13 Jun 2021

Turbo-charging the engine of innovation in Cambridge

Three years ago, 99.3% of all private sector businesses in the UK were small businesses. Dubbed the “backbone of the economy” these startups generated a combined annual turnover of £2 trillion and accounted for 60% of all private sector employment.

Last year, according to a recent report by the Centre for Entrepreneurs, and despite the country being in the grip of a pandemic, a record 772,002 new businesses were launched, a figure up 13.25% on the previous year.

The importance of startups in powering up economic growth cannot be emphasised enough. It’s an inescapable and irrefutable fact that, without startups, there simply wouldn’t be any business. Even the longest running company in the world, Kongo Gumi had to “start” somewhere - founded in Japan back in 578. Closer to home, Abcam, now worth more than £1bn on the UK stock market and employing more than 800 people across five countries around the world, “started with just a bucketful of enzymes”, according to one of its co-founders, Jonathan Milner.

Startups are vitally important because they bring fresh ideas and innovations to any industry. They are the game-changers, bringing about disruptive change in a way that larger corporations cannot. Often it’s down to these smaller, fast-moving startups to enter the market with their disruptive innovations, blind-siding the establishment by taking an existing way of doing something and doing it better.

Technology startups, which can start up out of almost anywhere (from around the kitchen table, the back bedroom, even the garage) are, arguably, the most exciting because it’s technology that really brings ideas to life and enables them.

In Cambridge, there is a long-established ecosystem of startups, pushing innovation and encouraging young entrepreneurs seemingly at every turn across the AI, technology and life sciences sectors. More than anywhere else in the UK, startups are the backbone of business here, bringing new ideas to business and new ways of doing business. And, of course, Cambridge has all the right ingredients to support startups and enable them to flourish: a knowledge network, a melting pot of ideas and a free exchange of them, and no shortage of keen investors.

On a personal note, I have been involved with a good many startups over the years - in earlier stage businesses, heavily funded businesses and businesses where the faith, trust and confidence of investors has enabled the innovation, energy and ambition of those in the business to be realised and grow. I’ve also sponsored hackathons, been involved in developer events, and incubators brimming with talent. It’s a somewhat intoxicating rollercoaster ride – but the thrill of being there at the start of something that could just become colossal, world-changing even, is immense.

And so, as the CEO of Kao Data, it’s great to find myself working closely with startups once again – and to get to see some of the really clever, cutting edge stuff that’s going on.

As a data centre, we can be lean, flexible and accessible to work with startups as they, themselves, flex and scale. Startups can move super-fast, and Kao Data is definitely ready to move at their pace, run with them and be the sort of partner that helps them achieve their business plan without getting in the way.

At Kao Data, we have an ecosystem of partners that can provide startups with great environments and service offerings to support the very early stages/pre-revenue (enabling them to double in capacity in double-quick time) through to growth and scale up. In fact, we can support both rapid and huge scale ups. To give a recent example, the UK’s most powerful supercomputer, NVIDIA Cambridge-1 (which is housed here at Kao Data) went from zero to operational in just a handful of weeks.

It’s these startup possibilities that really excite us here at Kao Data: the privilege of being an enabling partner to businesses and institutions providing technology and services to create a better world for one and all; the privilege of underpinning the innovation which is going to improve our daily lives, enhance the environment around us or potentially save lives (through drug discovery). We will continue to meet this focus and sense of purpose head on with our own capabilities and enthusiasm. And, for us, it doesn’t really get any better than that.

We eagerly look forward to finding out more about the startups submitting for the Startup of the Year Award at the next Science & Technology Awards, and you can guarantee we’ll be helping to showcase all who make the shortlist.

Lee Myall

Lee Myall is the former CEO at Kao Data and has spent more than 20 years leading teams that design, develop and deliver mission-critical digital infrastructure.


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