersecurity business called Hacker House, told Financial News she would champion “bravery, boldness and perseverance” across the industry if she lands the role at Tech Nation.
Arcuri is already well known in UK tech circles and previously applied to become chief executive of Tech Nation – then known as Tech City – in 2012.
But her business dealings in the country came under scrutiny last year after an investigation by the Times into her friendship with Johnson during his time as mayor of London, a position he left in 2016. The Times alleged Arcuri and her businesses had benefitted from the relationship by receiving public money in the form of grants and access to trade missions led by Johnson.
A government review later found the largest of the grants, a £100,000 sum given to Hacker House by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport in 2019, was appropriate. In October last year, it was reported that Johnson had written a letter of recommendation for Arcuri when she applied for the chief executive post at Tech City. Johnson has insisted that his dealings with Arcuri were conducted with “full propriety”.
Arcuri said: “I have remained resilient throughout challenges which could have quite literally destroyed my business, my profession and my personal life. I am, of course, referencing the recent ‘scandal’ with the prime minister, in the face of which I have remained publicly committed to my cause, which is tech innovation in Britain. This tenacity and resilience are fundamental traits which the UK tech scene could really use right now.”
Tech Nation was founded in 2011 by David Cameron, prime minister at the time, to support UK tech start-ups. According to a freedom of information request by FN last year, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport gave Tech Nation £5.67m to support its activities in 2018, the largest sum it has received in a single year since it began.
In June 2019, senior policy and business figures expressed concern that a spaghetti junction of government-led initiatives risked stifling efforts to promote London as a tech hub. Catherine McGuinness, chair of the policy and resources committee of the City of London Corporation, the governing body of the area, said at the time that Britain needed “clarity for more impact”.
Arcuri said the UK had to do more to promote its technology products globally and to unite the various programmes and trade missions intended to support the sector. She said: “One of the greatest memories I have of the early days of Tech City was that we all knew and supported each other’s businesses, so it was easier to sell to each other and abroad. One of the key issues I would want to address is how to increase productivity across the country through a more inclusive approach to selling UK tech both in-house and abroad.”
She added that there should be more support for growing companies and referenced the positive impact of the Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme, a tax-break for start-up investors.
Hacker House is an ethical hacking start-up that helps companies prepare for cyberattacks. Before founding it in 2016, Arcuri ran another firm called Innotech Network, which organised events for the technology sector.
Tech Nation’s current chair is the venture capital investor Eileen Burbidge, who announced her decision to step down in January. The search for her successor is being led by headhunters Saxton Bampfylde and the Tech Nation board. Applications closed on 26 February. A spokesperson for Tech Nation said it would not comment on individual applications.
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