Cambridge Innovation Capital has closed its largest round of funding yet as the venture investor seeks to capitalize on the UK city’s growing life science and technology economy.
CIC – which benefits from a unique deal with the University of Cambridge – has raised £225m to invest in early-stage start-ups in fields ranging from cell therapies to quantum computing, bringing it 1 assets under management reached $ billion.
Andrew Williamson, managing partner, said Cambridge is achieving a concentration of research and innovation that he had previously only seen while working in Silicon Valley.
“Every dinner party you go to, every parent you meet at a kid’s soccer game, they’re working on innovation, entrepreneurship or commercialization,” he said. “It’s reached that critical mass where it’s feeding itself.”
Williamson added that until recently, the missing piece has been big companies to provide a talent base and partnership opportunities. But Cambridge’s expertise in artificial intelligence, antibodies, and cell and gene therapies had now attracted both big tech and big pharma.
“Our offices are on Station Road and I see Microsoft, Amazon, Samsung and AstraZeneca all on the same street,” he said.
While Oxford demonstrated its biomedical prowess to the world by developing a Covid-19 vaccine, Cambridge boasted a more mature life science ecosystem. Together with London they form the so-called Golden Triangle Cluster.
About half of the investments in the round came from UK funds, with other investors from the US, the Middle East and Asia. Williamson said the company is attracting more interest from UK investors despite regulatory hurdles for pension funds, such as fee caps, which discourage active management and which he hopes will soon be removed.
“We’re staying with the politicians to make sure this gets done this year,” he said. “I think we will be freeing up a lot more UK pension fund money soon. . . and that will probably start as we get into the later stages, the lower-risk scale-up rounds.”
VC investment in Cambridge has nearly doubled every two years since 2017, according to data platform Beauhurst. In 2021, companies received £1.5bn in funding, of which £800m went to later stages.
CIC focuses on “Series A” funding – the first significant round of corporate venture capital funding – but its limited partners have joined in later rounds for the most successful start-ups.
About half of the investments come directly from intellectual property created by academics at the university. His contract, which was renewed in 2018 and expires in 2033, allows him to invest alongside the university’s seed fund and gives him the right to participate in future spin-off expansion rounds.
CIC also runs two accelerators for the creation of companies in the life sciences and deep tech sectors, such as AI and advanced electronics.
Williamson said one promising area for the city is the connection between AI and life sciences, such as using machine learning for drug discovery.
“Often the best innovations come from the intersection or cross-pollination between sectors, and in a university-centric culture like Cambridge that happens naturally,” he said. “An AI professor meets a drug discovery professor at the pub.”