Hadall: Is the UK too risk averse?

Hadall: Is the UK too risk averse?

Date: Tuesday 4 July 2017

News Hadall: Is the UK too risk averse?

Jeremy Hadall, chief technologist for robotics and automation at the MTC, has been given his own website – sharing his opinion, features and relevant stories related to robotics and automation.

In this latest extract, Jeremy questions why the UK is great at innovating but slow on being the first adopters. Check out more from Jeremy at www.jeremyhadall.co.uk.

Recently I’ve been listening to Reid Hoffman’s excellent podcast series, “Masters of Scale”.

In the series, Reid looks at how innovative entrepreneurs have scaled their companies from just an idea to multi-billion internationals.

Reid has some experience of this himself, as one of the co-founders of LinkedIn and having friends in Silicon Valley such as Larry Page (ex-Google CEO and now Alphabet President) and Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook).

At the same time, here in the UK there has been a lot of discussion about why the UK hasn’t developed a major robot supplier such as Kuka, ABB or Fanuc. These two things got me thinking about what made Facebook, LinkedIn, Google and all the others ‘scale’, why ABB et al have grown to be so dominant and why UK robotics start-ups struggle to make an impact or get bought out by major multi-nationals?

And here I recognize that there are a very few exceptions and even so, none of them are producing tens of thousands or robots a year.

It certainly isn’t for a lack of ideas of innovations; just a look at the work being done across UK universities and spin-outs/start-ups confirms this. And I’m not sure that a lack of Government support or backing from the finance sector is entirely to blame either although it will have played a role. Indeed, any additional support from lenders or the Government’s Industrial Strategy would be welcome.

The UK does invent some amazing things, the BBC’s recent program on Britain’s Greatest Inventions (http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p0512npr) proved that. But more often than not, the UK is not the first place that those technologies are implemented. We tend to take the view that “yes it’s a great idea, well done for creating it. But I don’t want to be the first person to try it!”

We are essentially risk adverse; afraid to be the first adopters and taking the risk that it might not work. And perhaps this is one reason why our innovative robot start-ups have struggled to ‘scale’. In essence it’s the UK’s conservative approach versus Silicon Valley’s pioneering spirit.

Search on iTunes, Stitcher or whatever app you use for “Masters of Scale” or visit www.entrepreneur.com/masters-of-scale to listen to Reid’s podcasts.


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Kevin Partington
UK Managing Director, ATS Global