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Why Cambridge UK as your International HQ?

Having last year stepped off a plane (for what seems like the last 15 years) I now find myself firmly back in Cambridge UK. Although I have lived here since my degree-days at CCAT back in 1989, until recently I have only worked for a Cambridge-located business at the very start of my career. In the 6 months since starting my consultancy business now based here, I’ve found myself involved in a number of conversations that has made me think a fair amount about why Cambridge is such a legendary place to live, but also to run a business (small or large) from, and here’s why. Assuming you don’t know much more than Cambridge being a university, here’s some key highlights for you to digest….

  • There are around 1,500 companies in Cambridge employing over 57,000 professionals
  • Cambridge is one of the UK’s longest established technology hubs. Forty years ago there were 20,000 hi-tech jobs in Cambridge, that number has now ballooned to 48,000 with people working across a range of industries
  • 20 years ago there were no billion-dollar companies in Cambridge, now there are 15 $1bn companies across a range of business sectors such as MarshallsCSRAbcamAveva, and 2 (Autonomy and ARM) reaching $10–20billion in valuation, an achievement unmatched by any other UK cluster
  • The total revenue generated in Cambridge for the UK economy is around £13bn with productivity 30% higher than London (gross value-add to the economy per job in Cambridge is £45,000 compared to London at £34,200)
  • The UK is the #8 location in Doing Business 2014; and with unemployment running at 1.4 compared to national average of 5.5 Cambridge is currently listed as the 2ndhighest for rate of employment
  • David Cameron recently announced a long-term £12bn economic plan for the East of England, saying Cambridge is key to keeping Britain in the global economic race
  • Drugs giant AstraZeneca is currently developing a £330m global research headquarters in the city and other companies are already looking to move their operations in the same direction.

So now you can see the highlighted business credentials, I want to tell you what, in my mind what makes Cambridge UK the place where you want your employees, and hence your business to be based. These are my top 5: –

1.Mentorship and Networks

Cambridge has a vibrant network of entrepreneur engagement. There is no shortage of mentors who want to pass on what they have learnt and help others turn their ideas into reality and follow in others’ footsteps. This is a really unique aspect of what is actually a small city with a phenomenal punch.

And broader than that, Cambridge is a truly networked place where people from every walk of life like to get together to share ideas, promote what they do and make Cambridge a better place. Each of the main clusters (see below) has its own well-subscribed networking group such as OneNucleus and Cambridge CleanTech, and then there are the broader groups like the highly successful Cambridge NetworkCambridge Ahead is tasked with planning for the future of Cambridge (I chair the Connectivity Group) and companies such as CW have a phenomenal membership of local, national and international businesses within the wireless space, plus there are in the order of 65 others that specialise on specific functions or groups such as CamCreatives and Cambridge Businesswomen’s Network.

2.Forefront of Global Trends

For decades Cambridge has led markets and developments in technology, science and medicine – Charles Cotton and Kate Kirk co-authored a superb book “The Cambridge Phenomenon” that details 50 years of Innovation and Enterprise (in 2016 they launch the next chapter “Global Impact’ – how the Cambridge Phenomenon changes the world).

Cambridge has always been export minded and an originator and amplifier of global trends. As such it has a reputation as an open and attractive market for a range of clusters mainly: –

  • Information Technology & Telecoms
  • Life Sciences & Healthcare
  • Physical Science & Engineering.

In addition to these core clusters, Cambridge also has strengths in gaming (Frontier DevelopmentsJagex), software (BromiumSolarflare), cyber security (DarktraceCambridge Intelligence) and digital healthcare (HealxBlueGnome).

With a reputation of “a low risk place to do a high risk activity” there is a constant flow of innovative businesses hitting the headline such as RaspberryPiPragmatic and Neul (recently acquired by Huawei who are bringing their research to Cambridge) to name but a few.


Without question Cambridge denotes educational excellence drawing talent into the area from across the globe. Cambridge University ranks #2 after Harvard in the World Rankings and has a history of academics turning into entrepreneurs. Cambridge Enterprise and the Centre for Enterprise Development and Research both serve their university communities to bring new businesses into the local and global marketplace.

The various educational establishments (schools, sixth form, colleges, universities) also means there is a constant stream of skills at all levels coming out of Cambridge education, and with the right available employment opportunities, staying here.

4.Funding and Innovation

With all its success stories, Cambridge has a self-sustaining venture capital market with a broad range of funding from groups such as Cambridge Innovation CapitalCambridge Angels and Great Eastern Investment Forum.

Cambridge in many ways rivals London as a Tech City and is much more diverse in terms of innovation. For example, patents provide a useful benchmark by which to measure innovation – Cambridge has more patents for 100,000 population than the next 6 cities combined with 68.7 versus the UK average of 4.6.

The formation of Cambridge Consultants in the 1960s helped create the conditions necessary to commercialise the research capabilities of the university and its students, sparking the area’s innovative identity over the decades.

And there are no shortages of places for innovation to reside – St Johns Innovation Centre and The Hauser Forum are two such spaces that provide a focal point for entrepreneurship; and there is a range of commercial, technical and academic research laboratories all within reach of the city centre.

5.The People

So if you are now convinced at what Cambridge has to offer you – as a start-up or a global player, the big questions comes down to availability of skills.

There is a lot of talent in Cambridge that simply doesn’t exist anywhere else. Often named ‘Silicon Fen’ due to its ability to compare to Silicon Valley for technology interest and talent, Cambridge has a considerable talent pool across all its cluster markets. It also has an ability to attract new talent in – I personally spent 15 years working at senior levels internationally and know now that I have a phenomenal skill set to bring back to the ever-expanding Cambridge marketplace.

But the Cambridge market needs careful navigation and thankfully there are companies like Bailey FisherWhitehill Pelham and PRS that can help you solve your people needs.

The crux of it is this – when you are making the decision, you want to make sure that the location of your office (HQ or regional) will give a great working culture where you can be assured you’ll provide the kind of lifestyle your employees desire.

Putting Cambridge UK into your business world

Having been involved in conversations about the future of Cambridge over the last few months, I see very clearly the potential it has to be a major city for decades to come. Yes there are things that need to be done but that’s where the government, Local Enterprise Partnership’s and groups like Cambridge Ahead come in. And with acceptance of the challenges that growth brings, the powers that be will tell you that enquiries come in every day from companies looking at moving to Cambridge (and the East of England for that matter) for all it has to offer.

With a little bit of digging, most companies will recognise the credentials and requirements that I have listed above and know that Cambridge should appear on their shortlist as a location of choice. In addition, for me, I see 2 powerful ways that Cambridge will win with many in today’s “world of work”’ – as an inclusive city, and as a place where people want to live.

  1. Cambridge has always been an inclusive city – the diverse mix of people from students, academics, businesses, tourists, professionals all work seamlessly together socially and professionally. As a city the challenge of multi-generational workforces has always been addressed with the mentors providing knowledge to the upcoming entrepreneurs. Many organisations have activities promoting the balance of women in the workforce and with this inclusive state of mind the next generation of business leaders will surely emerge from Cambridge – old, young, male, female – there is no distinction.
  2. The future of any city no longer solely depends on its history, tax breaks and incentives – it’s future needs to be reflective of the change in the way in which we work. Cambridge has the networking communities to support employees as they develop their professional and personal interests making work part of a balanced life. And what’s not to like from a social point of view – Cambridge is a hub of social activities with the internationally renowned beer festivalfolk festivalstrawberry fairconcert hallstheatres and much more.

So Cambridge UK as your HQ? – it’s a big thumbs up from me.

What do you think about Cambridge UK? I’d love to hear your thoughts and opinions as a major city contender for business expansion. And in the effort of being inclusive, no businesses, social groups, people or events were intentionally missed off this blog!