Cambridge Phenomenon Revisited


Technology-based businesses in the Cambridge Network are invited to participate in The Cambridge Phenomenon Revisited, an important new study currently being undertaken by economic development consultants .

The new study, sponsored by CambsTEC, Cambridge City Council, Cambridgeshire County Council, South Cambs District Council, the DTI, St John's College, Trinity College, Granta Park, Arthur Andersen and Barclays Bank, has a number of specific objectives. They are:

  • to examine how individual businesses have grown over the last fifteen years and to consider prospects for the future

  • to examine issues relating to the 'quality of life' in the Cambridge area and to consider whether local technology-based firms will continue to attract high calibre staff

  • to understand more fully the precise nature, causes and implications of local skills shortages

  • to examine the changing environment for academic research and to investigate its implications for the business community

  • to consider changing attitudes towards entrepreneurialism among young people and across the University

  • to examine pressures on the physical environment and to consider their implications for business growth.

    In the mid-1980s, SQW published The Cambridge Phenomenon, an influential report which charted the early development of local high tech industry. Dr Kathrin Peters of SQW explains: 'Since the report was published, Cambridge - and the technology-based firms within it - have undergone important changes: the city itself has grown rapidly, while technologies and firms have become progressively more sophisticated and international in focus.

    'Over the years, 'The Cambridge Phenomenon' has come to signify a great deal:

  • it describes a local cluster of technology-based activity, much of it premised on links with Cambridge University

  • it encapsulates the formation of 'spin-out' businesses which may be traced in origin to the University and other local firms, and some of which have grown to become global players

  • it is synonymous with a dynamic environment of entrepreneurialism and innovation.

    'Underpinning these 'headline' characteristics is a complex and intricate institutional infrastructure: a maturing venture capital industry, a group of legal specialists in the field of intellectual property, a sophisticated business support infrastructure, and so on.

    'But the Cambridge Phenomenon is very much ensconced in Cambridge - the place. And for many, that place has become synonymous with traffic congestion, spiralling house prices and skills shortages. Indeed, given these place-based constraints, some have called into question the sustainability of the Phenomenon itself.

    'The issues are complex, but they are also critical for the long-term prosperity of the Cambridge area. In order to investigate them thoroughly, we are asking local technology-based firms to complete a short questionnaire. If you have already received this, please complete it and return it to SQW.

    'If you think you should have received a questionnaire but have not, we apologise for this omission and invite you either to make direct contact, or, alternatively, to consult our web site ( where a copy of the questionnaire may be found.

    'The publication of 'The Cambridge Phenomenon' was important for Cambridge in the mid 1980s. It coincided with - and to some extent underpinned - a period of unprecedented growth and local prosperity. While growth has generated certain challenges, the purpose of

    the 'Phenomenon Revisit' is to understand these and to help the local authorities, the TEC and other players respond appropriately,' she said.

    'All replies will be treated in confidence and used to build up an aggregate picture of the Cambridge Phenomenon in 1998. The findings will be available as a published report in the Spring of 1999.'