UK overtakes US as engineering startup hub as new generation of entrepreneurs emerges

Research carried out by the Royal Academy of Engineering’s Enterprise Hub, indicates that the UK may have overtaken the US as the global centre for engineering startups. 63% of London engineers have founded their own business, while for the UK as whole the figure stands at 34% compared to 27% in the US.

The research finds that a generation gap has opened between young graduate and academic entrepreneurs and those over the age of 40. Just one in ten of those over 40 have started or even considered starting a business, in contrast to a third of those aged 21-30, rising to half of 31-40-year olds.

The findings will prove encouraging reading for the Government, as engineering enterprises will be essential to delivering the innovation and technological advances at the centre of the Industrial Strategy.

Ian Shott, Chair, Royal Academy of Engineering Enterprise Committee, commented: “The UK has lagged behind the US in commercialising its world-class research, so I am encouraged to see that a new generation of engineering entrepreneurs is rising to the challenge.”

However, the research highlighted that, just 15% of engineers based outside London had founded their own firm. One explanation for this may lie in attitudes to risk. The survey showed that those outside London were 23% more likely to hold back due to worries that they might fail.

Dr Jenifer Baxter, head of engineering at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, responded to this by saying: “Government must do more to provide support for new engineering companies at a localised level.

“The UK has fantastic regional capabilities and heritage, from the high-value manufacturing heartlands of the Midlands through to the heavy industry of Wales and the flourishing start-ups of Manchester. Engineering research is already well distributed throughout the UK; it is a national strength and our start-ups, many formed as University spin-outs, should be supported more to ensure the regions can prosper.”

San Jose and San Francisco (Silicon Valley) edged out London as the locations identified as best for founding an engineering enterprise thanks to a highly skilled local engineering workforce, cultural appreciation of engineering and ease of access to investors. Frankfurt came in third, Tokyo fourth and Hong Kong fifth according to the poll of UK and US based engineers. In response to a question about what is required for enterprise to flourish, the engineers surveyed ranked access to funding as the number one factor, with access to customers and markets in second place and mentoring in third.