May 17, 2006

Is Cambridge The UK's Startup Hub?

Tom Coates makes a very interesting post asking whether or not the UK could foster more startups, and where would it make sense for them to congregate. In it he draws up a shortlist of Oxford, Cambridge, York, Bristol and Brighton.

I don't know much about the other locations, but living in Cambridge it seems to me that Tom has fallen into the London-centric, new media (he says, stereotyping wildly but it fits in with my story :-) trap of complete ignorance of anything going on outside the M25.

Things have cooled a little since the dot-com bubble and there's less talk these days of the Silicon Fen, but there are still lots of startups in and around Cambridge. I think there are two reasons that Cambridge startups aren't as well known:

  • Lots of the companies produce products which are hidden behind the scenes - for example Cambridge Silicon Radio provide over 50% of Bluetooth chips, ARM's processors are in all sorts of things, and Zeus build web server software.
  • And for some reason, there's a tendency for startups to sell out rather than go it alone and so the startup becomes just the Cambridge office of a bigger (usually American, sadly) company.

I don't know if life in Cambridge is perfect for startups, but I've found it pretty good so far. The concentration of software companies in the area mean that I've been able to find bits of contracting to help fund MCQN Ltd. and also make it less risky for employees to join a startup - if it all goes wrong, it's easy enough to find another to join. Plus there are plenty of opportunities for networking: Cambridge Network have the grander, more corporate/VC networking covered; CHASE is a friendlier group aimed at the smaller businesses; and there are groups like CETC and the Cambridge Women's Lunch Club.

That said, maybe I'm not the best person to comment on why more people don't start their own company. What would it take for you to start your own startup?

Posted by Adrian at May 17, 2006 03:13 PM | TrackBack

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I get what you're saying, obviously - although what you're probably picking up on is not an unfamiliarity with things that happen outside the M25, given that I'm specifically talking about Brighton, Bristol, York, Cambridge and Oxford as good locations I'm hardly London-centric. I would say rather that the start-ups you're talking about aren't in my specific segment of the industry - ie. internet / web / data / social media areas. I'm looking at good places to start those kinds of start-ups not the pure computer science ones - I'm pretty familiar with Silicon Fen - I grew up in Norfolk as well, and know the area quite well.

Posted by: Tom Coates at May 17, 2006 03:52 PM

According to Microsoft Cambridge Reseach site "More than 300 companies and commercial laboratories specializing in computing and advanced technology are concentrated in the Cambridge area."

I guess Cambridges internet software success story is Autonomy but also Bango

A good site for whats happening techwise around here is

and Tom I hope you are enjoying your new job.

Posted by: Geoff at May 18, 2006 06:48 PM

Thanks Geoff, some better examples than I could think of at short notice :-)

And Tom, it was obvious that you were thinking outside of London, but I wanted to show that there's at least an existing base of startups (and so also startup-friendly ancillary businesses and services) in Cambridge.

I suppose the interesting questions are how we interest more people in starting their own business, and why are so many of our startups swallowed up into big American corporations?

Posted by: Adrian at May 19, 2006 02:23 PM

Here is a place to meet startups in cambridge:

Posted by: Joe at May 11, 2010 11:52 PM
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