What benefits are there to launching an engineering start-up in the UK over the US?


For the best part of 70 years, the US has clung to its crown as the world’s leading centre of engineering excellence, dominating markets from steel and cars to aerospace and energy. A long-standing symbol for innovation, the US continues to attract a wealth of budding engineers who seek to start their own companies and advance their careers.

However, while the US’ status as tech capital of the world is aided by its world-renowned digital suburbs such as Silicon Valley, new research indicates that the UK has pipped the US to the post as a global centre for engineering start-ups in 2018.

According to the Royal Academy of Engineering’s Enterprise Hub, 63% of London engineers have founded their own business. For the UK as a whole, the figure stands at an impressive 34% compared to 27% in the US. Where the UK once lagged behind its American cousins in engineering, the strength of the automotive, rail, aerospace and defence industries in the UK has seen the nation surpass the US in terms of industry growth.

These findings will certainly prove an uplifting read for the UK Government, as new engineering enterprises will be critical in delivering technological advances outlined in their Industrial Strategy. But what is causing this shift, and what benefits are there to launching an engineering start-up in the UK over the US?

A cultural commitment to innovation

Driving economic growth through engineering innovation and entrepreneurship has long been a goal of the UK government, but with the inception of the Enterprise Hub in 2013, it finally became a reality.

Founded to support and inspire the next generation of engineering and technology businesses, Enterprise Hub would go on to assist the most ambitious start-ups in the sector to reach their potential by providing them with essential connections to established financing and business clusters.

“We often think of the US as a hotbed of enterprise, but the results clearly show that an entrepreneurial spirit is alive and kicking on this side of the pond too. We founded the Enterprise Hub to bring together exceptional engineering business leaders, both emerging and established, for mutual gain,” said Ian Shott, Chair for the Royal Academy of Engineering Enterprise Committee.

“Given time and support, they have begun to develop tomorrow’s world-leading innovative enterprises, extending Britain’s reputation for invention and creativity.”

Since its establishment, the Enterprise Hub has helped more than 100 entrepreneurs and SMEs, enabling them to commercialise their ideas without even paying a penny. In turn, more than 70 start-ups have been established as investable, high-growth companies.

Company growth

As well as increased access to funding, however, a vast number of engineering start-ups in the UK have benefited from one-on-one mentoring with Academy Fellows via the Enterprise Hub. Boasting a wealth of engineering and business experience, these highly skilled mentors have helped to encourage medium-sized engineering enterprises to push the boundaries and become more ambitious in their strategies.  As it stands, mentors dedicate a combined 800 days a year to contribute to the Hub’s initiatives, providing bespoke support to help shape the ideas of engineers into commercially viable realities.

If you’re going to deal with risk you have to have mechanisms to mitigate it,” said Shott.

“These are basic engineering principles – engineering is the obviation of risk – so by using some screening to get the best people; by giving them selected mentors who are the best people in the world they could have to help them; by giving them funding and training; and introducing them to funders, we’re creating a landscape and ecosystem that will mitigate risk and accelerate progress.”

While the UK may be in the midst of a STEM talent shortage, this is by no means an issue unique to our nation. Perceptions of the profession are changing, but this does not give governments a free pass to throw up their hands in despair and give up.

In fact, quite the opposite: as America continues to thrive from its past investments, the UK is devoting time and resource into plugging the skills gap through aggressive entrepreneurship and specialist training. Thanks to initiatives such as the Enterprise Hub, it’s no surprise we’ve stolen the start-up crown from the U.S: the question is, how long can we keep hold of it?