Tom Hulme: Cambridge has edge over Oxford on tech startups

GV partner Tom


The universities of Oxford and Cambridge have one of the
longest-running rivalries in the world. They compete every year
in The Boat Race (rowing), The Varsity Match (rugby), and of
course, in the academic league tables.

But today there’s another battleground where the centuries-old
institutions are going head to head: technology startups.

Cambridge currently has the edge over Oxford when it comes to
spinning out successful technology companies, according to tech
investor Tom Hulme, who has invested in startups in both cities.

Hulme, a partner at GV (formerly Google Ventures), which has over
$2.4 billion (£1.9 billion) at its disposal, told Business
Insider: “One of the interesting challenges of Oxford is, if you
look at their base of academic research, it is world class. And I
don’t think that’s ever translated into a throughput of

There are a number of organisations in Cambridge that are helping
scientists to spin their companies out of the university labs.
“In many ways I think Cambridge’s funnel was more efficient
historically because of Cambridge Angels and CIC (Cambridge
Innovation Capital),” said Hulme.

Cambridge has produced a number of sizeable technology
including Autonomy, Cambridge Silicon Radio, and
ARM. By comparison, Oxford has had fewer successes of the same

Cambridge River Thames Boat Race
Matthew Holland is thrown into the water by his team as they
celebrate winning the women’s boat race on April 2,

Action Images via Reuters /
Matthew Childs Livepic

But that could change, Hulme believes. GV has invested in a
company called Oxford Science Innovation (OSI) that’s aiming to
address the imbalance between the startup ecosystems of Oxford
and Cambridge.

OSI provides capital and scaling expertise to Oxford University
businesses that have been founded on interesting intellectual
property (IP). The company has raised £580 million, making it the
largest private university fund in the UK.

“You could think of it as a fund,” said Hulme in reference to
OSI. “I tend to think of it as a really interesting company
that’s transferring IP effectively.”

OSI has made over 40 investments and about half of those
investments have been into life science companies. “The quality
is absolutely exceptional,” Hulme said. “They have a relationship
with the tech transfer office [at the University of Oxford] and
they can get referred into any science department, be it
medicine, genomics, etc.”

Hulme said OSI could help GV to cash in on the IP coming out of

“Clearly that’s something we’re interested in,” he said. “I think
we have that relationship in Cambridge by just knowing a lot of
the individual professors pretty well. I kind of see our job as
knowing the points of consolidation in any of these markets and
OSI is one of them.”

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