Cambridge torchbearers fan the flames of technology
The term Silicon Valley was first coined by a California entrepreneur in 1971 – around the same time the first buildings were going up at Cambridge Science Park in the UK and the first tenants starting to move in.
This was more than 10 years after Cambridge Consultants opened its doors to not so much kickstart the Cambridge Phenomenon but at least identify a mechanism to begin winding it up.
Comparing the growth of the Cambridge technology cluster to that of Silicon Valley is like matching the acceleration power of a 2012 Mia Electric Car (0-60 in 30 seconds) to the Lingenfelter Chevrolet Corvette – 0-60 in 1.9 seconds and a quarter of a mile covered in 9.1.
Aesop’s tortoise and hare fable might be a better analogy for how Cambridge has earned the right to at least be mentioned in the same breath as the Valley on power of IP.
Of course they had something of a track record in terms of gold rushes in California and Silicon Valley developed at a lick. For Cambridge, scaling to world renown has been more of a crawl along the Silicon Highway laid painstakingly by its leading exponents of technology and science.
Stanford University was from the outset a key to the Valley growth agenda while it took much longer for Cambridge University to be acknowledged as a catalyst for economic and business stimulation.
It’s also fair to say that visionaries were thick on the ground from Day One in the Valley while Cambridge had Science Park mentor John Bradfield, some very clever but business agnostic scientists and so few real technology entrepreneurs they could have held meetings in a phone box.
It wasn’t until the late ’70s that Clive Sinclair had a recognisable empire and Hermann Hauser and Chris Curry launched Acorn Computers from which mighty corporate oaks have grown.
Now, wherever one looks there are Cambridge torchbearers fanning the flames of technology and life science innovation. The comment by AstraZeneca chief executive Pascal Soriot that the Cambridge medtech cluster now matched the cream of the US, such as Boston and San Francisco, crystallised the acceptance that the Cambridge S & T sector is genuinely world class.
More than this, the Government has recognised that the Cambridge brand is a great calling card when they go knocking on the doors of lucrative trading posts across the planet.
Prime Minister David Cameron has leveraged the brainpower of Cambridge University on several multi-billion pound expeditions to Asian strongholds such as China and India in the last 18 months.
No10 has just coralled Cambridge trio Mike Lynch, Hermann Hauser and life science influencer Harriet Fear into its inner circle of elite ambassadors.
Sherry Coutu has long had the ear of Downing Street as she has pioneered unprecedented collaboration between London, Cambridge and the Valley.
David Cleevely has been consistently influential on several fronts; Hermann Hauser’s white paper sparked the Technology Strategy Board Catapult programme and Hauser’s colleague at Amadeus Capital Partners, Alex van Someren, influenced government policy on putting out a welcome mat for talented immigrants by drafting the legislation for the Startup Visa.
There are many more examples, notably from faculty at the University whose work has enabled the UK to become internationally influential in several arenas from cleantech to new materials and from cancer research to aviation.
Cambridge has the ear of government and hopefully will be adult enough to use the facility to stress that the Sherry Coutu model of collaboration between UK and global clusters – rather than setting them at each other’s throats – is the most mutually profitable model to pursue.
Working together, eliminating time, money and mistakes by leveraging synergies – and fusing grey cells – inevitably ensures faster scale-up and more sustainable growth. Win, win.