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A lot of fantastic tech talent is nurtured in Cambridge, but holding on to it is a real issue. That’s according to panellists at the Cambridge leg of the Tech Nation tour.

Tech City UK’s Tech Nation report shows there are 30,219 people employed in technology jobs in Cambridge, with an average of 353 startups being created in the city per year from 2011-2015.

The report also reveals 72% of survey respondents within the local tech community believe talent supply in the area is ‘good’. The panel’s opinions on this varied, though.

It goes without saying thousands of extremely skilled and intelligent graduates emerge out of Cambridge University every year, but panellist Fiona Nielsen, founder and CEO of genomic data platform Repositive, said she is yet to hire, or even interview, people from this pool of local talent.

She said the University of Essex is very proactive in arranging internships and connections with Cambridge-based startups, but the same can’t be said for the city’s own university.

Steve Marsh, founder and CEO of local tech success story Geospock (a Big Data specialist that’s raised $10.86m to-date), tells a different story. Marsh completed a PhD at Cambridge University and said it’s perhaps this that has helped him recruit so many local graduates. During his time as a student, he became aware of the Computer Laboratory Supporters Club – a group of companies that actively support teaching or research in the university’s computer lab. His company is now a member and the last time he attended the club’s recruitment fair, his firm received 130 CVs.

The problem is, he said, “graduates are in such high demand,” so they don’t need to rely on the university to connect them with companies, tech firms from across the world often come straight to them.

Bob Driver, CEO of industry forum and tech community Cambridge Wireless, agreed that finding and keeping talent in the city “is a huge issue”. He said startups in the city may have problems hiring from the university because large companies with offices in the area, such as Cambridge-born tech behemoth ARM Holdings, are “sucking in” the best talent.

Negative perception

The panel claimed people from outside the area see the Cambridge tech ecosystem as being very insular, with little collaboration between firms and outsiders.

“There is regularly criticism from outside that Cambridge is a closed ecosystem and is hard to penetrate,” said Jon Bradford, founding partner of VC Motive Partners and non-executive director at Central Working, which is building a new work space in Cambridge called the John Bradfield Centre.

“But the people who have been incredibly successful in Cambridge are not from Cambridge. Cambridge is an amazing melting pot,” he added.

Bradford went on to say work must be done to “break that myth that Cambridge is closed”.

“I’ve never felt anything but support,” he concluded.

Marsh highlighted that local startups and entrepreneurs can receive a lot of help and guidance from more established tech companies Cambridge.

“The community in Cambridge really has a lot of time for the next generation. It’s a fantastic ecosystem,” he explained, adding that there’s a real mixture of people possessing various different areas of expertise.

Driver said this sense of community just isn’t being marketed to the rest of the UK and beyond. “There’s a danger of complacency creeping in,” he said. “We need to be promoting ourselves nationally and internationally.”

Infrastructure

According to Cleevely, another issue facing the city is its inadequate infrastructure. He described investment into this area as “chronic”, stating that the population of Cambridge is set to be four times the current size in 20 years, yet there are no existing investment plans for infrastructure that will cope with this increase.

Bradford highlighted that the transport links into the city are set to improve, though, with the creation of the soon-to-open Cambridge North train station. Located in the suburb of Chesterton, it is close to Cambridge Science Park and will be served by a fast train to and from London’s Kings Cross. Bradford said anything that strengthens the city’s connection with London will be good for Cambridge.

All in all, the panel agreed with the Tech Nation report, which hailed Cambridge as a “leading digital tech cluster”, it just needs to find a way of getting more of the universities’ (Anglia Ruskin University, too) graduates to stay put and help the ecosystem grow even further.

Tech City News is accompanying Tech City UK on its Tech Nation tour (before you ask, we’re not connected, we just have similar names!) Stay tuned for more coverage and regional analysis.