“The fund that we are launching is the first specialist fund aimed at robotics in the UK,” says Dominic Keen, CEO of High Growth Robotics (pictured right) who will run the British Robotics Seed Fund.
“It is now feasible for a small team to work for a couple of years to create a good prototype with a budget of a few hundred thousand pounds”
“The plan is to fund up to 12 UK-based startups each year who are focussing in on robotics applications. It’s a relatively broad definition of robotics – any system with physical manipulation or sensing,” he tells us. “A lot of the systems will have a heavy AI element to them but rather than virtual AI we are looking at the end applications.”
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The fund is backed by Sapphire Capital Partners, and Keen is looking to work with the Bristol Robotics Laboratory (BRL) to support early stage startups. BRL, a joint venture between the University of Bristol and the University of the West of England, is the largest robotics lab in Europe and is based at UWE’s Frenchay campus. It hosts the Future Space startup incubator as well as two key UK projects on the driverless cars, Venturer and Flourish.
Robotics in the South West
Bristol and Bath have several startups working on robotics, from Open Bionics and Altitude Tech to Fusion Processing and Graph.ai. The XMOS microcontroller technology developed in Bristol is also widely used in robotics systems around the world and according to market research firm Tractica, robotics is set to grow at over 45% to reach $250bn by 2021.
The fund is particularly focussed on the startup community. “People have got to start somewhere and it is now feasible for a small team to work for a couple of years to create a good prototype with a budget of a few hundred thousand pounds,” he said. “This fund is about solving this first stage of the puzzle. The falling cost of hardware and software and the ability of startups to get up and running quickly means it is possible for people to take their business a lot further on this level of funding.
“Businesses need to develop prototypes of their ideas before they can access larger amounts of funding and the idea of this fund is to make it as easy as possible”
“The reality of the funding climate in Europe is that businesses do need to develop prototypes of their ideas before they can access larger amounts of funding and the idea of this fund is to make it as easy as possible to get to the point where they can access the funds that can provide £2 to £4m in backing,” he said.
Active support from other robotics companies is another key aspect of the fund. “The support that’s currently given to startups is relatively distant,” he said. “Support we will give will be more direct from people with experience of raising millions of pounds and peer review through the other robotics companies, getting them connected to the global networks that then allows them to scale up.”