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The Cambridge entrepreneur ecosystem: a recipe for success

19 December 2019

The article at a glance

There are many entrepreneurial ecosystems around the world, each with their own character. But the Cambridge ecosystem is special. The most important …

There are many entrepreneurial ecosystems around the world, each with their own character. But the Cambridge ecosystem is special. The most important reason for Cambridge’s long-lasting success is the comparatively mature ecosystem, grounded in research and connected to finance and other support.

A multi-ethnic group of business professionals are in a boardroom meeting together and are working on a tablet.

The University of Cambridge has been supporting entrepreneurs since 1970 when Trinity College started to build Britain’s first science park, bringing together businesses and researchers from across the globe.

It is the combination of expertise, knowledge, support and infrastructure that makes Cambridge one of the most entrepreneurial and enterprising cities in the world.

Human capital of exceptional quality

There are now more than 60,000 people employed in the Cambridge cluster of companies, which consists of 4,700 knowledge-intensive firms. Last year these companies generated more than £12 billion in turnover.

Success stories born in Cambridge science labs

Seventeen unicorns have been created in the city including:

  • Abcam
  • Arm
  • Autonomy
  • Blinkx
  • CAT
  • Chiroscience
  • CSR
  • Darktrace
  • Domino
  • Improbable
  • Ionica

  • Marshall of Cambridge
  • Prometic
  • Solexa
  • Virata
  • Xaar

Notable inventions such as voice recognition software in Amazon’s Alexa, Bluetooth and the science behind cancer and arthritis medicine all originated in Cambridge.

According to Innovate UK and the Open Data Institute Leeds, Cambridge is placed in top position as the most innovative city in the UK, publishing 341 patents per 100,000 residents in 2018, which is more than the next four cities in the UK combined.

Deep-tech research is expensive to fund

Amongst the Cambridge-based funders are Cambridge Innovation Capital, who since 2013 raised £275 million to invest in disruptive, deep-tech businesses; Cambridge Angels, a club of around 60 entrepreneurs connected to the city who supported new startups to the tune of £28m last year and Amadeus Capital Partners; Cambridge Capital Group; IQ Capital and the IP Group. Besides, banks have set up co-working and support spaces around Cambridge, such as Barclay’s Eagle Labs, which include finance consulting to encourage local entrepreneurs.

Skills development in a connected Cambridge

As one of the world’s leading universities, the University of Cambridge is a big part of the cluster, and we have a heritage of entrepreneurship. There are more than 40 different programmes run by departments, Colleges, researchers and student societies.

Cambridge Judge Business School supports entrepreneurs through masters and executive education programmes, and the Entrepreneurship Centre. Students of the MBA and Executive MBA programmes can specialise in entrepreneurship through concentrations whilst studying for a broader management qualification. Individuals that have chosen entrepreneurship as their career choice can opt to study entrepreneurship on a part-time basis through the Masters of Studies in Entrepreneurship while starting or growing their venture.

The Entrepreneurship Centre meanwhile offers shorter courses tailored to specific critical development steps in the entrepreneurial journey, for example, Ignite is aimed at developing a business idea, Accelerate Cambridge provides coaching, mentoring and access to funding, while EnterpriseTech allows PhD students to develop their academic ideas.

Enterprise Tuesday is a weekly networking event which brings individuals interested in entrepreneurship together regardless of their stage or background.

Several Colleges such as King’s College and Churchill College have their own initiatives to support entrepreneurs through business plan competitions and mentoring, while researchers and student societies hold frequent networking and knowledge exchange events which are free for the Cambridge community to attend. These include:

  • CUE – Cambridge University Entrepreneurs.
  • CUTEC – Cambridge University Technology and Enterprise Club.
  • EPOC – Entrepreneurial Post-Docs of Cambridge.

A thriving city and ‘safety net’ for the enterprising people

So, what makes Cambridge a unique hotspot for entrepreneurs and innovators? The city has reached a point of self-propagation where success breeds success. Cambridge is truly thriving, with many opportunities in enterprise, entrepreneurship and innovation. This creates a ‘safe’ environment for those who choose to get involved. If your enterprise is going to fail, which is a real possibility for any startup, you could hardly find a location which is better equipped to help you bounce back. It’s all about the network of support, something Cambridge Judge Business School recognises is vital, and fosters through its strong ethos of collaboration and relationship building.

Cambridge is a “low risk environment to do high risk things” as Hermann Hauser, a catalyst of the Cambridge ecosystem once said.