Sunday, 14 July 2013

Look East Cambridge!

Most of my clients are based in or around London or Cambridge. However, on various occasions recently, I have had cause to visit Adastral Park at Martlesham Heath near Ipswich.

Adastral Park is BT’s Global Research and Development Headquarters. As well as BT, there are many other global telecoms players with a presence there, including Cisco, Huawei, Fujitsu and O2. Most recently, BT and Intel have launched a joint research laboratory to develop networking technologies and smart city capabilities. Pretty cool stuff.

Here is the thing though. There do not seem to be great links between this serious ICT cluster, and the "Silicon Fen" we have in Cambridge. For the life of me, I don't see why this is.

Much attention in the investment community has recently been focused on the question of how Cambridge relates to Tech City, with this question cropping up at various networking events I have attended recently in Cambridge (the consensus seems to be, by the way, that the two areas are totally different, with the more capital intensive "hard tech" in Cambridge being the chalk to the cheese provided by the vibrant web-based start-up community that predominates in Shoreditch and Clerkenwell).

By contrast, there is a recurring theme amongst policymakers whereby Cambridge and Peterborough are bundled in "Greater Cambridge - Greater Peterborough" branding. While Peterborough has some great companies, and has a notable service sector pedigree, the synnergies with Cambridge are not always obvious.

I would love to see Cambridge and Adastral Park cultivate closer links. In the longer term, I cannot help wonder whether the A14 could provide an ICT corrider to keep the Thames Valley on its toes. The most obvious issues with this line of thinking would be with infrastructure, with the single track railway line which runs parallel to the A14 providing a notoriously patchy service, only matched by the patchiness of broadband speeds heading East out of Cambridge. However, Bury St Edmunds (pretty much equidistant between the two) was the home of the world's first internet bench (!), and many Cambridge techies live in that direction. I am convinced that with more distinct links between Cambridge and Adastral Park, there could be great benefits for both. From attending a short presentation on the objectives of, and challenges facing, the team at the BT/Intel co-lab, it seemed to me that Cambridge talent could and should be tapped into on the project through partnering and collaboration. A much more natural interplay in many ways, than the Cambridge/ Tech City axis, I thought.

As UK plc looks to grow out of chastened economic times, this sort of opportunity to encourage collaboration between two genuinely world class centres of excellence, which are little more than an hour's drive apart, should not be missed.

It's not just the infrastructure issues - with literally one or two exceptions, I have never seen anyone from the Adastral Park community beating its drum in Cambridge, nor vice versa. There should be more obvious linkage, and more cultivation of collaboration from both communities.

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