The UK is great for start-ups, say wearable tech firms

Government and business need to do more to support this quirky but futuristic industry, say wearable tech firms.

Harry Wise wearing a 'Smart Glove' that. The glove can scan barcodes and is used by many automotive manufacturers across Europe.
Harry Wise wearing a ‘Smart Glove.’ The glove can scan barcodes and is used by many automotive manufacturers across Europe.

Wearable tech firms taking part in Smart Factory Expo have said the UK is a fantastic place for tech startups, but more support is needed.

They said the UK delivers great support from government and business, but that far more assistance is required if startups are going to be turned into scaleups and major businesses.

Mark Hester, co-founder of The Imagination Factory said: “The UK is very good at the very early stage. We get funding from lots of places to help us, for example, remove leaves from the railway line. It’s very good at providing grant funding. The R&D tax credit system is also great. But funding startup hardware companies is not so good.” Hester says venture capital firms are often reluctant to invest in hardware startups.

Among the multiple products his company designs are SwimAR headsets. This technology, when attached to a range of goggles gives swimmers real-time feedback on their performance. They have also developed a heads up display that assists inventor Richard Browning, known as the ‘real-life Iron Man,’ in his flights.

His comments were echoed by another attendee, Derk Steemers, Marketing Manager at Munich-based ProGlove. He said though the UK has a great manufacturing heritage, manufacturing lacks the investment to be world-class.

“There’s so much more money invested in startups in Germany. When we go to other events, money-wise, it’s like a different planet. In Germany, a company can be subsidised to travel to events like this. Stands like this are very expensive. The fares are subsidised or free and that gives you a lot of freedom and opportunity.”

ProGlove’s products are used by the major German car manufacturers including BMW, Porsche, and Audi. They manufacture ‘smart gloves’ which are used in logistics and production and which enable factory workers and logistics staff to work more ergonomically.

As Derk Steemers explains: “Normally, you’d document using a scanning gun, but you lose 3.2 seconds that way. What we do is we embed a scanner on a glove so that you can trigger a scan on your index finger which is how we help BMW save four seconds per scan which saves them 20 hours a week per worker.”

But despite the problems facing the wearable tech sector in Britain, companies like Tended have found the UK an ideal place to set up a firm. As its founder Leo Scott Smith wrote, “the support offered from business organisations, groups and accelerators has been paramount to our success. The UK is very start-up friendly.”

Smart Factory Expo is Europe’s largest digital manufacturing show – presenting the most extensive free programme of presentations across seven stages, 150+ exhibitors, and thousands of digitally-savvy manufacturers.

It is the largest component of Digital Manufacturing Week, an annual celebration of UK manufacturing excellence that takes place every November in Liverpool. This year saw 5,322 visitors to Digital Manufacturing Week (up 36% on 2017).

Clear your diary and join us next year: 13-14 Nov 2019!


Reporting from Harry Wise