Why the UK is a Great Place to Start a Robotics Company
13 February 2023
The UK has always been at the forefront of developing new technologies. From the age of steam to the development of the jet engine and the discovery of DNA, UK engineers, and scientists have an incredible history of being at the leading edge of technological innovation.

Among the hyperbole about inventors and innovation, we often fail to remember that the UK has a wealth of valuable assets that make it a unique place to nurture and develop new inventions and smart hardware companies.

Over the past 15 years, the world has been dominated by the widespread adoption of consumer electronic devices such as smartphones and laptop computers, all of which have been manufactured in huge volumes outside of the UK. In this context, it’s easy to forget the value of the UK’s low-volume, highly adaptable manufacturing capabilities.

Companies like Karakuri, who make specialist, smart machines (aka robotics), are unlikely to ever need to make their systems in the hundreds of millions of units. Instead, these complex systems, designed for specific applications, will need to be made in the thousands to hundreds of thousands of units each year.
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Unmatched Engineering
The UK’s lead in specialist industries such as motorsport (and in particular F1) and entertainment (especially live events) and research science has helped create a network of highly skilled, highly flexible, highly technical manufacturers capable of producing some amazing work on unbelievably short timescales.

UK companies have unmatched engineering capabilities, including rapid prototyping, additive manufacturing, and materials science. In electronics assembly, we are incredibly well served by a network of small-volume specialist companies that can manufacture complex systems quickly and cheaply, even in a time of unprecedented global supply chain challenges.

Our small-volume, rapid manufacturing businesses are a massive advantage for companies in robotics and smart systems development because they provide a highly skilled and adaptive workforce that can build complex multidisciplinary systems quickly without a significant CapEx outlay.

It’s definitely a competitive advantage for Karakuri to have every part of our manufacturing process located within the UK.
UK deep-tech and robotics companies can struggle to hire in an environment where skilled engineers are offered significantly higher salaries to move overseas. However, at Karakuri, we’ve found that in many cases, British engineers don’t want to move abroad and lose contact with family and friends.

It’s important for UK employers to address the imbalance between what we can offer as an employer vs overseas competition. At Karakuri, we’re solving this problem by having a large Employee Stock Option Pool. We provide options to every member of the team. Our ethos is that every employee is a part owner of the business, regardless of seniority. They all have equity in our business and will all benefit from the company’s success.
Becoming Better for Deep-Tech and Robotics
While the UK has many advantages, I believe the UK could do more - especially for our domestic deep-tech, robotic, hardware and smart systems companies. Below are a few areas in which I think the UK needs to develop if we’re to continue to prosper as a technology innovator on the world stage:

Training and Education – We need greater investment in training for the future of cross-disciplinary engineering at all levels. We need to develop a new generation of talented engineers that can traverse the traditional verticals of mechanical, electronics, and software engineering.

Investment Infrastructure – At Karakuri, we have benefited from government support via Innovate UK and the Future Fund. However, compared to other countries, the UK still needs a better commercial investment infrastructure for deeper tech hardware businesses.

The UK has been incredibly successful at growing its base of forward-looking VCs over the last 10-15 years. However, much of this growth has focused on software and pharmaceutical businesses. There is very limited UK-based investment available for hardware-inclusive companies. While the UK’s talent and manufacturing base give us an advantage today, the lack of patient capital for UK hardware start-ups will hamper the UK’s deep-tech opportunities in the long term.

So to answer my original question, why is the UK a great place to start a robotics company?

Because our flexible manufacturing and skilled workforce are second to none.

How could it be better?

With the right focus on education and the correct incentives for long-term investors, I believe the UK has the potential to become a world leader in smart systems and robotics for many years to come.
Tags: Robotics