Cambridge has been at the epicentre of a vast array of discoveries and innovations which have fuelled technology and changed the way the world fundamentally works, catalysed by the so-called ‘Cambridge Phenomenon’. The pioneering attitude and originality of the people in Cambridge, together with the encouragement and support provided to them from the ‘local stakeholder coalition’, has led to an exponential generation of ideas through casual conversation and applying them to form what has become and continues to be a thriving landscape of globally impactful companies. Everything from discovering DNA to later genetic engineering and Quantum Computing, the story of the Cambridge Phenomenon continues to unravel as Cambridge repeatedly attracts hundreds of millions of dollars in venture capital each year, with $496,000,000 invested into tech companies in 2019 alone.
Cambridge is also home to 9 out of 136 potential future UK unicorn companies in the UK, being the 6th top hub in Europe. Looking back at some past examples and more recent rising stars (such as Cambridge Quantum Computing) in the Cambridge Phenomenon it is easy to understand how and why the phenomenon exists. We can also predict the future of the ‘Silicon Fen’.
From origins as an Acorn to becoming a flourishing oak tree, the founding and growth of ARM is a pivotal part of the Cambridge Phenomena. From humble beginnings in 1990 as a spin-out venture between 12 Acorn Computer engineers in a barn, £1.5 million cash from Apple Computers (yes, that Apple Computers) and VLSI’s assistance, ARM’s licensed architecture is today found in 180 billion devices worldwide and in 95% of smartphones. The impact ARM has had on the world is significant and a major component in the rise of smartphones; Cambridge has been and still is, at the core of ARM’s global success.
The biotech scene in Cambridge has also developed substantially since Watson and Crick discovered and worked on the helix structure of DNA in 1953. Amgen, founded in California in 1980 by George Rathmann, has been a pioneer in biotechnology innovation. They have been part of the biotechnology cluster on the Cambridge Science Park for over 25 years. Abcam, another Cambridge biotechnology success was founded when Jonathan Milner was working as a Post-Doctoral researcher studying the newly discovered breast cancer protein BRCA2. Since 1998 Abcam has become a Cambridge success with its founders also establishing The Milner Therapeutics Institute. The Cambridge Science Park is home to many other biotechnology companies, from AstraZeneca to many disruptive start-ups, and there are plans to open a 40,000 sq. ft ‘BioHub’ in the next few years. The biotech scene is looking very promising in Cambridge and will be a part of the next generation of innovative clusters in the city.
A more recent example of the Cambridge Phenomena in action is Cambridge Quantum Computing (CQC). Cambridge Quantum Computing was founded in 2014 by Ilyas Khan in a new and emerging market and is making massive progress in Quantum software, Quantum development platforms and Quantum machine learning. CQC has seen its team of scientists grow to 70+ members, of which 35+ are PHDs. A real academic effort, CQC is in the midst of being another phenomenon produced by Cambridge. They have gained the trust of Honeywell, IBM and other ventures who have recently invested $45 million into CQC, and all eyes are watching them as their collaborative effort begins to impact the exciting industry of Quantum Computing significantly.
The credit for the city’s success cannot be allocated to one standalone factor, but rather to a combination of factors that have created the environment needed to allow early technology start-ups to prosper. Firstly, the Cambridge community is a perfect vector for the free flow of information and ideas. An obvious case of this is the University of Cambridge – a network with some of the greatest minds and academics in the world whos’ task is to discover new things about the universe, research and innovate; the purpose of the establishment is to grow knowledge. The University, the beating heart of the side, alongside the beautiful natural and city environment transforms casual conversation, fostering serendipitous discussions, into innovation. The perfect storm for the explosion of great ideas and new concepts.
Cambridge is a city with a strong network of original academics with lots of potentially revolutionary ideas, and the environment for them to continue to be produced. But an idea is just an idea and is pretty useless if it is not transferred into something tangible – this is the where next factor of the Cambridge Phenomena comes into play. There are many avenues these people can take an invention or new technology down to turn it into something real, from researching with the large funds in the world-class University facilities to taking ideas straight to a product through entrepreneurship. Again, the University is a fundamental force here, with its liberal regulations which allow researchers and employees to take majority ownership of their ideas and own research, unlike many other Universities. Also, Cambridge’s stakeholders have devised routes for ideas to become successful businesses. Organisations like Cambridge Enterprise and ecosystems likeTrinity College’s Cambridge Science Park and St John’s Innovation Centre, the first science park in Europe all of which have been and continue to be major factors in helping academics and researchers with commercialisation since the Mott Report in 1969/70.
As we enter a new dawn of deep technological progression including AI, Big Data, Quantum and Industry 4.0, Cambridge has never been in a stronger position to facilitate the fundamental changes needed to be created on an original level and to keep riding the wave of new academic knowledge which will continue to be the foundation. It will be more important than ever for companies to be amongst a community of people who devote their lives to research and scientific discovery as the new era of deep tech relies more on fundamental principles. This is why the Cambridge Phenomenon will be an essential part of human advancement as a whole in the 21st Century, and why the flow from research to commercialisation must be smoother than ever. Cambridge as a city will thrive exponentially more into the coming decades as the principles of the Cambridge Phenomenon are relied on.
Cambridge Future Tech seeks to aide in this innovative cluster by aiding researchers, inventors and innovators to build the next generation of Deep Tech. We work directly with the bleeding edge of technology and directly help new exciting companies to thrive. To find out more get in touch.