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17 February, 2011 - 14:52 By Tony Quested

Cambridge Consultants the golden child of the tech cluster


Arguably the most significant contributor to the Cambridge Phenomenon and additionally the kudos Cambridge has gained globally has been the technology design hothouse, Cambridge Consultants, which launched in 1960.

The aim of the founders, Tim Eiloart and David Southward, was to “put the brains of Cambridge University at the disposal of the problems of British industry.”

As a concept and soundbite it’s right up there with the grandest ever conjured by entrepreneurs down the ages.

In reality, the early years of Cambridge Consultants were often chaotic and wracked with commercial uncertainty.

Business Weekly’s historic 5050 Vision publication, which marked the company’s 50th anniversary and effectively the golden jubilee of the Cambridge technology cluster, follows Cambridge Consultants’ plunge into a financial crisis despite the help of Clive Sinclair and Robert Maxwell; the buy-out of the business from voluntary administration by American giants Arthur D. Little; the growth from humble, often chaotic, conditions into a prestigious Cambridge Science Park HQ and the ascendancy to a world-class consultancy that has now lasted over half a century.

Given the companyʼs current ʻrudeʼ health this is far from a cradle to the grave account: In it 50 years, Cambridge Consultants has spun off companies that are world leaders in their own right as well as enterprises that have founded entire technology clusters to boost Cambridgeʼs global kudos and local GDP.

Eiloart was actually better off than many budding Cambridge entrepreneurs and while studying at Trinity had amassed £400 to start the business, unveiling the concept to a group of friends at his bedsit in Ram Yard.

The foundling – oft floundering – business decided it needed offices and found them in Park Street where the landlord was comedian Peter Cook who lived upstairs with many others. When the ‘Cook commune’ wanted to go in or out, the occupant of the company’s only office chair would have to move to let them through.

The business as a consultancy really started to take off as the workshop expanded and more and more projects were taken in for external customers. The company’s capabilities also broadened as more bright people came on board.

But the company’s cutting edge innovation was not hauling in the cash and by 1971 it became obvious that a buyer was needed. US company Arthur D. Little swooped and Cambridge Consultants’ fortunes were transformed.

The company sold its Bar Hill premises in August 1977 and commissioned a new building around 50 per cent larger at Cambridge Science Park – christened by wags in the company, The Milton Hilton. The move coincided with a fresh surge of growth in the business

It’s been quite a ride for a company that can fairly be described as both the mother and father of the Cambridge Phenomenon: From one full time employee at the outset in 1960 to 350 today; from receivership to redemption under American ownership and onto fresh global growth through a management buy-out backed by Altran, Europe’s largest tech consultancy, in 2002. And looking to the future with confidence as one of the world’s most innovative product development companies.

Many of the hi-tech companies in and around Cambridge can trace their roots back to Cambridge Consultants. The wireless and inkjet clusters, particularly, owe a huge debt to Cambridge Consultants and its spin-outs.

Cambridge Consultants has created over 20 new ventures in the past 25 years, several of which have gone on to achieve listing on the London Stock Exchange, namely Domino, Xaar, Prelude Trust, CSR plc and Vivid (sold to Vectura Group).

Other successful spin-offs include Alphamosaic and Inca, who were subsequently acquired by Broadcom for $123m and Dainippon Screen for Euro 43.8m, respectively. Both sales were achieved within five years of the companies being formed.

The company’ portfolio spans a range of different industry sectors. Its Medical Technology Division develops products and technology for drug delivery (respiratory, transdermal, injection, etc), diagnostics (both lab-based and point-of-care devices), and surgical and interventional device manufacturers.

Cambridge Consultants is working with EBR Systems Inc in California on development of a lead-less pacemaker technology for heart surgery. As evidenced by product recalls and civil suits in America, the presence of leads in pacemakers has its drawbacks in terms of reliability.

Some medical sources predict that lead failure rates could reach 30 per cent in the next four years. The leads connecting to a pacemaker can fail or break; EBR Systems is using ultrasonic energy to create a lead-less solution. this involves shining ultrasonic energy onto an electrode that is implanted in the heart and converts the acoustic energy into electricity.

Doctors can therefore connect an electrode inside the heart without having to use leads. Wireless surgery in a number of medical areas promises to be not only safer but also cheaper as it will cut the cost of operations.

Cambridge Consultants is also homing in on a share of a $100 billion wireless marketplace with a revolutionary approach to maximising the digital dividend.

Whitespace is the term given to the unused spectrum that exists between television channels in what is known as the TV band in the US. While major players like Google and Microsoft are seeing whitespace as a potential goldmine, Cambridge Consultants is championing a cognitive approach to solving a whitespace dilemma.

New whitespace frequencies authorised in the US by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), greatly increase the global wireless bandwidth available to computers, set top boxes, laptops, WiFi hot spots and other radio devices that currently use the unlicensed bands at 2.4 and 5 GHz. The dilemma is pre-determining whether a particular spectrum is free. Cambridge Consultants has a solution that could become the way all spectrum is regulated.

Whether the challenge involves wireless solutions, medical or consumer products, the world-leading teams at Cambridge Consultants continue to ‘put their brains at the disposal of global industry’ to game-changing effect.

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