|The Silicon Fen Story
What is Silicon Fen?
in and around Cambridge England, consisting of many new high-tech and IT
companies. Many of these companies started as Cambridge University spin-offs,
started by its graduates and academic staff. This process, known as The
Cambridge Phenomenon has been going on in earnest since the 1960s and has
led to the area being dubbed 'Silicon Fen', as it has been likened to the
far more established Silicon Valley in California. The success of Silicon
Fen is helped by having a highly networked community, a world class university
and innovative financing.
Fen could not have happened without the the presence of Cambridge University
and its superb track record of technological discoveries and inventions.
Cambridge University has a special place in the world of science and innovation.
Established in 1284 it has produced some of the most famous names in science
and some of the most important discoveries. For example, the development
of mechanics by Sir Isaac Newton, discovery of electron in 1897 by JJ Thomson,
splitting of the atom in 1923 by Cockroft and Walton, invention of the
jet engine by Frank Whittle, the first computer to use stored programs
by Maurice Wilkes in 1949, discovery of the structure of DNA by Francis
Crick and James Watson in 1953.
spin-off company was Cambridge Scientific Instrument Company in 1881 by
Horace Darwin, youngest son of Charles Darwin.
in order to preserve the character of Cambridge as a university town, the
Holford Wright report proposed halting the growth of the city in favour
of outlying areas and that industrial expansion and high volume production
be discouraged. This was accepted by the Government but meant that important
business and r&d ventures would go elsewhere, such as IBM European
R&D. However small r&d businesses did set up around Cambridge in
favour of mass production facilities.
the Mott Report, a sub committee of the Senate of Cambridge University,
considered planning aspects of the relationship between science based industry
and the university. The Mott Report recommended considered relaxation of
current planning restrictions and the setting up of a science park. This
led to the set up of Cambridge Science Park, the first science park in
the UK. The report has guided planning since the 1970s.
an influential report entitled The Cambridge Phenomenon was produced by
Cambridge publisher Segal Quince & Partners. It studied the development
of small high technology companies, the links between industry and university
and the role of public and private sectors.
saw links developed between university and large multinationals eg, Glaxo
and the Department of Pharmacology, Microsoft Research and Cambridge Computer
Laboratory. Silicon Fen was not planned but the Cambridge area is now subject
to serious planning by organisations such as The Cambridge Network and
The Greater Cambridge Partnership.
there was a Cambridge Phenomenon MkII report, by Segal Quince Wicksteed,
it criticised lack of support of the national government to allow growth
of high technology businesses and the lack of infrastructure.
Fen has no exact boundaries but is approximately within a 20 mile
radius around Cambridge. It stretches from Bury St.Edmunds, through Cambridge
to the outskirts of Bedford. 'Fen' in the term 'Silicon Fen' is derived
from the large area of boggy fen to the north of Cambridge.
Fen there are approximately 1000 high tech companies, generating $3 billion
in revenue. Critical to the success of Silicon Fen companies is the financing,
Britain's economic changes over the last 20 years (tax cuts, moving away
from a welfare state to more entrepreneurial, free market economy) has
attracted foreign banks and international investors to the city of London.
The rise of the venture capitalists have provided start up companies with
access to finance previously unavailable. Silicon Fen is now the second
largest venture capital market in the world, after Silicon Valley.
of importance is Cambridge Universities' liberal attitude to intellectual
property rights which has allowed the 'spinning off' of companies from
heads of companies are associated with the university, e.g. Roger Needham,
professor of computer systems who runs the Microsoft Research Laboratory
& Cambridge Computer Laboratory; Alec Broers, Cambridge University
Vice Chancellor, previously spent 20 years as IBM research fellow.