To the surprise of none, Oxford has become one of the most exciting and quickly developing tech hubs in the UK, Europe and the world. Investment numbers totalling over the billion mark and ranked at the top of the UK tech centres. As a centre for the highest level of education, and home of the oldest university in the English-speaking world, it’s no wonder that the engine of its success is talent.
A smaller community than London and other competing tech hubs like Berlin or Barcelona, Oxford makes up for numbers in quality, self-reliance and indomitable drive. Not only is the university a breeding ground for ideas, but it also creates the perfect ecosystem for startup success.
Campuses are where ideas are discussed, founders’ relationships begin, connections are made and the groundwork of tech unicorns is laid. However, that was all it took to become a top tech hub you would see this phenomenon in any top university town. What you’ll find in Oxford is actually the perfect confluence of talent, a culture that encourages creation, and self-investment.
Talent at the source
Yes, talent is the core engine for the Oxford tech hub, but not just any talent but the top minds in their fields. Now that’s a head start at success!
A university like Oxford, consistently ranked at the top for higher education, calls some of the best students from around the world to its halls in a significant variety of fields. For example, it’s currently ranked #1 in the UK for Computer Science, a notable number given that Software Developers are the most in-demand tech talent at the moment. Oxford campus and the environment it creates is a dream-like opportunity for startups and tech innovation.
“Oxford is a phenomenal place to start a company. There are amazingly intelligent people in this part of the world. It’s great to be able to recruit such hardworking, motivated and intelligent people. That’s a really big value add for the space.”Jack O’Meara, Founder & CEO of OchreBio, one of Oxford’s standout health tech startups.
What do we mean? Students can come up with startups idea in the last term of their degree, put together a team in a flurry of networking around campus, win a grant from the university and sprint to the top in a few years.
Another highlight of Oxford’s tech ecosystems is that it is not only the Computer Science or Engineering programs that are producing startups. Health tech is a huge part of the spinout numbers, and students from all majors are putting their ideas to work.
Building in-house at Oxford
The university not only provides the educational base, networking opportunities and a breeding ground for companies to form. It also has a significant number of important accelerators and incubators to help launch these ideas into functionality.
Accelerators like the Oxford Foundry, organizations like Oxford Science Innovation, or the student-run OX1 incubator. All of these have been instrumental in the steady progress the Oxford tech hub has achieved.
It’s worth noting, that one of the most contended and fought-over aspects of building at Oxford is the magnitude of equity demands that spinouts face from some of these groups. However fraught and in need of change the relations and negotiations might be, the ecosystem and its pupil companies continue to thrive. Hopefully, as Oxford’s tech hub continues to grow this will also evolve to satisfaction of both parties.
Oxford in the eye of investors
There are a lot of eyes on Oxford and money too. In 2021 VC investment doubled, reaching an impactful £1.3 billion, according to the Digital Economy Council (DEC). For comparison, Oxford alone raised as much in a year as all the regions outside of London combined.
That’s more than enough proof that this is not only a talent-rich ecosystem but an investment-attracting one. Not only that, it is highly effective in a hyper-competitive space like the UK.
Investment can be attributed to several sources with companies attracting both regional and international VCs. While the town and the university invest in companies themselves. Creating more opportunities for innovation and success.
Diversity in ideas
Innovation and late-night brainstorming, basically the day-to-day for university students, is what breeds a wide range of ideas.
Particular to education is the chance for different majors to engage with each other by sharing classes, dining halls and other communal spaces. Even meeting by chance at a party and starting a conversation can lead to a new idea. It also makes it possible for biologists to share insight with engineers and for many cross-sections to build together.
At Oxford, there are many fields developing new and interesting startups. However, the most noticeable and fast-growing niches are Health and Fintech, like OchreBio which focuses on liver disease, or the health companion app AddedHealth.
Even with the numbers leaning towards those fields, companies like Oxford Ionics, which focuses on Quantum Computing, are also on their way to becoming one of the Oxford possible unicorn success stories.
Soonicorns waiting for their chance
There are more than 300 Oxford startups racing to the top with more created each year. Despite what is expected to be a downturn year investment seems to be balancing itself out, especially in Europe. There’s a chance of one or more of these reaching unicorn status.
We already mentioned Oxford Ionics and there’s plenty more to add to the list. Not to mention the prospects we are likely to see emerge this year, maybe even a company that has not yet made its debut
For now, it’s a waiting game to see who first conquers the unicorn title in 2023, and how many the township collects this year.
The graduating class
We are witnessing a huge turning point for the Oxford tech ecosystem with a considerable list of possible unicorns, many startups reaching maturity and establishment of a steady flow of new companies being formed.
Oxford tech scene has reached an enviable type of maturity in encouraging spinouts, supporting startups and empowering ideas. A small town with a huge legacy has stepped up and is becoming one of the most competitive tech spaces in the UK and the world.
This year could see the graduating class of Oxford tech elevate its town to its highest levels yet in investment, innovation and unicorns. We can’t wait to follow its achievements!