Britain’s post-Brexit technology sector has a huge opportunity. The Cambridge Cluster is at the heart of it, writes Dr Mike Lynch OBE FREng FRS – Entrepreneur and Founder, Invoke Capital.
Having worked in the field of technology for more than 30 years as a scientist, entrepreneur, founder and investor, I have witnessed first-hand the evolution of the industry. But one thing that hasn’t changed is Cambridge’s pre-eminence as a world-leading science and technology base that consistently produces some of the foremost DeepTech and AI businesses the world has ever seen.
When I started my career in the nineties, there were very few startups. Few knew about the mysteries of marketing or selling. We just wanted to make the world’s best mouse trap, and then we were horrified when, once we had it, no one beat the path to our door.
But over the past ten years there has been a huge cultural shift. Where once everybody went to the City or joined a law firm, today’s graduating class of computer scientists or engineers are thinking about creating a start-up, if they haven’t done so already.
But while in Silicon Valley you can hire a marketing director and someone to build your customer support function within half an hour, we’re still a bit further behind in the UK.
We have the clever bit. We have the incredible research and technology base, but we haven’t quite got that last piece of the puzzle when it comes to building and commercialising our tech companies all the way to multibillion-pound businesses.
That’s why I founded Invoke, so that when I spot that 23-year-old genius in the lab at Cambridge University working on the next big thing, I can provide him or her with the tools they need to run a salesforce or write a product manual, leaving them to focus on the bit they’re good at.
Since creating Invoke in 2012, we have invested in a series of Cambridge-born AI and deep tech businesses. Our first investment, Darktrace, now employs more than 1,500 people globally and is preparing to list on the London Stock Exchange later this year, while Featurespace and Luminance go from strength to strength, with their AI technology now embedded in hundreds of organisations around the world.
Today, our portfolio is worth more than £4 billion, and a lot of that is due to the incredible science base in Cambridge continuing to innovate and provide best-in-class technology to organisations around the world.
The reality today is that the UK has undergone a period of great change. Whatever you think of it, Brexit is done, the COVID vaccine is being rolled out and people who thought they were going into the office every day for the next 20 years have had a moment of realisation.
But with any period of great change comes great opportunity. Post-Brexit Britain has the ability to move faster because we are no longer encumbered by our European partners. We need to take advantage of that.
We need to make Britain the place where, if you want to be working on the very latest technology – artificial intelligence, autonomous vehicles, personalised medicine, quantum computing – you come to do it here. And we already have the most important thing, the people.
And perhaps most importantly for the tech sector, we have the opportunity to create a regulatory framework that can support the growth of these incredible AI and deep tech companies coming out of Cambridge.
I’d like to see a regulatory framework which acknowledges modern personalised medicine that isn’t based on cohorts, for instance. That allows for more risk taking, for example when people have terminal diseases, so that personalised medicine can prove its value in these very difficult situations.
Equally, the biggest block to the progression of autonomous vehicles is the legal and insurance framework around them, not the technology. We’ve seen that problem be solved before for the airlines.
The reason we have airliners in the sky today is because we have conventions about liability. If you couldn’t do that, it would be impossible. So, we need to be brave.
As I look to the future, with a Government mandate to make the UK a science superpower and the AI Council’s recent AI Roadmap report providing a series of recommendations to help focus the UK’s strategic action on AI, I have little doubt that tech will be the engine that drives the new economy as we emerge from lockdown.
But there is one more thing we must do. We have great startups, scale-ups and mid-sized companies, but the last piece of the puzzle is missing, which is when we’re on the verge of seeing the real impact these companies are going to put back into the economy they are snapped up by deep-pocketed acquirers never to grace our shores – or our exchequer – again.
Arm, a Cambridge-born company whose processors are in almost everything, may be purchased by NVIDIA, a California-based company, for $40 billion, taking with them the economic benefits to be accrued elsewhere. So, we have to work harder to create an environment where these businesses can become £10bn, £50bn and even £100bn world-class companies here in the UK.
The year ahead is a critical one as we navigate our post-Brexit, post-Covid world and attempt to strengthen both our economy and our sovereignty. One thing is clear; technology and the Cambridge Cluster is at the heart of that mission.
About Invoke Capital
Invoke invests in and advises fast-growing fundamental technology companies in Europe. With deep expertise in identifying and commercialising artificial intelligence research and a close relationship with the University of Cambridge, Invoke exists to realise the commercial possibilities of Britain’s extraordinary science and deep technology base.