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Tech in the East of England: The August roundup


Tim Robinson, COO of TechEast, brings you his monthly roundup of the top tech news to come out of East Anglia. This month, he brings you news of a new Cambridge tech hub, developments in biotech, funding announcements and more.

Welcome to the first monthly roundup from tech in East Anglia! Last month, Norfolk and Suffolk were named two of the best places in the country to retire to. While that’s good news for founders hoping to regroup and plan their next startup after a successful exit, don’t let that fool you – East Anglia is one of the UK’s busiest emerging tech hotspots and this month we’re pleased to report on a plethora of news and funding activity that has emerged from the region.

Taken as a whole the East leads the UK on per capita R&D spending. Building on an global reputation for tech innovation and computer science at the twin centres of Cambridge and BT Adastral Park near Ipswich, the East of England now boasts a third and vibrant ‘tech city’ in Norwich, birthplace to several of the UK’s most progressive digital businesses. National infrastructure investment in Crossrail, the widening of the A11 and planned upgrades to the existing rail network has created a physical tech diamond spilling out from the Europe’s preeminent tech cluster in London, east to Colchester and Ipswich, north to Norwich and west to Cambridge.

Cambridge named fastest-growing city economy

According to new research by legal firm Irwin Mitchell, Cambridge overtook Milton Keynes to become the fastest-growing city economy, with a year-on-year growth rate of 2.9%.

The research was published in Irwin Mitchell’s eighth quarterly UK Powerhouse Report, in collaboration with the Centre for Economics and Business Research. The report attributes Cambridge’s growth success to its tech cluster, ‘Silicon Fen’, housing over 1,000 tech companies including Microsoft and CSR.

The report also revealed that more patents are published in Cambridge than in any other city, and that 80% of the city’s startups are still in business after three years.

New flagship Cambridge tech hub

East of England-based techies looking for a new home in Cambridge need look no further. The Bradfield Centre – a new workspace community for tech businesses – has opened at Cambridge’s Science Park.

As well as state-of-the-art office space and co-working options, the new facility will also run a series of accelerator programmes to help local tech businesses grow to their full potential.

The Bradfield Centre was part-funded by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) and is managed by workspace operators Central Working.

Founded by Cambridge’s Trinity College in 1970, the science park is the oldest in the UK and the centre is a five-minute cycle ride from the newly opened Cambridge North station providing a fast rail link to Kings Cross. With residents of the John Bradfield Centre benefiting from the close proximity to the science park’s 5,000-plus community, it’s hoped the new centre will become the focal point for Cambridge’s expanding tech business cluster.

As well its existing embassy in Shoreditch, TechEast has extended its network of workspaces to include Cambridge with a new presence at the centre. TechEast members can make use of hot-desking and meeting room facilities.

Norwich researchers create polio vaccine

Innovation is in abundance in the region and part of its success can be attributed to the presence of several great universities and research facilities. The regional ecosystem of world-class research and education hubs, neighbouring with tech excellence has lead to a number of innovative projects over the years that have been cultivated from a crossover between various hi-tech disciplines: digital, ICT and life sciences.

One recent example came from the BioTech space when scientists at Norwich’s John Innes Centre discovered a way to use technology alongside the genetic code of plants to create a new vaccine against poliovirus. Thanks to routine vaccination, cases of poliovirus have reduced by 99% since 1988. However, the current method of vaccination requires the production of large quantities of the virus, which is risky. This new method “hijacks” the metabolism of a relative of the tobacco plant to create a particle similar to the poliovirus. The process is cheap, easy, and quick, and eliminates the need for active polio virus in vaccines, which is much safer. This development in BioTech is hoped to be a big step towards the eventual eradication of the disease.

Investment news

Cambridge cybersecurity firm raises $75m

As this is the first monthly East of England tech round up, I’m going to cheat a little and include some investments from before August. Back in early July, Cambridge cybersecurity firm Darktrace raised $75m in series D funding, bringing them to a post-money valuation of $825m.

The round was led by Insight Venture Partners and drew participation from existing backers Summit Partners, KKR and TenEleven Ventures.

Founded in 2013 by mathematicians and machine learning experts from the University of Cambridge, Darktrace now has 24 offices all over the world and a 500-strong staff.

Essex-based PropTech business closes £9m Series B

More recently, Essex-based PropTech firm eMoov closed a £9m Series B round, bringing its total funding amount to date to £15m. With roots in a family business founded in 1957, eMoov launched in Brentwood, Essex, in 2010.

The funding round was led by JXC Ventures and attracted funding from investors including Episode 1 VC, Maxfield Capital, Spire and Startive Ventures. eMoov plans to use the investment to develop their tech and to boost marketing spend.

Norwich AI company, Rainbird, raises $2.89m

One of the emerging superstars in artificial intelligence, Rainbird, raised $2.89m. The funding came from a syndicate of investors, including Eden Rock.

Founded in 2013, Rainbird started life in Norwich, before graduating to their own offices in London and Norwich having gone through the Techstars accelerator. Rainbird plans to use the new funds to boost marketing and international expansion.

AgriTech firm receives Seed funding

And finally, Suffolk-based AgriTech firm PBD Biotech closed its seed investment round with a total of £150,000. PBD Biotech has developed technology for detecting bovine TB. Anglia Capital Group contributed £80,000, with Cambridge Agritech contributing the remaining amount.

Step Into Tech

A new venture, called Step Into Tech, which engages both parents and young people launches this month bringing together eight to 18-year-olds to learn, play and discuss ideas with peers who have similar interests.

The Norwich-based community interest company was founded by Claire Riseborough after she struggled to find a social outlet for her son to explore his interest in technology with children of his own age, and follows government reports highlighting national digital skills shortages in Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire alone. TechEast has estimated that 10,000 new and replacement jobs will be needed in the tech and digital sector by 2024.