Since the 12th century, Oxford and its University have produced some of the most renowned authors, scientists and political figures. In the 21st century, this energy has been channelled into producing some of the most innovative and fastest growing businesses. As the number of spin-outs in the Oxford eco-system has significantly grown in the past decade it has in turn transformed Oxford into a great place to launch and build ventures.
In this report, we reached out to some of the key local businesses and start ups from the ecosystem to understand the key reasons for choosing Oxford as a place to grow their business and what excites them about the future.
What is the role of Oxford University in the ecosystem?
The majority of the new ventures in the Oxford ecosystem are spin-outs from Oxford University and over 150 were founded in the past 10 years alone. Spin-outs are often co-founded by Oxford University academics to commercialise decades of ground-breaking research and science. As a result, respondents identified the academic expertise and University support as a key benefit of building in Oxford.
Mikesh Udani, Co-founder and CEO of Albus Health, a spin-out developing a remote nocturnal symptom monitoring device finds that Oxford provides good access to academic expertise (this has more to do with University than being in Oxford city) and there is plenty of support available from sources such as the Oxford Foundry. Ashley Shaw, Communications Officer of Odqa Renewables, a spin-out decarbonising heat highlighted that one of the obvious benefit’s is the talent pool. Oxford benefits from one of the leading universities of the UK, offering a great talent pool of students to tap into. He added that the secondary effect is the availability of capital and mentors, providing access to much needed areas for a business to grow.
What other benefits are there of running a business in Oxford?
Whether the business you launch is a spin-out or not, the city’s history and academic resources will contribute to its success. Legislate’s CEO, Charles Brecque, believes that thanks to the University and venture capital investors (e.g. Parkwalk advisors, OSE), Oxford has a vibrant tech scene which means that it’s a great place to start a business and find early adopters to test new ideas and products quickly. Nick Sherman, VP of Marketing and Design at Mind Foundry, a spin-out empowering teams with AI that is built for humans, agrees. Oxford is brimming with intellectual energy, excitement, and talent. The history of the place, complete with all the great, creative minds who have walked its narrow streets, make it the perfect place to host a company that wants to change the world for the better. Oxford also offers a great quality of life which is important for early stage founders. Gus Kennedy, CEO of Hero Health that has pioneered a market-leading billing solution for private healthcare practices considers that Oxford is a great place to live. It has a real sense of community and Hero Health have been able to leverage the academic community to fill roles for interns and staff members. Many in the company have grown up here or gone to the university here, so it holds a special place. The team at Hero Health also like the idea of breaking the norm that all big businesses have to be in London and would like to support the Oxford community more as Hero continues to grow.
Trends to keep an eye out for
The Oxford ecosystem is making the most of a number of key trends ranging from AI adoption to the digital transformation of legal and healthcare industries.
The rise of AI adoption is one of the key trends which excite Nick Sherman. The market for AI is already large and continues to grow each year. According to the International Data Corporation, spending on cognitive and AI systems will reach over £77.6 billion in 2022. As more organisations in the public and private sector get started with AI they will be looking for the right tools and partners to not only help them make the most of their investment in AI but also to ensure that the AI solutions they create in the world are responsible and ethical. Mind Foundry is excited to provide teams with the tools, experience, and education they need to do that.
Elias Kasas, Head of Development at Ox Mountain, a company optimising maintenance processes in capital intensive industries, is also optimistic about the growth in companies wanting to extract more value from their data and use the insights to optimise how they operate.
Charles Brecque is thrilled that the adoption of digital services in mainstream industries has shifted to legal and more and more businesses now expect to create, sign and manage their contracts online which is an extremely exciting trend for Legislate. Not only does this level the quality of contracts for the unlawyered but it means that contract data can finally be leveraged by businesses to make key decisions.
Gus Kennedy considers that healthcare technology is full of opportunities. The business prides themselves on solving our clients' problems (whether they relate to electronic health record systems, prescribing, booking or billing), but states that there are a lot of problems to solve. Identifying which features are likely to move the sales needle is complex, and as a Tech founder resources are finite - so you don't want to take on projects that won't create value. Hero Health find it both challenging and exciting that they still have so much to achieve in this space.
Tom Vout, Marketing Executive at Oxford Semantic Technologies believes the company is now at a stage where commercial adoption and consumer reception seems realistic. With Oxford Semantic Technologies’ knowledge graph, RDFox, we can bring the power of rules-based reasoning that is already used at scale by our clients on to edge computing.
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What could accelerate these trends?
Exposure and client adoption barriers are some of the main obstacles to growth which could accelerate the adoption of new technology. Elias Kasas highlights the importance of simplifying the journey to help face client unease with change and new technology, even when they know they need technology to continue improving productivity. Mikesh Udani believes these barriers can also be overcome with good technical talent with commercial experience as understanding and explaining new technology is critical for client adoption.
For some members of the ecosystem, the trends have already started to accelerate and are starting to capitalise on the growth. For Oxford Semantic Technologies, the knowledge graph space is already accelerating so their focus is to maintain their technical lead informed by a focus on delivering value to clients. Hero Health have spent the last three years developing a market-leading billing solution for private healthcare practices. However, in order to get there, they have had to make compromises in the size of their sales and marketing teams. Now, they are looking to change that and scale up quickly in the next year or two. Watch this space!
Moving forward, Nick Sherman would like to see more organisations in both the public and private sectors investing in software and services from homegrown AI companies based in the UK. The UK creates so much amazing talent and we believe these young grads should be able to find a home at an innovative UK based company instead of needing to work for the big 3 or 4 US-based tech giants.
Tips for the next entrepreneur
Having aforementioned the benefits of launching your business in Oxford, it is no surprise that forming alliances in the Oxford University innovation ecosystem appears to be the key suggestion from the respondents. Mikesh Udani advises the next entrepreneur to make an effort to get connected to other tech businesses and start ups. Nick Sherman, agrees with this approach adding that it is useful to make use of the huge presence of the University of Oxford where possible in their strategy.
For entrepreneurs outside of the Oxford ecosystem, Ashley Shaw advises entrepreneurs to identify their competitive advantage early on and build on that to form sensible alliances (in the form of supplies, venture capital investors or customers). Ashley also adds that it is important to keep your spirits high when things seem to be going in the wrong direction because tomorrow is a new day and encourages entrepreneurs from time to time to take their chances with risky projects, keeping up with your innovative edge.
In this report we have outlined what makes the rapidly growing Oxford ecosystem different and why entrepreneurs should consider the location of their business as part of their business plan, not as a secondary consideration. The presence of the University, its talent pool and the budding ecosystem of businesses to engage with stand Oxford out as a great place to launch and build ventures. Keeping on top of new and developing trends, whether this be the adoption of data driven approaches, digitalisation or tracking the commercial adoption of solutions that are coming out of stealth mode is key for any growing business. Making sure that future entrepreneurs stay ahead of these trends is ultimately key in ensuring they can accelerate them: you have to know your ecosystem and ultimately your part to play in it.
Legislate is an early stage legal technology startup which allows large landlords, letting agents and small businesses to easily create, sign and manage contracts that are prudent and fair. Legislate’s platform is built on its patented knowledge graph which streamlines the contracting process and aggregates contract statistics to quickly unlock valuable insights. Legislate’s team marries technical and legal expertise to create a painless, smart contracting experience for its users. Legislate is backed by Parkwalk Advisors, Perivoli Innovations and angel investors.
The opinions on this page are for general information purposes only and do not constitute legal advice on which you should rely.