A Google VC explained why Cambridge has the edge over Oxford on tech startups

Google Ventures partner Tom HulmeFlickr/PICNIC NetworkGV partner Tom Hulme.

The universities of Oxford and Cambridge have one of the longest-running rivalries in the world. They compete every year in The Boat Race (rowing), The Varsity Match (rugby), and of course, in the academic league tables.

But today there’s another battleground where the centuries-old institutions are going head to head: technology startups.

Cambridge currently has the edge over Oxford when it comes to spinning out successful technology companies, according to tech investor Tom Hulme, who has invested in startups in both cities.

Hulme, a partner at GV (formerly Google Ventures), which has over $US2.4 billion (£1.9 billion) at its disposal, told Business Insider: “One of the interesting challenges of Oxford is, if you look at their base of academic research, it is world class. And I don’t think that’s ever translated into a throughput of startups.”

There are a number of organisations in Cambridge that are helping scientists to spin their companies out of the university labs. “In many ways I think Cambridge’s funnel was more efficient historically because of Cambridge Angels and CIC (Cambridge Innovation Capital),” said Hulme.

Cambridge has produced a number of sizeable technology companies including Autonomy, Cambridge Silicon Radio, and ARM. By comparison, Oxford has had fewer successes of the same magnitude.

Cambridge River Thames Boat RaceAction Images via Reuters / Matthew Childs LivepicCambridge’s Matthew Holland is thrown into the water by his team as they celebrate winning the women’s boat race on April 2, 2017.

But that could change, Hulme believes. GV has invested in a company called Oxford Science Innovation (OSI) that’s aiming to address the imbalance between the startup ecosystems of Oxford and Cambridge.

OSI provides capital and scaling expertise to Oxford University businesses that have been founded on interesting intellectual property (IP). The company has raised £580 million, making it the largest private university fund in the UK.

“You could think of it as a fund,” said Hulme in reference to OSI. “I tend to think of it as a really interesting company that’s transferring IP effectively.”

OSI has made over 40 investments and about half of those investments have been into life science companies. “The quality is absolutely exceptional,” Hulme said. “They have a relationship with the tech transfer office [at the University of Oxford] and they can get referred into any science department, be it medicine, genomics, etc.”

Hulme said OSI could help GV to cash in on the IP coming out of Oxford.

“Clearly that’s something we’re interested in,” he said. “I think we have that relationship in Cambridge by just knowing a lot of the individual professors pretty well. I kind of see our job as knowing the points of consolidation in any of these markets and OSI is one of them.”

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