Oxford’s and Cambridge’s Competing Narratives on Start-Ups


Writing for Business Insider, Sam Shead has been tracking an escalating dust-up between Oxford and Cambridge Universities over which elite institution provides a better environment for digital start-ups.

The two institutions have obviously been competing in academics, athletics, and many other areas for centuries, and this competition over digital start-ups existed long before it came recently to some international attention.

On September 17, Shead reported the following:

Cambridge currently has the edge over Oxford when it comes to spinning out successful technology companies, according to tech investor Tom Hulme, who has invested in startups in both cities.

Hulme, a partner at GV (formerly Google Ventures), which has over $2.4 billion (£1.9 billion) at its disposal, told Business Insider: “One of the interesting challenges of Oxford is, if you look at their base of academic research, it is world class. And I don’t think that’s ever translated into a throughput of startups.”

There are a number of organisations in Cambridge that are helping scientists to spin their companies out of the university labs. “In many ways I think Cambridge’s funnel was more efficient historically because of Cambridge Angels and CIC (Cambridge Innovation Capital),” said Hulme.

Cambridge has produced a number of sizeable technology companies including Autonomy, Cambridge Silicon Radio, and ARM. By comparison, Oxford has had fewer successes of the same magnitude.

Although Hulme did go on to say that there is evidence that Oxford is making efforts to catch up with Cambridge in attracting and developing profitable start-ups, those comments did not go far enough to satisfy those responsible for the start-ups at Oxford.

So, a week later, Shead is reporting the following evidence provided by Gregg Bayes-Brown, a marketing and communications manager at Oxford University Innovation, demonstrating that Cambridge, not oxford, may have a lot of catching up to do:

The wild success of chip designer ARM and search company Autonomy skew the picture in Cambridge’s favour. The businesses were sold for £24 billion and £8 billion respectively.

“We’re ahead in spinout (ie. startups with university IP) generation by a country mile,” said Gregg Bayes-Brown, a marketing and communications manager at Oxford University Innovation, in an email to Business Insider. “I think Cambridge had five or six new companies last year, we had 21 (plus another three startups).

“If you look at the data, Oxford University Innovation has consistently outperformed our peer, Cambridge Enterprise, in every metric over the years.”

Bayes-Brown went on to point to a number of recent Oxford University spinout success stories. “Oxford Nanopore, Immunocore, and Adaptimmune are all ours, and are the biggest names currently in UK life sciences,” he said.

“More generally, Cambridge’s companies have a combined exit value of £1.3 billion since 2011, we’re well over £2 billion. In the same time frame, we’ve raised £1.5 billion in external fundraising, a figure Cambridge lags behind. In 2016, they raised £5.3 million in seed investment. We raised £52.6 million—nearly ten times as much.”


The complete text of Shead’s September 17 article is available at: http://www.businessinsider.com/tom-hulme-cambridge-edge-over-oxford-startups-2017-9.

The complete text of Shead’s September 23 article is available at: http://www.businessinsider.com/oxford-university-rejected-claims-that-cambridge-produces-better-startups-2017-9.



One thought on “Oxford’s and Cambridge’s Competing Narratives on Start-Ups

  1. Pingback: Oxford’s and Cambridge’s Competing Narratives on Start-Ups | Ohio Higher Ed

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