Hello, everyone. Last time, I promised that I would tell you something about our emerging strategy at Cambridge Judge Business School. It has a number of dimensions, including research, executive education, PhD training and entrepreneurship. But that’s too much to discuss in one blog post, so I’ll take it in parts – and today, I’ll talk a little about one of our most exciting strategic priorities, entrepreneurship.
We are at the centre of the Cambridge Cluster – often referred to as the “Silicon Fen” – with thousands of companies and some 50,000 jobs in a 30-mile radius around Cambridge. About 20% of these companies have arisen directly out of the University; but many more of them have active links to the University, which provides the Cluster with an intellectual core.
Being situated here provides a rare opportunity for us to create value in two ways. Firstly, through learning from the companies, who represent something like a gigantic lab in which all kinds of interesting new ideas are tested. We can help to turn individual experiences into patterns, and this knowledge can be used by businesspeople in other places. This is a rare opportunity, because there are only a few fully developed university-based clusters in the world.
Creating research and knowledge from the Cluster is vitally important – after all, relevant research is what has made Cambridge great, and it’s our mission.
I want to highlight two examples of research on a particularly timely topic in entrepreneurship, namely social enterprises: organisations with hybrid goals that tend to use a for-profit operation to cross-fund a non-profit social endeavor. I’ll illustrate two interesting research questions that Paul Tracey and Helen Haugh of the Cambridge Judge faculty are working on.
Consider the social enterprise, Aspire, which supported homeless people through employment in 10 locations throughout the UK. The Cambridge branch was run by Cambridge Judge graduate Owen Jarvis. Within just a few years, Aspire became widely known, with Tony Blair and Prince Charles among its supporters; but the business collapsed suddenly in 2004 because as it scaled, costs of the non-profit part grew out of control.
On one level, this could be regarded as a failure; but in subsequent years, social enterprise became central to the way homelessness is tackled in this country. Many other social enterprises took Aspire’s basic approach and tweaked it to make it work better. The research suggests how social enterprise pioneers can tackle intractable social problems in new ways and overcome the challenge of growth without losing sight of the costs that are subsidised by the for-profit part of the organisation.
Or consider Cambridge Judge graduate Neil Stott’s social enterprise, Keystone, which is based in Thetford, about 30 miles outside Cambridge. Keystone is perhaps best known for its work promoting the welfare of migrants, and three Government commissions presented Keystone’s approach as a template for other communities to follow.
However, many local people became unhappy with Keystone for supporting migrants, something of an unloved group. How can social enterprises that help unpopular or stigmatised groups avoid becoming stigmatised themselves, which hinders their important social contribution? This is an ongoing question of our faculty’s work.
These important research questions illustrate some of the thought-provoking research going on, but there is far more to be done when it comes to using the Cambridge Cluster to generate breakthrough insights. We are working on making these research opportunities available to more faculty, and to hire leading academics who can lead our efforts in the fields of entrepreneurship and social entrepreneurship.
The second type of opportunity that we gain from being at the centre of Silicon Fen is to help technical specialists learn about business and commercialisation, thus supporting the strength of the Cluster. Our Centre for Entrepreneurial Learning (CfEL) is already reaching many students, from Cambridge Judge and other schools, with its programmes.
In my last post, I mentioned Cambridge Executive MBA graduate Eben Upton and his educational computer, Raspberry Pi. This venture is another example of social enterprise put in action: it is a non-profit organisation, and its concept of a cheap bare-boned computer that is transparent to being re-programmed and experimented on by students will change the way computer science is taught world-wide.
Another example is Nick Haan, who earned his PhD in mathematics at Cambridge and then continued as a research associate, working on the development of advanced statistical tools to extract the most from biological data. He then participated in CfEL’s Ignite programme, which triggered his decision to found a company, BlueGnome, in 2001.
BlueGnome applies Nick’s statistical technology to the key data-processing bottlenecks faced by commercial and academic organisations in the life sciences. Its customers include pharmaceutical, food research, and biotechnology companies, and it was recently included in the Deloitte Fast 50 for the third year running, ranked as the second-fastest growing biotech company in the UK.
These examples illustrate how Cambridge Judge can help the University by supporting students and researchers in translating their ideas into business. We are not yet reaching enough of the community, but we are stepping up our efforts to do so. For example, we will soon add a small incubator to CfEL, which will give aspiring entrepreneurs with the best ideas a chance to go one step further, and turn their ideas into commercial propositions.
Situated in a world-class university at the heart of a major technology cluster, the School is further developing its ability both to help technology businesses, and to bring observations from such ventures back into the University, generating breakthrough insights. This two-way exchange of knowledge is a key part of growing the impact that our business school will have in the future.