In January 2020, the government of Wales announced its strategy that set out the nation’s approach to international engagement. This strategy was based on three core ambitions and a vision for the next five years: to raise Wales’ profile on the international stage, to grow the economy by increasing exports and attracting inward investment, and to establish Wales as a globally responsible nation. Just over a year later in June 2021, Wales became the only UK nation to see the number of inward investment projects increase despite the ongoing global pandemic, with nearly 7,000 foreign investment jobs safeguarded thanks to direct Covid-19 economic support from the Welsh Government.
In line with this strategy, and building on the nation’s reputation for creativity, innovation, talent, connectivity, a collaborative ecosystem, sustainability, and great work-life balance, Trade and Invest (T&I) Wales, the body that is responsible for attracting foreign direct investment into the country, is investing in and developing ideas and technologies that will shape the country’s future. The country offers immense potential for new investors in priority sectors such as cybersecurity, renewables, life sciences, fintech, compound semiconductors, and advanced manufacturing. Here’s a closer look at why these sectors are perfect for foreign investment.
Home to one of the most sophisticated cybersecurity ecosystems in Europe, Wales enables and supports multinationals, start-ups and academic expertise. It boasts numerous centres of excellence and has research labs that enable SMEs to develop new cybersecurity products and services.
Wales’s cybersecurity ecosystem is also one of the largest in the UK. The ecosystem’s reputation has led to global heavyweight names like Airbus, Thales, BT, Aston Martin, General Dynamics and SANS Institute choosing to locate either their European headquarters or significant cyber operations in and around south Wales.
“Cybersecurity in Wales is a really vibrant sector,” says Damon Rands, CEO of PureCyber, part of the flourishing cyber ecosystem in Wales. “We’ve got all kinds of industries here, and massive data creators like the ONS and DVLA, and all forms of energy development with the technology around that. So it’s a great playground for developing cybersecurity technologies.” He credits the Welsh government’s strategy and direction for this success. “The agile support Welsh gvernment is able to give companies is amazing, from incubation to advice and guidance and mentoring.”
Underpinned by legislation and investment in renewable energy infrastructure, Wales takes its role as a globally responsible nation very seriously. The country has invested more than £110m in renewable energy infrastructure, backing 11 marine energy projects, including the tidal stream demonstration zone off the coast of Anglesey. European Regional Development Funding of £100 million has already been allocated for R&D and innovation on projects in marine energy in Wales. The nation’s wealth of natural resources and access to the Celtic and Irish Seas make it a hotspot for major projects and developers, while its strategically located ports provide valuable supply chain and deployment support for marine energy projects.
“It’s an incredibly exciting time for the business,” says Dr Gareth Stockman, CEO of Swansea-based Marine Power Systems, which is working towards its goal of building the world’s best wave energy system. “The marine energy sector is growing at pace with over £152 million invested into the marine renewable energy sector to date. With two large-scale wave and tidal stream demonstration zones, seabed agreements in place for three separate marine and tidal stream projects, and a number of proposals for significant offshore floating wind projects, Wales is well positioned to play a global leading role in marine energy.”
Thanks to a vibrant research culture involving the industry, academic institutions, and government, the dedicated Life Sciences hub in Cardiff acts as the front door for the whole sector, connecting commercial, academic, clinical and funding organisations. Wales has an extensive property portfolio ranging from dedicated life science incubators such as the Cardiff Medicentre and the Institute of Life Sciences in Swansea, to the Life Sciences Genomics Park on the edge of Cardiff. The system makes it simple to move research projects towards market readiness. The nation’s devolved National Health Service is committed to supporting innovative technologies and therapies to reduce costs and improve patient outcomes.
Wales has a thriving medtech sector too. Medical technology companies range from large corporate multinationals (including Thermo Fisher Scientific and Zimmer/Biomet) to smaller start-ups built around innovation arising from the Welsh academic research base such as MedaPhor and Cyden.
The not-for-profit FinTech Wales was established in 2019 with the aim of making Wales a global leader in the financial technology sector, nurturing talent while connecting and enabling the sector’s ecosystem. Headed up by Starling Bank founding member, Sarah Williams Gardner, FinTech Wales brings together entrepreneurs, small, medium and large enterprises, tech suppliers, universities, higher and further education, schools and the public sector.
“The Welsh tech sector is one of the fastest-growing digital economies outside of London. Cardiff is also a bright, dynamic and entrepreneurial city with a supportive ecosystem which we are looking to tap into as we continue to grow our business and personal accounts,” says Anne Boden, founder and CEO of Starling Bank. “There are lots of networks and a fintech community in Cardiff for individuals who are coming out of university. We have been able to tap into a wealth of talent in the local area and beyond – not just university students, but also established talent that has been working in industry.” Wales is also home to several internationally renowned fintech businesses.
With the market expected to grow to £125 billion by 2025, the UK is aiming to be a global force in compound semiconductors, building sovereign capabilities. Wales is at the forefront of this drive with a dedicated compound semiconductors cluster, which is integral to the development of 5G and satellite communication systems, power electronics, RF and wireless devices, photonics and quantum computing amongst many other everyday applications. With dedicated centres for R&D and innovation, Wales offers solutions for start-ups, through to established companies looking to advance technologies. In fact, the country is home to the world’s first compound semiconductor cluster, CSconnected, a unique community that represents organisations directly associated with research, development, innovation and manufacturing of semiconductors-related technologies as well as those along the supply chain whose products and services are enabled by compound semiconductors.
Wales has a 165,000-strong skilled workforce with a broad range of manufacturing expertise, and the nation’s colleges and universities produce more than 2,700 engineering graduates every year. Strong links between the industry and the universities of Wales ensure that there’s a backbone of research and development to fuel the next generation of automotive innovation. Industry Wales, with its specialist aerospace, automotive and electronics, software and technology forums, is helping to grow Welsh technology and manufacturing businesses, globally. It provides a range of services to support companies already established within Wales and to attract and support companies that are seeking a world-class location for their business.
The Electrical Vehicle Centre of Excellence is addressing the challenges of implementing an electrified, cost-effective and holistically operating transport sector for the UK. Wales also has a strong aerospace, defence and space community, with the sector consisting of over 160 companies and employing over 23,000 people.