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4 December, 2017 - 14:58 By Tony Quested

US giant joins Arm to back Cambridge University Entrepreneurs

Cambridge ideas continue to change the world – and the brains behind the game-changing innovation start their entrepreneurial journeys from deep within the heart of the university.

Cambridge University Entrepreneurs (CUE) was founded by three students with business building aspirations in 1999 and record levels of corporate sponsorship have been attracted to increase the prize pot to a new high for the 2017-18 competitions now underway.

Arm, the greatest technology business Cambridge has ever produced, has led a procession of corporate ventures, established businesses and specialist investors in startups to back CUE’s efforts this year after a sponsorship drive led by serial entrepreneur Dr Darrin Disley.

The revamped CUE committee, led by chair Chris Kneale-Jones (pictured above) and president Peter Choy, are leading a fresh drive to show the world the power of student-driven Cambridge IP.

Leading CUE alumni businesses have collectively raised more than a third of a billion dollars – ($332.5m, £250m) and created around 1,000 jobs at a conservative estimate. They span the planet and influence the globe in terms of technology, business, life sciences and social enterprise. And there’s a lot more where those have come from as CUE raises the stakes.

Just run the rule over the CUE exemplars:-

  • Owlstone Medical, which spun out of Owlstone Nanotech and has invented a breathalyser for cancer and other diseases, has raised £100m
  • Light Blue Optics, with its UI enabling electronics technology, has raised £35m
  • Enecsys, the micro-inverters specialist has raised £27m
  • GeoSpock, a geospatial big data pioneer has accumulated £104m with another large chunk on the way
  •, the principled AI trailblazer has already scooped £10m with much more to come
  • Cambridge Cell Networks has also raised £10m.

Other luminaries are Aqdot (microencapsulation, £9m), Cambridge Cancer Genomics (diagnostic signatures, £5.5m), Simprints (patient record ID, £4m), Repositive (genomic data sharing, £3m), Desktop Genetics (CRISPR guide design, £2.3m), Healx (rare diseases, £1.75m), Rapportive (LinkedIn/email aggregator, £1m).

Many of these businesses continue to raise substantial chunks of money from a Cambridge springboard and scale internationally.

Chair Chris Kneale-Jones is convinced that their successes will inspire the next and future generations of CUE hopefuls – starting with this year’s contenders. Kneale-Jones, who worked in investment banking for Morgan Stanley and private equity before founding a couple of his own enterprising start-ups, is currently reading for an MBA at Cambridge Judge Business School. 

He says: “CUE hosts one of the most successful student run business creation competitions in the world. The fact so many past winners have gone on to become globally successful shows what can be achieved from relatively humble beginnings.

“I believe CUE has become a realistic source of equity-free seed money and provides a credible base on which the winners can build something bigger and better. Our new cohort of sponsors this year would appear to back that assessment.”

The Flagship sponsor is CarpeDiem, CR Lowe Enterprise – the brainchild of Darrin Disley, whose support of the Young Entrepreneur of the Year Prize has created a much sought-after accolade.

Gold sponsors are Santander, personalised medicines champion Horizon Discovery plus superchip architect Arm, Parkwalk Advisors which invests in high growth tech businesses, Big Data specialist GeoSpock and - most recently in a transatlantic coup for CUE – UST Global, an American multinational provider of digital, IT services and solutions, headquartered in Aliso Viejo, California.

Silver sponsor is Healx which identifies existing drugs that could treat rare diseases, offering a cost effective way to improve patient quality of life.

Two firms of patent and trademark attorneys – Mathys & Squire and Nash Matthews, along with Touchstone Innovations and chartered accountants Ensors are bronze sponsors.

CUE also benefits from a number of supporters and collaborators, including Biotechspert, Cambridge University Entrepreneurship Centre, The Gateway, Cambridge University Technology and Enterprise Club, manufacturing innovation influencer IfM and the university’s commercialisation arm, Cambridge Enterprise.

CUE president, Peter Choy

CUE’s main events are the £100, £2k and £10k competitions. From ‘just an idea’ to ‘we’re ready to scale’, the competitions and accompanying mentorship aim to guide students towards creating a commercially viable company – regardless of whether you win.

The competitions are open to individuals and teams across three categories: ‘Software’, ‘Social Enterprise’ and ‘Science and Technology’. 

The £100 for 100 words strand asking participants to ‘Write 100 words and convince our judges that your idea has legs,’ has just been completed. The challenge here is to convey the defining points of an idea in just one paragraph. The judges look for domain knowledge, market niches and competitive advantages.

Ten prize winners were announced recently:-

  • Phillipp Braeuninger-Weimer, with a nanomaterial sensor that measures carryover contamination in batch processes
  • Michael Coto, with a low-cost water-purifying photocatalyst for rural communities
  • Christian Hoecker, with a CUED-developed patent-pending Li-Ion battery technology
  • Tom Hudson, with an application of radar technology for remotely monitoring groundwater depth
  • Jez Lim Marson with ‘RenoSure’ - a sensor which fits into a patient’s vein and measures kidney function wirelessly
  • Patrik Milohanic with ‘Streetcast’ - an app for street performers to interact with audiences worldwide over the internet
  • Katarzyna Sokol with inorganic, reversible thermochromic pigments for home appliances and industrial machinery
  • L Wallace, with biotattoos for identifying livestock requiring antibiotics
  • Maria Teresa Perez Zaballos with an accelerometer-enhanced vestibular implant to treat vertigo
  • Maria Teresa Perez Zaballos et al with ‘MyCornea’ - a biofabricated corneal transplant

The £2k competition opened at the end of November, challenging budding entrepreneurs to ‘Choose a category, complete a business canvas and present to our judges.’

The business canvas forces candidates to answer key questions like: ‘Where is your revenue from?’, ‘Who is on your team and why?’ and ‘What metrics will you use to measure success?’

Using a slide-deck, entrants have to clearly identify their market niche, make rigorous, quantitative comments and display a self-critical attitude.

Deadline for entries is January 2, 2018, 11:59pm and selected candidates will be asked to present to judges between February 21 and 22, with six winners announced on March 1.

This year’s committee have doubled the top prize money – the now £10k prize – which asks entrepreneurs to ‘Do everything from the £2k, create a demo poster and start the company!’

At the CUE Grand Finale, three winners will present their businesses to potential investors and every entrant will have the opportunity to showcase at the event’s poster session.

Deadline to contest the 10k competition is April 6 at 11.59pm, presentations to judges between May 1 and 3 and winners will be announced on May 9.

Dr Darrin Disley, CEO of Horizon whose drive and inspiration has helped transform the CUE proposition

Darrin Disley’s highly prized Young Entrepreneur of the Year track is aimed at identifying those individuals who demonstrate the ambition, determination and vision to pursue the lifelong journey of becoming an entrepreneur. 

The winners may or may not have the best current business idea or be able to craft a textbook business plan but they will demonstrate the key fundamentals. Winners will receive £2,500 along with a certificate, access to a select network, mentoring, and an apprenticeship opportunity.
It is expected that the winners will make the time to participate in all stages of the CUE 2016/17 business plan competition as well as attend the three Young Entrepreneur of the Year workshops.

The competition is supervised by Dr Disley who will be kicking off a series of exclusive workshops teaching you the do’s and don’ts en route to becoming the next Young Entrepreneur of the Year! The workshop is free to all students, staff, and alumni of the University of Cambridge. Applications are now open with a deadline of December 20.

In a letter to current and potential sponsors, Dr Disley described CUE as “an important part of the startup ecosystem. He wrote: “Since 2011 both Horizon Discovery and I, via the CR Lowe Carpe Diem Enterprise Endowment, have been gold sponsors of CUE and named sponsors of the Life Science Start-Up of the Year and Young Entrepreneur of the Year tracks. 

“Companies that people may be aware of that have subsequently gained significant traction and funding are Aqdot, Biotechspert, Cambridge Cancer Genomics, Desktop Genetics, GeoSpock, HealX, DNA Digest/Repositiv and SimPrints.

“In addition, some of the talent identified who do not immediately start a business go onto support the early- stage ecosystem in business support roles. I have been lucky enough to find three corporate apprentices that came to me for training for one year each who are now taking leading roles in exciting new ventures in the cluster.

“Horizon and I have both committed to fund CUE for a further three years and have put in place a mechanism with the University of Cambridge whereby donations can be made on a fully charitable basis and subject to full marginal rate tax relief for high net worth individuals and corporate backers.”

Billy Boyle

CUE helped us get started

by Billy Boyle, CEO of Owlstone Medical

CUE alumnus Owlstone Medical has developed a breathalyser for disease. Our goal is to save 100,000 lives and $1.5 billion in healthcare costs, with a vision is to become the global leader in non-invasive diagnostics for cancer, inflammatory disease and infectious disease.

Owlstone Medical’s Breath Biopsy platform was named Invention of the Year in the 2017 Top 50 in Digital Health Awards, in recognition of exceptional progress in bringing technological advancements to healthcare. Since spinning out from our parent company Owlstone Inc. in June 2016, Owlstone Medical has expanded significantly, raised $23.5 million, including investment from Aviva, a global leader in insurance, and opened a new high volume clinical laboratory - a globally unique capability for breath analysis to support our active clinical pipeline and biomarker services.

The CUE award in 2004 was instrumental in getting Owlstone started. Within six weeks of winning the CUE award, we had secured $2m investment to spin out Owlstone from the University of Cambridge. 

Initially developed for military and industrial applications, Owlstone’s microchip chemical sensor technology Field Asymmetric Ion Mobility Spectrometry (FAIMS) advanced through $71M investment. The Owlstone FAIMS technology now forms a key part of Owlstone Medical’s Breath Biopsy platform.

• For more information about CUE visit

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