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9 April, 2018 - 17:59 By Tony Quested

Second robotics and AI seed fund nearing £1.5 million

A second seed fund designed specifically to help UK robotics and AI pioneers is heading towards the £1.5 million raise milestone.

Steered from Martlesham in Suffolk, the initiative is spearheaded by Britbots and Sapphire Capital Partners, a specialist manager of tax-efficient funds. Their partnership is already helping robotics and AI entrepreneurs accelerate commercialisation of their ventures.

Britbots says the second British Robotics Seed Fund has attracted a lot of investor interest and has been well subscribed. The fund will be used to take stakes in more high-potential robotics and AI-related ventures.

The new fund will predominantly focus on SEIS-qualifying investment opportunities to deliver the most significant tax benefits to investors. There will still be scope for the fund to make a number of investments under the EIS scheme when there are scale-up opportunities for existing portfolio companies. 

In a climate where returns on listed investments are constrained, exploiting the rapid global adoption of robotics and AI systems whilst also benefiting from attractive tax reliefs under SEIS/EIS makes for an exciting high-growth investment strategy, as part of a broader portfolio.  

Opportunities for significant investment returns in this sector are becoming widespread, with more than 50 robotics and automation companies being acquired over the last year, for a total consideration of more than £20 billion.

The second fund will look to back world-class entrepreneurs with global product opportunities. There will be a particular focus on machine-learning and enabling technologies for autonomous robotics.

Britbots meets with hundreds of businesses each year and has already earmarked a number of exciting businesses as potential investments for the fund. The success of the fund was recognised by this year’s EISA Awards.

Dominic Keen, founder of Britbots said: “I’m delighted in the level of interest in our second robotics fund.  It is the best way for an investor to get access to mixed basket of shares in the exciting robotics and AI growth companies that are shaping our economy for the decades ahead.”

ZOA Robotics is just one of the successes benefiting from the inaugural fund. It secured £85,000 seed investment. 

ZOA Robotics’ objective is to develop four-legged robots with the grace of animals that can move anywhere. The company is looking to introduce its low cost highly mobile robots to tackle movement of goods across sites with uneven ground and multiple levels, reducing the use of manual labour to move around payloads.

The investment is being used to scale the existing prototype to carry heavier loads and implement machine learning for improved control and autonomy.

The robots, dynamic by design and lightweight, are targeted at businesses operating on large or remote sites with uneven terrain where items need moving and where wheels struggle. This includes oil rigs, industrial process plants and construction sites.

ZOA says its robots boost productivity and safety. When used for logistics, the robots reduce workers time spent on fetching parts, equipment or consumables. While remote inspection and maintenance via robots means that workers no longer need to visit hazardous environments.

Thiago Azevedo, the founder and CEO of ZOA Robotics said: “We are building a four-legged robot about the size of a large dog. Customers need only tell it where to go, and the robot automatically negotiates obstacles, uneven terrain and stairs.”

Azevedo, a serial entrepreneur, has worked as the commercial director at Shadow Robot, where he turned the company around. He was also commercial director and co-founder of MGT Teesside, an independent power company which raised £950 million in project finance raised and is now under construction.

• PHOTOGRAPH SHOWS: ZOA Robotics founder and CEO, Thiago Azevedo

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