The secret to the Cambridge cluster’s success - people united behind the common goal of fuelling purpose-driven innovation

By Andrew Williamson | Managing Partner, Cambridge Innovation Capital

On Monday 1st November, we were privileged to host a delegation of investors from some of the world’s largest multinational corporations as part of the Global Corporate Venturing Symposium. The event brought together some of the leading minds in investment, tech, life sciences and government, to explore a packed agenda of exactly what makes the Cambridge ecosystem so remarkable – and the opportunities it offers.

As the CEO of Cambridge Enterprise, Dr Diarmuid O’Brian noted, Cambridge is the third most successful Innovation Ecosystem in the world, with 23 unicorn companies created here to date. This success is reflected in the disproportionately high interest in Cambridge shown by both UK and non-UK investors, compared to the rest of the country, as Bob Damms from the Department of International Trade highlighted.

The key is our innovation ecosystem – and as we navigate a post-Brexit world whilst still contending with the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, fuelling and funding innovation is more important than ever before to the UK economy and its global position. George Freeman, MP and Minister for Science, Research and Innovation shared his vision for how the UK can become the most fertile ecosystem for innovation and investment, and the role of regulatory reform in achieving it.

Clearly, we are at a crucial moment in the UK’s long history of leading global innovation and our trail-blazing Cambridge ecosystem is ready to seize the opportunity.

We heard from Deeptech Labs’ CEO Miles Kirby and Start Codon’s CEO Dr Jason Mellad on emerging tech and life sciences companies, and their approach to identifying and nurturing the very early-stage companies evolving from the University of Cambridge.

At the other end of the lifecycle, AstraZeneca’s VP of Business Development Operations Shaun Grady and VP of Cambridge Programme & Strategy Dr Andy Williams, and ARM’s VP of Incubation Noel Hurley, shared their experiences of scaling companies to become multinational corporations – and what they’re doing to support them. The Cambridge cluster presents a huge opportunity for investors like AstraZeneca and ARM, and Dr Williams emphasized how its unparalleled attraction of world class talent results in £7bn turnover annually, with a potential extra £1.2bn by 2032. Noel Hurley emphasised the importance of thinking globally whilst acting locally by taking a world view of ambitious visions that can be used every day, and leveraging the strength of relationships and partnerships in local ecosystems to accelerate opportunity.

At Cambridge Innovation Capital, this is an approach to which we’re strongly aligned, and we’re proud that our portfolio companies are testament to the success of our strategy. We were pleased to give the stage to some of our exciting portfolio companies which are poised to become the UK’s next big successes: PragmatIC, Microbiotica, Congenica, Audio Analytic and Riverlane.

Throughout the day I was struck by the sheer energy in the room, generated by the excitement of ideas shared between people united behind the common goal of fuelling purpose-driven innovation.

James Mawson, founder and CEO of Global Corporate Venturing, said: "We were honoured to partner with Andrew and his team at Cambridge Innovation Capital for our first delegation of corporate venture capitalists to the city and its dynamic innovation ecosystem. It was uniquely inspiring to hear so many insights from the people providing the purpose behind the innovation driving our future and making the world a better place." 

Attendees remarked on how the sessions provided a much greater understanding of the Cambridge ecosystem, and how they could access its opportunities. I look forward to this developing into future partnerships and collaboration, built on the foundation of new relationships forged that day, and old relationships strengthened.