Memorandum submitted by
Cambridge University has been the source of
engineering and physical science based innovation for hundreds
of years and over the century the industrial application of this
innovation has steadily increased to the point that the University
is now surrounded by some 1,200 high technology companies employing
around 30,000 people. The University's graduates influence research
and development worldwide and the way the University governs its
activities and handles intellectual property rights has been taken
as a model for the nurturing and commercial exploitation of innovation.
Undoubtedly the most important ingredient making
possible technology transfer and innovation at Cambridge has been
the scientific and technological excellence of the University.
In 1969 a committee chaired by Nobel Laureate Sir Nevill Mott
"The University already contains probably
the largest concentration of physical, technological, biological,
medical and agricultural research laboratories in any university
in this country. If the Government research laboratories in Cambridge
and its immediate neighbourhood are added to these, the whole
complex may be regarded as the largest non-industrial concentration
in the country. The investment in scientific staff, equipment
and supporting facilities is therefore exceptionally high. The
University investment in the application of science and technology
to industrial problems is correspondingly high."
Contributions have been made across the spectrum
of engineering and the physical sciences and the presence of the
pioneering Computer Laboratory made computing facilities available
not only to academic staff but to university entrepreneurs from
an early date, making possible early industrial applications.
With the proliferation of companies around Cambridge
and its increasing industrial influence worldwide, it is clear
that the Mott Committee's conclusion remains sound today.
The Mott report was instrumental in shifting
the outlook of local planners who had previously opposed industrial
developments in the area. Because of its lack of heavy industrial
history, there were very few "brown field" sites in
the area, in contrast with, say MIT which had a good deal of run-down
industrial property around it. This has been to an extent an impediment
to full exploitation of University expertise.
Cambridge high tech companies (companies active
in emerging and diffusing technologies) have university origins
at some remove. The Technical Design Consultancies (Cambridge
Consultants, PA Technology, the Generics Group and the Technology
Partnership), all of which have close links with Cambridge University,
have been particularly important in promoting technology transfer,
stimulating new enterprises and disseminating knowledge in the
area. The Cambridge Science Park founded in the 1970s was key
to these developments.
As the "Cambridge Phenomenon"as
it has been termedbecame better known, business service
establishments moved into the city providing a range of legal,
accounting, consultancy, PR, and other services.
The St John's Innovation Centre, founded in
1987 provides active support for business development, now has
over 70 tenant start-up firms with a combined turnover of over
£20 million. SJIC has become the centre of a range of business
support activities for high tech enterprise.
The funding requirements of the new enterprises
have become increasingly recognised. The university saw very early
the need for seedcorn finance and participates in seed capital
funds, including the Quantum Fund, and Cambridge Research and
Innovation Ltd. Increasingly, successful entrepreneurs have turned
venture capitalist and are making available further funding to
start up companies. These include Amadeus Capital (Hermann Hauser,
a Cambridge graduate and founder of ACORN etc), Merlin Ventures,
a biotechnology fund (Chris Evans is not a Cambridge graduate
but chose to set up Chiroscience etc in Cambridge) and the Gateway
Fund founded by Nigel Brown.
An ethos of trust and professional autonomy
underlie the liberal policy of the University towards innovative
activity by its staff.
The University is non-bureaucratic and largely
self-governing. Academics have considerable autonomy, but an informal
system of checks and balances ensures close attention to teaching,
research and administrative duties. In the engineering department,
for example, which has the highest number of university spin-out
enterprises, teaching performance and student assessments are
closely monitored and professors are heavily involved in undergraduate
teaching. There is a strong research culture and incentives to
maintain research performance. Assessment is based on output and
there have been minimal bureaucratic obstacles to staff engaging
in innovative activities.
The approach to intellectual property is part
of this liberal ethos. Unlike almost all other universities, Cambridge
University does not claim title to the intellectual property created
by its employees in the course of their duties. In practice, research
in the University is largely funded by the Research Councils,
charities and industry, all of which external sponsors require
the University to manage the intellectual property output of their
funding to the benefit of the inventors and the University. As
a result the prevailing ethos is one in which the inventors are
motivated to exploit their research as the University is able
to work with them in a facilitating way rather than compelling
them to work with a potentially heavy-handed bureaucracy. The
latter either drives activities underground or stifles initiative,
both of which Cambridge would find unacceptable.
Funding has been attracted to the University
through industrial funding of R&D and establishment of embedded
companies or joint ventures with laboratories (Glaxo, Hitachi,
Toshiba, Wellcome, Microsoft, BP, Unilever etc). The aim is to
insure that the University secures returns on these collaborations,
the detailed terms of which differ quite widely according to perceptions
of mutual benefit. Management education and research has been
encouraged through the recently-founded Judge Institute of Management
Studies. The Cambridge Institute for Manufacturing provides a
range of business support activities and research into the management
of technology. These are still early stage developments.
The number of new enterprises locally has slightly
declined from the time in the 1980s when there were 100 start-ups
per year in Cambridge, according to the County Council data-base,
although there is evidence that the average size of companies
is increasing. This reduction in numbers may be a statistical
artefact, but other evidence suggests that growing pressures on
staff in the University make it increasingly difficult for them
to find time to commercialise science and technology. In a time
of rigorous research assessment, patents and other forms of commercialisation
are not recognised as research outputs. The formality of research
and teaching demands is increasing and the scope for spontaneity
may be less. "Death by accountability" is a real danger.
There are also genuine planning and cultural
conflicts as a relatively small city with overloaded infrastructure
and its own budgetary problems seeks to come to terms with the
needs and expectations of high-technology business.
Support for world class science and engineering
research with adequate funding.
Adequate pay and career structure for scientists
A minimum of assessment bureaucracy so that
entrepreneurship is encouraged rather than stifled.
Ensure that the research councils' established
"gate keepers" do not inhibit innovative science. Peer
review can easily backfire here.
Understand what Universities can and can't do
in dealing with industry, and that industry needs to be forthcoming
Support not only for invention and early innovation
but sustained innovation which secures returns. This calls for
sustained growth of new enterprises and good links with established
Recognise the essential role that large companies
play in nurturing small companies and provide incentives to encourage
them to do so.
Invest in leading centres rather than problem
Improve physical infrastructure, especially
public transport and affordable housing.
Simplify planning laws and speed up decision-making.
One small action which could help would be to
extend the area covered by Cambridge addressesour address
is a brand as well as a way of routing the mail.
17 January 1999