19 August, 2014 - 08:02 By Tony Quested

Cambridge tech talkingshop now walks the walk

On the cusp of Business Weekly’s 25th anniversary it was natural to mine the memory banks to assess how Cambridge has evolved as a business and technology cluster vital to the UK economy.

When we opened our doors Cambridge business wasn’t influential nationally to any discernible degree. Technology remained in its infancy in terms of commercial clout.

Cambridge appeared to us to be one, big glorified talking shop, dominated by council cabals and property agency cliques moving in ever decreasing circles and in danger of disappearing up one of the university’s famous back passages. The University at least stood out as world-class but its outreach was so poor that few appreciated its international influence and credibility.

Manufacturing was dirty. When Mitsubishi asked Business Weekly to facilitate the move of 15 or so disillusioned Japanese companies from the new town of Telford to Cambridge, the city council’s attitude was: “We don’t want that level of manufacturing here.” It was embarrassing to have to report that message back to such a significant global powerbroker.

The timeline is informative. We’re talking six months before the birth of ARM, six years before the emergence of Autonomy in Cambridge, which is one of only a handful of global offices escaping the HP jobs cull, incidentally.

Cambridge Science Park pretty much had the monopoly as a technology centre of excellence before the evolution of St John’s Innovation Centre – a different model altogether; then blossomed Babraham, Granta Park, Chesterford Research Park et al.

Business Weekly’s archives mirror the growing maturity of the cluster. A snapshot of recent events – not including the announcement that AstraZeneca was moving its global HQ and 2,000 jobs here – shows Cambridge’s increasing global credibility.

Take the last few months alone. On May 6 we revealed – exclusively – that Jesus College was planning a major new science park on the Addenbrooke’s Campus – a stone’s throw from the new AZ HQ. On August 12 we revealed the first three investments from the £50 million Cambridge Innovation Capital Cluster Fund. That was along with interviews with chief exec Peter Keen and senior investment director Victor Christou signalling that this was the start of a campaign to create more billion dollar companies in the cluster. And about time.

On August 1 we disclosed that Cambridge medical technology pioneers were at the heart of a £300 million-plus campaign to make the UK world leader for DNA testing in a blueprint unveiled by Prime Minister David Cameron. Illumina, which has two Cambridge businesses, MRC, the Wellcome Trust, Sanger and the European Bioinformatics Institute in the cluster are all central to the potentially decisive genomics play.

In the last nine months the cluster has had more businesses move to IPO or prepare to do so than any UK region outside of London. Multi-millions have been raised in funding rounds. 

Cambridge MedTech companies are spearheading Government-funded campaigns in critical areas such as cancer, the race for new bug-busting antibiotics, genomics, neurodegenerative disease and a host of other conditions.

And Cambridge companies are growing across the globe. Cambridge Consultants is tripling headcount in the States from a new central Boston HQ; Abcam, the Apple of antibodies and protein tools, is targeting Australasia direct in a new business model eschewing distributors. ARM still dominates Intel in the chip world and we now have 14 billion dollar companies from a standing start.

Wherever you look on the website you will see Cambridge companies winning major export business from the biggest names in technology and industry. Cambridge University, under inspirational new leadership, now leverages every piece of gold dust research with Harvard-style outreach.

Only yesterday we reported that hi-tech and life science company growth was sparking an unprecedented Cambridge office boom. And Business Weekly unveiled major initiatives in social entrepreneurship.

Behind the scenes work at government level continues in a bid to woo a Silicon Valley giant to a new venture in the region.

What price a call from Mitsubishi now offering to bring 15 Japanese giants of industry to the town? Now if we didn’t have room we would create it – that’s the difference between Cambridge 25 years ago and Cambridge today.

The cluster has gone from bureaucracy domination to Science & Technology domination – and from ‘Won’t do’ to ‘Will do.”

With so many networks on the patch Cambridge still talks the talk. Crucially, it now walks the walk on the world stage. There’s a distinct possibility that some time soon it will break into a gallop.




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