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Hardtech is an emerging technology sector defined by its ability to solve difficult problems, though its products are often often too complex or new to sell. Moonshots is an acronym for a type of mission that seeks to exceed the expectations of large organisations or individuals.
Boris Wertz, who took up the role of hardtech director at British Airways, hopes the next few years will be a time of blossoming growth for the sector, which can still be hard to fund. “If you want to scale hardtech in the same way that you can scale a supermarket, then you need to build scale into it.”
Hardtech can be found on websites that sell everything from vision-sensing glasses to, more controversially, machine-learning robots, which Mr Wertz describes as a possible “killer app” for the business world.
Such new technology will be set against the backdrop of a tough period for the aviation sector. In March, the world’s largest airline, International Airlines Group, reported a collapse in profit. Hardware startups are also finding it difficult to raise money, as investors keep their money in safer areas.
For Shaun Jackson, the former chief executive of the sector sector programme at Arup, it is going to be hard for entrepreneurs in the hardtech sector to raise money in the next few years. The weak economic climate, he says, could be “a headwind, especially for small technologies”, and being a disruptive technology could be a factor as well.
This is not unexpected. The financial crisis made people favour better established tech companies and allowed venture capital to concentrate on companies that “took maximum advantage of any relevant market opportunity”, according to Paul McLuckie, managing director of Taylor and Francis, a venture capital investor.
Hardtech’s only big backer is DFJ Esprit, which last year announced plans to launch a £50m £100m second fund focused on the sector. DFJ Esprit claims that the sector has reached “mass market adoption” and predicts that it will raise its first fund from investors in the next three years.
A crowdfunding site aimed at helping hardtech companies raise their first funds to start production, BitTitan, and a business-plan competition for early-stage companies run by Tech City UK, echo these bullish predictions.
Signs are also encouraging. About 30 technology companies have been created in the UK over the past year, compared with about 10 the previous year. And more than 50 different online hardtech websites launched last year, up from 25 in 2012.
HardTech receives support from the British government, but these same leaders are also pushing for an investment-friendly British business climate, which will be key for the sector’s future.