Cambridge Innovation Capital has raised its largest funding round to date as the venture investor seeks to capitalize on the British city’s growing life sciences and technology economy.
CIC – which benefits from a unique contract with the University of Cambridge – has raised £225m to invest in early-stage start-ups working in fields from cellular therapies to quantum computing, bringing it to $1bn in assets under management.
Andrew Williamson, managing partner, said Cambridge had reached a focus of research and innovation that he had only previously seen when he was working in Silicon Valley.
“At every dinner party you go to, every parent you meet at a kids’ soccer game, they work in innovation, entrepreneurship or commercial marketing,” he said. “It has reached that critical mass where it feeds on itself.”
Until recently, the missing piece, Williamson added, has been large companies to provide a talent base and partnership opportunities. But Cambridge’s expertise in artificial intelligence, antibodies, cell therapies and genetics has now drawn in big tech and big pharma.
“Our offices are on Station Road and I look at Microsoft, Amazon, Samsung and AstraZeneca are all on the same street,” he said.
While Oxford showed the world its biomedical prowess by creating a Covid-19 vaccine, Cambridge had a more mature life sciences ecosystem. Together with London, they make up the so-called Golden Triangle block.
About half of the investment in the round came from British funds, with other investors in the United States, the Middle East and Asia. Williamson said the company was attracting more interest from UK investors, despite regulatory hurdles to pension funds such as fee caps preventing active management, which he hopes will soon be scrapped.
“We’re continuing the interest of politicians to make sure that happens this year,” he said. “I think we will soon be opening up a lot of UK Pension Fund money…and that is likely to start moving into the later stages, the more risky scaling rounds.”
Venture capital investment in Cambridge has nearly doubled every two years since 2017, according to data platform Beauhurst. In 2021, the companies received 1.5 billion pounds of financing, of which 800 million pounds went to later stages.
CIC is focusing on “Series A” funding – the companies’ first significant round of venture capital funding – but its limited partners have joined in later rounds of more successful startups.
About half of its investment comes directly from intellectual property created by academics at the university. Its contract, which was renewed in 2018 and expires in 2033, allows the investment along with the university’s initial fund and gives it the right to participate in future follow-up rounds to expand the flows.
CIC also operates start-up accelerators in the life sciences and “deep technology” sectors, such as artificial intelligence and advanced electronics.
Williamson said the most promising area for the city is the link between artificial intelligence and the life sciences, such as using machine learning to discover drugs.
“The best innovations often come at the intersection or cross-pollination of sectors and in a university-centric culture like Cambridge, this happens naturally,” he said. “Professor of Artificial Intelligence meets Professor of Drug Discovery at the pub.”