30 November, 2016 - 13:04 By Tony Quested

Cambridge tech train becomes Orient express

Slowly but surely the orientation of the Cambridge science & technology cluster has – well – shifted towards the Orient.

Whereas the US once had a stranglehold on Cambridge acquisitions, Japan and China have increasingly become the new parents of our rising sons.
East Meets East increasingly these days with the yen and the yuan proving the yin and the yang of the acquisitional environment.

Cambridge Consultants spin-out Inca Digital was acquired as long ago as 2005 by Dainippon Screen in Kyoto for what now looks a bargain £30 million.

Cambridge coding and marking world leader Domino Printing was sold for £1bn to Brother Industries in summer 2015.

Compare those prices to the $31 billion paid by Japan’s SoftBank for superchip architect ARM Holdings this summer.

While Takeda has decided to pull out of Cambridge, Sosei snapped up Heptares and now Japanese engineering plastics pioneer Enplas Corporation has opened a Cambridge lab, no doubt with an eye to synergistic acquisitional opportunities.

But China is the real coming force. News reaches me of a major new fund from China for UK and Cambridge biotechnology. The Chinese have a major role to play in the development of Big Data businesses in the cluster.

Online gaming firm Jagex has been sold to Chinese investors and enterprises based in China have made other significant acquisitions in the industrial and technology fields. Hytera in China was in talks to potentially acquire Cambridge commstech business Sepura at the time of writing.

The most interesting development in Cambridge-Sino relationships, however, is the increasing propensity for genuine collaboration.

It is abundantly clear that a bridge of trust has long needed to be built between two culturally diverse nations and we are starting to see the fruits of the labours of entrepreneurs on both sides of what once was not so much a divide as a chasm.

Business Big Data, the Chinese firm that has opened in Cambridge, is building an ecosystem of key players in Cambridge and London that will add to the power of the Big Data proposition to the benefit of large and small businesses across vast realms of industries.

Venture capitalists in China are looking to invest in Cambridge and UK biotech, hi-tech and industrial firms but – beyond pure funding – to also help them expand into China through long-term mentoring partnerships.

With Brexit and a rift with Europe still a very real and damaging threat and with the special relationship with a Trump-centric United States looking doomed, Japan and China present a wonderful opportunity for Cambridge and UK companies to fill those trade voids. What was once Asia Minor in business terms becomes Asia Major for our best and most globally ambitious young businesses.

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