What’s up with Cambridge? finnCap’s Ambition Nation headed to what is widely regarded as the world centre for academia and groundbreaking research and development this week. We met with East Anglia-based clients and local company founders, CEOs and business leaders, discovering much about the specific challenges to growth its companies, large and small, experience. We’ll be examining our findings in more detail on this blog in coming weeks; here’s a quick round-up of what we learned.
Cambridge is a city that leans on its identity in a similar way to what we found in Manchester recently, but for different reasons. The difference lies in its legacy, of which it is justifiably proud. Cambridge is a hotbed of innovation and, historically, always has been, regardless of politics – the basic premise of Brexit is certainly no new thing.
Cambridge’s companies must employ and retain only the very top percentile of talent
The collaboration conundrum
In the same way, collaboration across industries and skills in Cambridge is no new thing. The distinct difference here is that this collaboration has always been outward-looking. Cambridge’s industries and companies grow with the weight of concern for the world around them. This attitude has always been driven by the mindset of the university and this has resulted in a way of collaborative thinking that is sharing and non-competitive. Cambridge is fantastic when it comes to linking IP-rich clusters, especially in areas such as life sciences, a culture that is very important to attracting talent.
Cambridge's sense of collaboration has always been outward-looking
Deep end of the talent pool
And this is where the crux of the growth issue lies – talent isn’t necessarily a big deal to find with the university and highly reputed institutions on one’s doorstep and London round the corner. But getting people to come up from London is one issue – restrictive infrastructure playing its part – and the fact is that Cambridge’s most ambitious and promising companies are, with no sense of hyperbole, at the very cutting edge of what they do. What this means is that in order to grow, Cambridge’s companies must employ and retain only the very top percentile of talent. You can get only so far with the resources found nearby; growing global, multi-billion-pound companies like another Astra Zeneca means accessing a global talent pool.
As was expressed by one individual around our discussion table yesterday, “If you don’t solve this problem, you can say goodbye to growth in Cambridge.”
Life sciences companies are concerned about the declining pool of research funding
What Brexit means…
What’s more, Brexit is a problem. The smaller, more agile companies in Cambridge are solely focused on their growth, politics or no politics. But this is not the case for bigger organisations. Life sciences companies that see major growth are concerned not only about the talent conundrum, but also about the declining pool of research funding. Meanwhile, their technological progress is far ahead of the US and as such getting their wares over to the States, post Brexit, is a big unknown. With uncertainty over shipping and tariffs, few know how the rapid progress made in Cambridge will be able to translate into accessing that vital US market.
So, what’s up with Cambridge? In a way, it’s that it grows too well and always has done.
Firstly, Cambridge institutions’ growth is burdened by a talent shortage. This can be widely regarded as a global issue, but it is on Cambridge’s legacy laden lanes – and places like them – that we see the problem so pronounced and compounded because the scale of the shortfall is that much greater when progress is so great. Cambridge’s outward-looking, non-competitive attitude to the world must become a little more selfish and a little bit competitive when it comes to recruitment, showing itself to be as modern and as innovative as the people it hopes to attract to its hallowed halls.
Secondly, scale-up. There just isn’t the same pool of funding available to scale-up companies. There are investors, ready to deploy, but there aren’t enough scale-up companies that can demonstrate where the returns lie. It is incumbent upon networks like Ambition Nation to support and promote these companies, to bring the right investment stories to the right investors.