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Blog: Innovation Cities: Cambridge

The latest UK Tech Innovation Index results by the Open Data Institute Leeds and Innovate UK have highlighted Cambridge as the most innovative city in the UK, other than London. It even beats London by a clear margin in patents per residents with 341 patent applications per 100,000 residents, punching well above what the area’s size should allow and nearly triple second place Coventry.

Cambridge began investing in and leading the way in tech development before it became the profitable and trendy sector to work in, producing revolutionary technology. This investment has paid off and the industry has exploded, accounting for 22% of local jobs.

The Cambridge Phenomenon

“The Cambridge Phenomenon” is a term first coined in 1980 by The Financial Times to describe the meteoric rise of technological firms founded in Cambridge. Beginning with the inception of Cambridge Consultants in 1960, there have since been over 5,000 high technology companies founded in the area. Putting it firmly near the front of Europe’s best locations for tech development.

Whilst in recent years Silicon Valley in California and the Silicon Roundabout in London have hit the headlines for their creativity and innovation. In Cambridge it has been going on for centuries. Even before 1960 it had already become a hub of tech advancement for people around the globe. Showing signs of what the area could become when the University Press was founded in 1534 by Henry the eighth. It is still active today and is the oldest publishing house in the world. 

Charles Darwin’s son, Horace then founded the Cambridge Scientific Instrument Company in 1881 and with the industrial revolution then in full swing, tech and knowledge intensive start-ups began popping up not only in Cambridge but all over the UK.

Innovation centres

As you would expect, having one of the best educational and research universities in the world has meant many bright young intellectuals have stayed permanently in the area. These technologically forward people connect with Cambridge’s high number of business savvy entrepreneurs. But where do they meet?

Innovation centres is the answer. Cambridge has an abundance of research and innovation centres which act as a platform for local innovators and graduates from the university to come together and share ideas.

St Johns Innovation Park 

Established in 1987 by St Johns College, the park works very closely with Innovate UK and currently has 80 companies from various industries housed on the site.

As well as facilities for new start-ups, the innovation park prides itself on providing business training in areas such as recruitment, marketing, funding options, finance and business planning. All areas of business which many industry focused engineers, software developers and scientists don’t have has much experience in.

Since its inception there have been successes at the park, including well-known companies like:

  • Autonomy Corporation PLC
  • Jagex Ltd
  • Breathing Buildings Ltd
  • Datanomic Ltd


Where else?

Cambridge Science park: Is one of Cambridge’s most established areas for innovation, the science park has 57 buildings, supports 6,500 employees and more than 100 companies. They recently opened the Bradfield Centre, a 40,000 square feet building, purpose built for researchers, investors and start-ups.

Cambridge Biomedical Campus: provides state of the art laboratory equipment, enabling research scientists to undertake extensive testing programs. The site is home to big players such as AstraZeneca and GSK who are helping push the site to becoming one of the world’s biggest biomedical centres.

Cystic Fibrosis Innovation Hub: Is located at the University of Cambridge, it was announced on the 23rd April 2018 that the Hub will encompass exciting new research treatments and approaches for battling cystic fibrosis, even taking “moon shots” at curing the disease.


Undoubtedly one of the biggest, if not the biggest business start-up successes from Cambridge is ARM Holdings. A software development and semiconductor producer who was recently bought for a sum of £24.3billion by Japanese company SoftBank.

It all began with a dozen engineers in a converted barn in 1990, and has now become the world’s leading semiconductor IP company, with over 4,800 employees from 61 nations and more than 100 billion of their chips having been shipped to date. The company’s reach has grown so much and their technology been relied upon so often that it is estimated that 80% of the world’s population are affected in some way by ARM products.

The growth of ARM can be attributed to their positive outlook and heavy investment in innovation for the future. When they began producing their chips, it was thought computers had reached the smallest limit they could without facing issues. But as we now know today it was possible. And if it wasn’t for the resources available to ARM in the city of Cambridge, today’s technology could be very different.

Cambridge’s future

Cambridge’s successful history in tech means it will help spearhead the UK surge in industries including artificial intelligence and will be vital in growing the UK economy to ensure it has the workforce and support to compete with the leading tech economies like the US, China, France and Germany.

Enabling Cambridge to lead from the front will be a new A.I supercomputer the government recently granted the university as part of a £10million partnership between the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and the Science and Technology Facilities Council. It will be used by university researchers and UK businesses, who will use the advanced computing platform to add business value to the research being conducted.

The Cambridge Science Park also has big plans to help develop the standard of scientific research and start-ups in Cambridge even further. The park is currently building or planning 5 new research buildings. One of which will be the BioHub, a 40,000 square feet, 3 story building, fitted with laboratories for researchers to develop non-invasive diagnostics, new drugs and new forms of patient monitoring among others. It is due to be completed in spring 2019.

MPA in Cambridge

It makes sense that at MPA we would have partners and clients in Cambridge. As a company with such a heavy focus on innovation and developing UK PLC, servicing and enabling companies in the Cambridge area is a great way for us to support our mission.

We are a founding member of Cambridge Wireless, a leading community for ambitious technology organisations with over 400 members who lead the way in research, development and the application of software, wireless and semiconductor tech. Since becoming a member, MPA has worked with businesses in Cambridge, supporting their R&D claims and have attended Cambridge Wireless events including their recent spring founders’ dinner, which involved talks from industry leading experts.