The ‘Dominic Cummings effect’ on Britain’s start-ups

The pandemic has become the ultimate proving ground for Dominic Cummings’ unabashed campaign to use technology to improve government. As Covid’s gravity became clear, the Prime Minister’s chief adviser oversaw the deployment of private firms’ big data and machine learning capability at the heart of the public sector response. For example, the NHS signed a contract with Peter Thiel’s controversial analytics firm Palantir, among others, to create a “single source of truth” on key metrics like A&E capacity, ICU beds, and ventilators.

Giants like Google and Amazon Web Services too found themselves integrated themselves into the machinery of the British state, as did Faculty AI (Nos 53 and 60), which had worked for Cummings at Vote Leave during the Brexit campaign and has enjoyed a stream of government contracts ever since, landing 10 in the past two years. During the pandemic it created government dashboards to show how policy decisions were affecting businesses and monitored social media to gauge the mood of the public.

Others on our list have also been drafted by No 10 to help. Imperial College London spin-out DNANudge, founded by 59-year old Christofer Toumazou (No 73), received a £161m order from the Government for its 90-minute Covid-19 tests.

The state and the UK’s tech sector are gelling elsewhere, too, notably on identity verification and fraud detection. Vishal Marria’s Quantexa (No 28) uses vast arrays of data to spot inconsistencies and identify fraudulent activities, typically at banks. Its tech was used to help track down contacts of the London Bridge terror attackers through payments and today it claims its software can help governments “detect tax fraud, improve customs controls, [and] monitor benefits”.

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