Financial Times | Hannah Kuchler 11 Oct 2023
Universities, local government and industry to announce plan to boost innovation and expand multinationals in the city
Cambridge will aim to more than double the number of “unicorns” — privately held start-ups with a value of over $1 billion — based in the city by 2035, under a new plan released by a partnership of local universities, government and industry.
Under the blueprint, to be announced on Wednesday, Innovate Cambridge, an initiative that includes the city and county council and large companies such as AstraZeneca and Microsoft, will outline proposals to boost growth and double the number of multinational businesses to 40 in the area.
Cambridge is core to the government’s ambition to drive investment in science and technology in the so-called “golden triangle” cluster with Oxford and London, and turn Cambridge into “a science capital of Europe”.
Earlier this year, Michael Gove, housing secretary, said the city’s growth had been held back by a lack of space and announced a “Cambridge 2040 plan” backed by £5mn to tackle the problems.
However, that plan has been undermined by local opposition to housebuilding and by a lack or water and transport infrastructure.
Innovate Cambridge identified almost 1mn sq m of lab and office space earmarked for development over the next decade that could be delayed because of disputes.
Lord David Willetts, the former education minister who chairs the Innovate Cambridge partnership said: “Cambridge needs to provide for its high tech growth”.
“The good news is that it is already in the planning system,” he said. “The bad news is actually getting all this through is tricky with a whole range of issues.”
He added that it was important for the people of Cambridge to feel that growth was in their interest and included opportunities for local jobs in roles such as technicians.
Willetts said that savings from scrapping the northern leg of the HS2 rail line should be spent on the Oxford-Cambridge Arc railway between the two university cities.
The government has also prioritised increasing economic development in more deprived areas outside the south-east as part of its “levelling up” agenda.
Diarmuid O’Brien, chief executive of Cambridge Enterprise, which co-founded Innovate Cambridge, said the UK could invest in the region while raising the economic prospects of other part of the country.
Innovate Cambridge said it had partnered with the Manchester in an effort to boost innovation investment in both cities, creating new local “hubs” to strengthen the relationship between researchers and entrepreneurs.
Andy Neely, senior pro vice-chancellor of Cambridge university, said on a per capita basis, Cambridge had more patents, publications and research income than anywhere in the world. But, he added, it was still only a tenth of the size of Silicon Valley, or the wider Boston area.
“There is no way that Cambridge can grow to be 10 times as big. I don’t think people want it to grow to be 10 times as big,” he said.
“The way for the UK to really compete internationally is to think about wider innovation ecosystems, bigger geographic areas,”
Cambridge has 5,500 businesses that carry out research, development or innovation, generating more than £20bn in revenues a year.