Cambridge, home to one the most internationally recognised educational facilities, was nicknamed ‘The Silicon Fen’ over a decade ago. Also known as the Cambridge Cluster, this city inspires high-tech start ups, particularly in the software and biotech sector. Cambridge boasts being in the top 10 tech clusters in the UK, flaunts an internationally acknowledged University thus harnessing the ‘Cambridge brand’ and has impressive research facilities at their fingertips thanks to the R&D at both higher education institutes.
Cambridge is situated in Cambridgeshire and is only 50 miles from England’s capital. In under an hour, you can hop on a train and arrive at London’s Kings Cross station.
Although Cambridge does have an airport, it is more convenient in terms of international destinations to use Stansted Airport which is just a 40 minute drive or a half hour train journey away.
There are facilities that cover various industry sectors including many incubators. Social Incubator East is a part of Allia which has other incubators in Peterborough. It is focused on growing social ventures and aims to support social enterprises in East England.
IdeaSpace is powered by the University of Cambridge; students, alumni and Cambridge residents have access to this incubator.
One of Europe’s biggest and oldest serving centres for commercial research and development is nestled in the Cambridge Science Park. St John’s Innovation Centre, the oldest technology incubator in Europe, specialises in business services for knowledge-based companies.
One of the most iconic and well known Universities for excellence and academia resides here. The University of Cambridge is one of the top 2 Universities in the UK and top 5 in the world. This University is considered a facility for brainiacs and the city puts them at the forefront of their pride. Seriously, search Cambridge and the University is the first thing that pops up.
Lesser known is the Anglia Ruskin University. Although they hold science and technology research facilities, they are better known for their international business school and faculty of health, social care and education.
Overall, the two universities lend themselves to a variety of subject areas generating a diverse talent pool of graduates. The credentials of the University of Cambridge provides international acknowledgement to new start ups due to the ‘Cambridge brand’.
Despite the thriving research environment, there are very few accelerators in the area. Accelerate Cambridge is an initiative launched by the University of Cambridge’s Judge Business School providing various 3 month programmes. Allia Future Business Centre tenants have access to Green Inc which gives six months support for early stage clean tech or social enterprise start ups. Alternatively, investors and funding can be found through the likes of Cambridge Capital Group and Cambridge Angels.
Commonly, start ups partner with big international firms that are on the scene as opposed to taking the venture forward themselves as they cannot afford to develop them otherwise. The support and mentorship in the area is impressive, but some young start ups claim to struggle to obtain the financial support they need.
Other support can be found via voucher schemes such as Cambridge Destination Digital’s connection vouchers for faster and accessible broadband.
SyndicateRoom is a FinTech company that launched in the summer of 2013. They are an investor-led crowdfunding platform. For them, Cambridge is a small, ambitious start up ecosystem that has a supportive local angel community. Due to its size, it is easy to network and thus, meeting key players is relatively easy. SyndicateRoom’s CEO, Gonçalo de Vasconcelos, believes it is the most open place to meet people than in any other UK city that he knows of.
In terms of changes, the start up culture seems to be getting more ambitious with an international focus as opposed to local commerce. In fact, it could be argued that it has been a centre for innovation for decades with global recognition. Initiatives such as Accelerate Cambridge, ideaSpace and the soon-to-come Barclays initiative have helped boost Cambridge’s start up culture as well as St John’s Innovation Centre that is geared for more established businesses. They believe that it is a brilliant city for ‘unicorns’ right up to fully grown businesses.
Tips for entrepreneurs starting up in the UK:
“Have fun doing it! It’s the hardest career path you can choose, so if you are not having fun it’s not worth it.”
– Gonçalo de Vasconcelos CEO at SyndicateRoom
Voyage Manager is a travel technology company. Although they’ve been operating for 5 and half years, they maintain a small team of 7. For John Scott, the founder of Voyage Manager, Cambridge’s biggest advantage is that that city is centred around an university. It is full of “brilliant minds” and has a vibrant tech and start up community.
The start up culture has become more social according to John. At IdeaSpace, the incubator, start up teams were very often stuck to their screens with headphones on, but now people communicate with one another which is a great improvement. Historically, many ideas have been generated in Cambridge, but the commercialisation side has always been an issue. Thanks to incubators in the area, this centre of innovation is starting to bloom.
Voyage Manager has never had external funding, but reckons that the UK is quite hard to obtain it compared to countries such as the USA. In terms of finance, he believes that the difficulties of finding it isn’t a Cambridge issue, but a UK one.
Tips for entrepreneurs starting up in the UK:
“Validate your business and get a team as early as possible. Some people spend too much time trying to find funding, just get on with it.”
– John Scott founder of Voyage Manager
Here is a summary of Cambridge as a start up hub.