An ambitious new strategy to nurture and grow the innovation ecosystem in Cambridge was unveiled on Wednesday.

The Innovate Cambridge Summit saw over 400 leaders from across the civic, business and academic communities working to support the science and technology cluster to maintain its position as a world leader amid fierce international competition.

Cambridge has evolved into a global innovation hub over the last 30 years, with over 5,500 knowledge-intensive businesses generating revenues exceeding £20bn annually and 23 billion-dollar unicorn companies born in the city. The University of Cambridge is also the number one university in the world for producing successful tech founders, ahead of Harvard and MIT, with over 500 alumni founders raising more than $10 million in funding.

Recognising this, the city and its innovation ecosystem is now presented with a generational opportunity to maximise economic and social return. International benchmarking indicates that Cambridge can do more to enhance its position in the global innovation landscape.

Speakers included Science Minister George Freeman, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cambridge Professor Deborah Prentice, Tabitha Goldstaub, MBE, Executive Director, Innovate Cambridge and master of ceremonies, Diarmuid O’Brien, CEO, Cambridge Enterprise, Dr Michael Anstey, Partner, Cambridge Innovation Capital and Professor Andy Neely, OBE, Senior Pro-Vice-Chancellor and Professor of Manufacturing at the University of Cambridge.

This new home-grown innovation strategy, which has had input from 200 organisations, including Cambridge Enterprise, the University of Cambridge, Cambridge Innovation Capital, AstraZeneca, Microsoft, ARM, Darktrace, Cambridge City Council, and Cambridge County Council and Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority will propel the ecosystem towards a groundbreaking future.

In the past twelve months, the Cambridge ecosystem has seen significant collaboration, with over 200 organisations endorsing an Innovation Charter and extensive consultations involving more than 500 individuals to craft an innovation strategy. The culmination of these efforts, Innovate Cambridge, seeks to leverage the city’s unique position as a driver of Britain’s growth, fostering collaboration, and catalysing innovation for the benefit of local communities and the broader UK.

Michael Anstey, Partner at Cambridge Innovation Capital, said: “Innovation is critical to local, national and global prosperity and central to the wider UK growth agenda, and Cambridge remains the most intensive science and technological cluster in the world.  It is an ecosystem where companies have the potential to go from lab to market quicker than anywhere else. We excel in life sciences, deep tech, and interdisciplinary research; and the city is home to a blend of start-ups and global leaders. The fact that so many of those stakeholders and businesses have now come up with an inclusive, forward-looking plan to ensure the city continues to innovate, compete, and deliver impact on a global scale, fills me with enormous pride.”

Diarmuid O’Brien, Chief Executive of Cambridge Enterprise said: “This strategy represents a pivotal moment for the innovation ecosystem in Cambridge. The collaboration of over 200 organisations has yielded a strategic roadmap that provides a shared vision for Cambridge as a global innovation hub. This initiative, rooted in inclusivity and sustainability, will drive positive economic and social impacts for the local community. Cambridge Enterprise is proud to be part of this ambitious endeavour, and we look forward to fostering groundbreaking discoveries and translating them into world-changing businesses.”

Prof Andy Neely, Senior Pro-Vice-Chancellor, University of Cambridge, said: “Innovation is critical to local, national and global prosperity and central to the UK’s economic success. Cambridge is the UK’s leading research-based innovation ecosystem. A recent analysis found that spinouts and start-ups associated with the University contributed over £18bn to the UK economy and there are many other companies within the Cambridge ecosystem without a direct connection to the University that make a further significant contribution.

Robert Pollock, Chief Executive, Cambridge City Council said: “The City Council has an important placemaking and leadership role for the whole city. We want Cambridge to be an even better place to live, work and study, and ensure the city maintains its status as a global innovation hub. Cambridge also has significant challenges around health inequalities, housing affordability, and life changes for disadvantaged young people. That’s why it’s vital successful businesses, innovators, and entrepreneurs that have benefited from the unique, nurturing, innovation environment in Cambridge to give back to the city in a more tangible way.”

In pursuit of this vision, Innovate Cambridge has identified three strategic goals:

  • An innovation ecosystem firing on all cylinders. Innovate Cambridge envisions improved health and social care, optimised energy use, and enhanced agricultural outcomes through world-leading life sciences research and AI applications. The focus will be on creating a green growth strategy, fostering economic growth, and supporting social infrastructure.
  • Ensuring the innovation ecosystem provides value and impact for the local community. Innovate Cambridge aims to increase collaboration within and beyond the region, formalising partnerships with other innovation hubs and economic centres. The initiative strives to deliver high-quality employment and training opportunities while ensuring benefits extend beyond geographical limits.
  • Forming partnerships with other regions and collaborators to drive scale and deliver social and economic benefits. By 2035, Innovate Cambridge aims to achieve significant economic, social, and environmental impact through collaborations and partnerships. Practical infrastructure issues, such as water scarcity and transportation, are addressed in conjunction with local government and Cambridge Ahead.