Oxford, cornerstone of the UK’s golden start-up triangle

Oxford, cornerstone of the UK’s golden start-up triangle
Oxford, cornerstone of the UK’s golden start-up triangle

Few cities are as closely associated with academic excellence as Oxford, home to one of the oldest – and best – universities in the world. For decades, the city has attracted great minds, who come to immerse themselves in studies, research and innovation.

A thriving startup community has emerged from this fertile ground. Along with London and Cambridge, Oxford forms the United Kingdom’s “golden triangle”, so named for its achievements in science, technology, and innovation. The University of Oxford is obviously at the heart of this dynamic: it alone has produced more unicorns than any other European institution. Indeed, the companies LinkedIn, Eventbrite, Monzo and Onfido were all founded by his former students.

The city has therefore become a destination of choice for life sciences and health companies: it is notably there that the first authorized vaccine against COVID-19 was developed. Among the multiple companies spun out of the university, Oxford Nanopore is one of the most successful. Listed on the London Stock Exchange in 2021, it was recently valued at £3.4 billion. Last year, among major funding rounds, medical technology company Perspectum raised $36 million, while medical diagnostics company Caristo raised $16 million in a Series A round.

For entrepreneurs looking to set up shop in Oxford, here’s what you need to know to take advantage of the city’s resources: where to look for funding, hire talent and get help starting your business.

In Oxford, an enviable venture capital market

If there is one place where the financing market is flourishing, it is Oxford: in 2023, its startups raised $786 million in venture capital, putting the city in the top 15 of the most successful European destinations in this domain.

Oxford Capital is one of the major players in the city. It has invested more than £500 million in 100 early-stage companies, primarily in retail, fintech, digital health and AI. The group has also invested in companies such as Curve and Moneybox, and led Scan.com’s 2022 Series A round.

It is also a major backer of Oxford Science Enterprises (OSE), a billion-pound fund that invests in deep tech, health technology and life sciences across the world. University of Oxford. Their portfolio has already seen several significant exits, including the acquisition of Latent Logic by Waymo, and that of Yasa by Mercedes Benz. The OSE works closely with the Oxford Seed Fund (a student-led fund specializing in very early stage investments) at Saïd Business School, which it has also supported financially.

Longwall Ventures is another venture capital firm with a strong interest in companies in science-based or R&D-intensive fields. Its preferred sectors are health, resilience, and sustainability. It notably supported software publisher Caristo in its latest Series A fundraising, as well as companies such as Acunu and Cobalt.

Oxford Innovation Finance (OIF) is one of the UK’s oldest business angel networks. It is also one of the largest with more than 600 investors. Over the past 30 years, OIF has connected hundreds of companies with investors. Each year it organizes events where businesses can meet potential business angels and submit funding requests ranging from £100,000 to £2 million.

In Oxford, access to talents from around the world

Nearly 1,000 years old, the University of Oxford has built a solid reputation for research, science and technology. Entrepreneurship takes pride of place, particularly through the Saïd Business School, widely considered one of the best business schools in the world. Its Entrepreneurship Center includes business creation among the modules of its master’s programs, and organizes investment competitions, startup accelerators, and even has its own seed fund (the Oxford Seed Fund mentioned earlier ).

Based on the university’s premises, Oxford Entrepreneurs is Europe’s largest entrepreneurial society, bringing together more than 77,000 founders from around the world. In particular, she promises to help students “to develop their next big project and find co-founders, investors and colleagues”.

The city is also home to Oxford Brookes University, which is highly ranked in the fields of computer science, engineering, biological sciences, as well as several humanities disciplines. It attracts a large contingent of international students, who represent 17% of its student population.

Support networks at Oxford

In Oxfordshire, the area surrounding Oxford, the startup survival rate is 44%, one of the highest in the UK. This result is linked to the collaborative spirit of its entrepreneurial community, which offers mentoring and advice, while welcoming newcomers.

The Oxfordshire Local Enterprise Partnership (OxLEP) is a local organization that promotes innovation and economic growth. It provides free, personalized support to businesses in the area, and helps young people across Oxfordshire to train and prepare for the modern job market.

Founders & Funders is a community initiative and digital event series bringing together Oxford and Harvard alumni, founders and investors for conferences and workshops knowledge sharing. Initially reserved for companies in the scientific field, its interests have broadened to AI, medical technologies and climate technologies.

Oxford also benefits from the presence of a number of innovation centers and business incubators, which form ideal bases for businesses in the science sector. These include Oxford Science Park and Culham Science Centre, both of which provide state-of-the-art research and development facilities, as well as laboratories and workspaces. These two spaces also support companies in their access to research and financing programs, and offer assistance in strategic decision-making, while facilitating access to potential clients and experts.

Despite its modest size – around 150,000 inhabitants – Oxford stands out for the success of its startups. The founders who settle there are well placed to take their business beyond the historic streets of the city, to propel it onto the international stage.

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