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22 May, 2019 - 13:02 By Judith Gaskell

Cambridge should be bold about Golden Triangle opportunities

Penningtons Cambridge

Cambridge needs to be bold and make the most of its unique position when it comes to attracting investment from around the world, a round table discussion on the issue of overseas investment into the Golden Triangle of London, Oxford and Cambridge heard.

The event was organised by law firm Penningtons Manches, which uniquely has offices in all three points of the Golden Triangle, to mark the publication of its survey Golden Triangle: Golden Opportunities?. 

Introducing the event, head of technology, Rob Hayes, said the survey’s  findings were “encouraging and heartening”.

Overseas investment into Cambridge technology companies last year was £275.3 million from 15 deals. This included £191.7m in three deals from Europe (all EU countries), six deals totalling £125.8m from US investors and £127.2m in six deals from Asian investors. Although deals were up, there had been a drop off in the value of the deals.

Henry Whorwood from Beauhurst, who compiled the data, suggested the drop in value was down to companies just getting the investment they needed. 

One surprise from the data, he said, was Europe. “We might expect Europe to be backing away, but they’re not.” Asian investment was lower than expected but he said this might be because Chinese investors are using vehicles outside of China.

Moving beyond 2018 there had been five deals in Cambridge this year. Companies at the round table that had received investment said they hadn’t had any issues attracting interest, although this varied depending on the part of the world.  

Investors from the East Coast of the US and Europe had a greater interest in drug discovery while for the West Coast it was technology. UK investors had been seen by one company to be more likely to encourage a company to  “narrow the scale” of their mission, whereas the opposite was true of the US. 

The only issue regarding Brexit had been the need for one company to get a multi-currency bank account as many products and patents are licensed to multinational companies.

When it came to seeking investment all agreed that Cambridge had so much to offer but it was getting the investors to the city and also finding funding for earlier stage companies. Cambridge also needed to be seen as somewhere people can come up and have multiple meetings and go back down to London. 

Claire Ruskin of Cambridge Network floated the idea of a small Oxbridge or Golden Triangle office in London. 

”Investors who see it as a day trip to come out to Cambridge could see representation of Cambridge in London; alternatively we can organise a programme of potential investees in one place near one of the Cambridge stations.”

Phil Elstob of Cambridge Enterprise, added: “It’s about getting our early stage companies in front of US investors. It’s also about being bold and sticking to an ambitious investment plan to help attract US investors to the UK. 

“We’re working at that very early stage of spinning out new companies. A lot of US investment has been at later stages. It’s good to hear that there is an increase in earlier stage investment.”

Cambridge already had great pulling power when it came to getting the right people said Andrew Moore of Bailey Fisher. “Businesses are treating finding the right talent with almost the same importance as investment. The whole brand of Cambridge and the pull of the university is so key.  If you pick up the phone from Cambridge people will listen.”

In conclusion Ross McNaughton, a partner at Penningtons Manches in Cambridge currently on secondment to the firm’s San Francisco office, said Cambridge shouldn’t underestimate what it has.  

“I spend a lot of my time going out to VC community in the US to talk about current UK innovations and trends and, without question, the Cambridge brand is of interest and resonates.”

• PHOTOGRAPH: Ross McNaughton, Katharine Robinson, Rachel Bradley and Rob Hayes from Penningtons Manches.

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