On my visit to Cambridge this summer to check out the Cambridge startup scene, I came across many great startups that had grown out of the university. The companies were fantastic, some really interesting ideas, you can read more in my Cambridge startup scene article here. But I also came across the organisation CUTEC or the Cambridge University Technology & Enterprise Club, where many of those startups had been apart of. I sat down and had a great chat with Neil Rzechorzek, the Director of Development at CUTEC, who gave me an insight into CUTEC, its role in helping local startups & more about the Cambridge startup scene as a whole. Here's my interview:
Hi Neil, thanks for taking the time to talk to YHP.
Can you give us a little background about yourself?
By day I’m a PostDoc in the Biochemistry Department at the University of Cambridge, but in my spare time I’m the Director of Development for the Cambridge University Technology and Enterprise Club (CUTEC).
Tell us more about CUTEC:
CUTEC is a group of like-minded individuals that is charged with supporting the entrepreneurial activities taking place in the ‘Cambridge Hi-Tech Cluster’. The Club is largely made up of postgraduate students and postdoctoral scientists undertaking research at Cambridge University, but also includes a large number of local business professionals.
The Club runs a large number of its own events throughout the calendar, each attempting to tackle a different aspect of the ‘idea-to-business’ pipeline. The Club’s largest event – the Technology Ventures Conference (TVC) – is held annually in June, and regularly attracts both high-profile speakers and ~400 delegates from around the world. This year’s conference was themed ‘Innovation in an Uncertain World’ and featured Keynote Speeches from Julie Meyer and David S. Rose.
CUTEC also partners with a number of other key entrepreneurial organisations in the Cambridge area to deliver a broad range of collaborative events throughout the year.
The Club is now entering its 10th year, and is developing some exciting, new projects in order to celebrate this important anniversary – watch this space!
What role has it played in helping local startups grow?
The events that CUTEC either runs or supports are all geared towards helping startups in one way or another. However, a good illustration of how we help is the Club’s Business Surgery Series. Each Surgery offers free, confidential, one-on-one advice from a local Business Professional to anyone looking to develop their own startup or improve early-stage growth. Topics range from Business Plan Writing to Protecting Intellectual Property and other Legal Issues.
We’ve had several startups tell us they’ve avoided some serious mistakes as a result of the expert advice they have received. Equally, we’ve had several participants comment that the Surgeries provided new contacts that may prove instrumental in their future success.
Have you seen much come out of it, in terms of startups spawned?
The CUTEC membership itself is incredibly entrepreneurial. This year alone, we’ve seen 7 startups created by members and some of these companies are expanding at an impressive rate.
However, we’ve also seen new developments formed outside the Club as a result of CUTEC’s activities.
A fantastic example of this is the continuing success of the winner of the Global Health Hack Day – a collaborative event held in March by the Humanitarian Centre and CUTEC. This competition gave teams a week to tackle real-world challenges, as set by organisations working in the area of global health.
The winning team – set a challenge by technology company Medic Mobile – developed a mobile phone-based biometrics project which allows healthcare workers in the developing world to check patient data. Part of the team’s prize was free entry to April’s Idea Transform Weekend (organised by Idea Transform, with whom CUTEC partnered); the team expanded, rebranded to ‘Sim-Prints’ and developed the project so well that it won both the Healthcare category and the overall competition. Apparently the team is now developing a prototype and talking to investors, foundations and NGOs for funding. Not bad in just a few months!
What support has the club received from the university?
Most of the support CUTEC receives from the University is in-kind; the Club collaborates with many organisations within the University and in return those organisations support the work that we do through their network of contacts. The network here in Cambridge never ceases to amaze me! Individuals also donate much of their time to the CUTEC cause – for which the Club is incredibly grateful – and the University provides many of the venues used by the Club for its events.
Cambridge has been given the name of Silicon Fen due to the large number of tech startups in the area, what is the startup community in Cambridge like?
Close-knit but electric! The ‘Cambridge Cluster’ is genuinely unlike anything else I have experienced in the UK – even in London. If your startup is in the right technical area, I can think of no better place to operate from than Cambridge. The pace is frightening – if you connect with the right people, things can happen incredibly quickly.
What opportunities exist to help Cambridge startups get off the ground?
Aside from all the CUTEC events, plenty! Seriously, the list is just too long to go through. However, I should mention some of the organisations that we work closely with and who also offer a broad range of support. These include the Centre for Entrepreneurial Learning (based at Cambridge’s Judge Business School), the ideaSpace Enterprise Accelerator, and Cambridge Enterprise – the University’s technology transfer arm.
What about the investor opportunities, is there an angel community of sorts?
Yes, in fact there are several Angel groups here in Cambridge. Perhaps the most well-known is the ‘Cambridge Angels’ group – its members have been involved in some pretty big businesses, including Abcam and ARM, to name but two.
Venture Capital also plays its role, and I’ve heard rumours that London VCs are keen to get their foot in the door a little further. Cambridge is definitely the place to be!
Here is the introduction video on their homepage which includes some pretty amazing stats and speakers: