The UK has overtaken the US as the global centre for engineering start-ups, according to research carried out by the Royal Academy of Engineering’s Enterprise Hub.
According to the research, 63% of London engineers have founded their own business, while for the UK as whole the figures stand at 34% compared to 27% in the US.
The research finds that a generation gap has opened up between young graduate and academic entrepreneurs and those over the age of 40.
Just one in ten of those over 40 has started or even considered starting a business, in contrast to a third of those aged 21-30, rising to half of the 31-40-year-olds.
The findings will prove encouraging reading for the UK Government, as engineering enterprises will be essential to delivering the innovation and technological advances at the centre of the Industrial Strategy.
Ian Shott CBE FREng, chair, Royal Academy of Engineering Enterprise Committee, commented: “Life may begin at 40, but it is clear that world-leading businesses start far earlier.
“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.”
Attitudes toward enterprise appear to be changing, with fewer engineers now believing a “light bulb” moment is essential for a business to succeed.
For those aged 21-40, hard work and outstanding engineering skills were seen as the most important factor, pushing the “light bulb moment” into third place.
Just 1 in 10 of those aged 21-40 felt the flash of inspiration was essential, in contrast to 1 in 5 of those over the age of 40.
The research highlighted that, outside London, fewer engineers are converting ideas into the innovative products and services of the companies of the future.
Just 15% of those based outside London had founded their own firm, significantly below all regions of the US barring the Midwest.
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.
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.
Shott added: “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.
"Given time and support, they have begun to develop tomorrow’s world-leading innovative enterprises, extending Britain’s reputation for invention and creativity.”
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