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20 November, 2023 - 14:15 By Tony Quested

First 100 backers unveiled for new Cambridge startup initiative

The new Founders at the University of Cambridge initiative has named its first 100 signatories to mentor the next generation of startups in the Cluster.

Led by Gerard Grech the initiative was established to accelerate university founders and between them the first participants to sign up have created or helped to launch more than 100 companies with an estimated value of $15 billion and invested in more than 800 new ventures.

‘Founders’ seeks to build on the momentum Cambridge has established as a leading tech hub in the UK. The city has the highest per inhabitant number of university alumni founders who have raised >$10 million and is second in the UK for unicorn creation after London.

Experts from companies headquartered both in and outside of the Cambridge Cluster – will mentor and guide new DeepTech and IP-intensive startups launched by academics and alumni.

Since 2022, Cambridge tech companies have raised $1.3 billion in funding, with 45 per cent of investment going to pre-seed companies.

Seasoned Cambridge entrepreneurs such as Richard Green, Stan Boland, Pete Hutton, Nigel Pitchford, Robert Swann and Martin Frost have joined the Founders at the University of Cambridge community to support the next generation of Cambridge startups. 

Next-gen Cambridge entrepreneurs signing up to the programme include Carmen Palacios-Berraquerro (Nu Quantum), Giorgia Longobardi (Cambridge GaN), Catherine Elton (Qkine), Katy Wigdahl (Speechmatics), Rebecca Simmons (Riverlane), Ludo Chapman (Zetta Genomics), Sai Shivareddy (Nyobolt), Tim Guilliams (Healx), Andrea De Luca (Flusso) and Aleksandra Pedraszewska (co-founder of VividQ).

Founders at the University of Cambridge aims to accelerate Cambridge University’s reputation for creating impactful tech companies by bringing together the resources to champion game-changing technologies and new ventures. The initiative’s experts will draw on their industry knowledge to help shape the success of the emerging startups.

Of the first 100 experts joining the community, almost half are entrepreneurs, a third are investors and a quarter are industry leaders. In addition, Founders at the University of Cambridge has unveiled strategic partners including AstraZeneca, Babraham Labs, Hitachi Europe, Judge Business School and KPMG, who will provide support including mentoring. 

Experts from Kindred Capital VC, Msm Fund, Ada Ventures, Martlet Capital, BGF, Downing LLP, Highland Europe, Balderton Capital, Seedcamp, Cambridge Angels, IQ Capital, First Capital, Sequoia Capital, Dynamo Ventures, Cambridge Enterprise, Elevata Ventures and Merian Ventures have also signed up to the venture.

The partners’ combined experience of all stages of the startup journey and the corporate world will be invaluable to support the new founders to scale, grow and maximise their impact. 

As part of the first ‘Founders’ 12-week programme, up to 10 early-stage companies will receive intensive mentoring, connections and seed funding from a pool of up to £2 million, which includes funding from co-investor Parkwalk Advisors. 

The programme and funding which includes 50 hours of intensive mentorship from a bespoke entrepreneur in residence (EIR), free office space and priority access to lab space, will help to accelerate and smooth the path to success.

In this way, Cambridge is offering startup help comparable to that provided at great US universities such as MIT and Stanford. Applications open today and close on Friday 15 December 2023, with the first founders announced in February 2024.

Other UK industry leaders signing up to the programme include Nima Mehdian (Go Cardless), Matt Clifford (Entrepreneur First), Chris Mairs (Raspberry Pi), Nikhil Shah (Mixcloud), Victoria Riess (McKinsey), Raj Ganatra (You Tube/Google), Arianna Huffington (Huffington Post), Max Azaham (Gartner), Itxaso Araque Barriuso (Amazon), Hazel Moore (First Capital), Ed Newton Rex (Singularity AI/A16Z), Catherine Breslin (Kingfisher Labs), Nigel Toon (Graphcore), Rahul Vohra (Superhuman), Suranga Chandratillake (Balderton Capital), David Singleton (Stripe) and Paul Forster (Indeed).

Gerard Grech, Managing Director at Founders at the University of Cambridge, said: “We’re delighted to announce the first 100 experts that will be a part of the Founders at the University of Cambridge community and that our first pre-seed accelerator is open for applications. 

“This group has unrivalled experience building, scaling and supporting world-changing tech companies which will be invaluable to help unlock the potential of our new generation of founders building companies that will solve humanity’s growing challenges. 

“Cambridge has long been one of the leading universities for spinouts in Europe, but with Founders at the University of Cambridge, we’re going to make it the leading university in the world.” 

Alastair Kilgour, Chief Investment Officer at Parkwalk Advisors, said: “Parkwalk was founded to invest in science and deep-tech companies, spun-out of UK Universities, so we are delighted to be backing the first pre-seed accelerator run by Founders at the University of Cambridge. 

“Our 10+ years of experience investing and supporting this asset class mean we’re well-positioned to champion a new generation of entrepreneurial academics coming out of Cambridge and we look forward to working with Gerard and the team to make this new initiative a success.”

Stan Boland, co-founder of self-driving software specialist FiveAI and expert at Founders at the University of Cambridge, said: “We’re at a critical moment in time for AI and the UK and Cambridge have the talent and potential to lead the world in building successful, innovative and ethical companies that take on and beat US and Chinese competitors. 

“That’s why I’m looking forward to giving back as part of Founders at the University of Cambridge – throughout my career, I’ve worked with some brilliant mentors and experts who have been instrumental in supporting me to found, grow and exit multiple tech companies and I can’t wait to get started helping a new generation of founders of tech companies to help unlock their full potential.”

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