I’ve been feeling a fresh dynamic in Oxford for some time. This is after visiting it from my base in Cambridge for over 10 years to find new technologies for Japanese clients, so perhaps I notice the changes more easily than I do in Cambridge where it is harder for me to stand back.
Cambridge is growing fast too, especially after Astra-Zeneca decided to move its R&D to Cambridge three years ago.
Oxford has five major science parks – Milton Park, Harwell Campus, Culham Science Centre, Oxford Science Park and Begbroke Science Park (the last two owned by Oxford colleges).
A weakness we have noted is that while each park has its own networking activity there is no meta network, unlike Cambridge, which has several, notably Cambridge Network.
The Bessemer Society has up to now had most engagement with the Harwell Campus, which is led by Angus Horner and his team. One of Harwell’s ambitions is to become the leading centre for Space technology, more specifically, NewSpace, which is the delivery of communication and information services by networks of tiny low orbit satellites.
One of our members, Oxford Space Systems, will have an opening ceremony for their new lab and office facilities on the Harwell site towards the end of June. We have decided to make NewSpace the theme of our main dinner of the year to celebrate the emergence of this sector in Oxford.
There are currently 800 people employed on the Harwell Campus in space-related activities. The new business development manager for the Harwell Space Cluster, Joanna Hart, told us that she wants it to expand to 2-3,000 people before she moves on.
The South Oxford Science Vale
A distinctive feature of Oxford is that Harwell and Culham both host large government research facilities. Culham is the home of the UK Atomic Energy Authority from which our member, Tokamak Energy Ltd flew the nest.
Harwell is home to the Diamond Light Source Synchrotron, which attracts companies that need to carry out study of materials in minute detail. However, Milton Park can claim to have established the first true science park. Formerly a Ministry of Defence depot, the site was acquired by two property entrepreneurs in the 1980s.
At this time the Cambridge Science Park had already been operating for 10 years, which must have been a source of inspiration. The park is located between Culham and Harwell. The local council has dubbed it the ‘South Oxford Science Vale’ and produced a Science Vale Action Plan.
Cambridge has an equivalent concentration of parks to the south of the city (Addenbrooke’s, Babraham, Granta Park and the Wellcome Trust Genome Centre), but they primarily serve the life sciences community, whereas the South Oxford Science Vale serves companies from every branch of science and technology.
The South Vale parks border Abingdon ten miles from Oxford. Each summer a group in Abingdon organises the week-long ATOM Science Festival.
This year the Bessemer Society will participate by organising a panel session at which members will discuss their experience of bringing science from the lab bench to the marketplace and offer the audience the opportunity to ask questions.
Another meeting we are planning in May is a workshop with the IP law firm, JA Kemp, which will focus on Artificial Intelligence. The idea was sparked by comments Professor Sir Nigel Shadbolt made at our Bessemer dinner in October.
Having spent the evening in the company of about 30 CEOs he felt his colleagues would benefit from similar interaction with people in industry. Accordingly we plan to design the workshop so that it can offer value to companies, university researchers and our partner, JA Kemp.
One of the panel speakers at the workshop will be Andrew Hopkins, the CEO and co-founder of Exscientia Ltd, which uses AI to speed up the process of drug discovery. The company’s technology was incubated at the University of Dundee, but moved recently to Oxford to be near to prospective clients and sources of funding.
Initial funding has come from German pharmaceutical company, Evotec AG, which established a presence in Oxford in 2000 after acquiring Oxford Asymmetry for over £300m. Andrew has set up shop in the heart of the university quarter, and reports a steady stream of senior Pharma visitors.
This year he will be raising significantly more capital. As an AI drug discovery company, it may not seem the kind of manufacturing-related company the Bessemer Society serves, but Andrew believes formulation and design for manufacture are critical to a successful drug development programme.
Evox Therapeutics Ltd
We also visited Evox Therepeutics, which is based on the Oxford Science Park (where many of Oxford’s life science companies are based). It was co-founded in Sweden by Dr Per Lundin based on research at the Karolinska Institutet.
It already had close links with researchers at Oxford University but it was access to capital which decided them to move to Oxford. Funding has come from Oxford Sciences Innovation (OSI), and a new CEO has been appointed who has a strong international track record.
Evox aims to raise £40-50mil this year in a Series A round. This is more like a Series A raise in Boston, and is an indication of how much capital is becoming available for promising start ups in Oxford. In Evox’s case the promise is a method to carry drugs across the blood-brain-membrane which has so far been preventing the treatment of neuro-degenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s
Another OSI-funded company we visited is Metaboards. Its technology transfers power through the air. We met Tristan Collins who until recently was acting CEO. The recently-appointed CEO, Nedko Ivanov, has joined from Redux ST in Cambridge, which was sold to Google last year for an undisclosed sum.
I knew Redux well when it was led by its previous CEO, James Lewis, who co-founded Oxford Semiconductor, with Jalil Oraee (Jalil is now CEO of another Oxford spinout, OXEMS, and has attended Bessemer dinners). James commuted to Cambridge from Oxford in his own light aircraft. Those were the days.
Oxford patient capital
The key figure behind the first deal struck with Oxford University’s Chemistry Department in 2000 was David Norwood; he was then leading Beeson Gregory, the forerunner of the IP Group.
In 2015 he returned to Oxford to set up OSI in a partnership with Oxford University Innovation (OUI). The amount of capital in Oxford is now more than is available locally in Cambridge and closer in scale to Boston.
However, Cambridge has more Angel investment, due to the tight level of networking by serial entrepreneurs who have remained in the Cambridge area. This has been noted by OSI who would like to see the same happen in Oxford.
Harwell’s rising star
Interestingly OSI’s deal with OUI extended to the Harwell Campus. That says something about Harwell and its vision and energy. We are glad therefore to be partnering with Harwell for our Rhodes House Dinner on July 4th, having partnered with OSI for the dinner at Rhodes House last July.