Cambridge — putting the pieces together by opening up

Cambridge is an incredible city for science and technology. For the Americans reading this, imagine if you put Harvard and MIT together and you’ve got a good idea of what Cambridge is like. (With a short note to point out that both Harvard and MIT are in Cambridge, MA… named after THIS Cambridge!) It’s the Ivy League of the UK and Europe, with scientists and engineers that are on par with anything MIT, CalTech, Stanford or Michigan produces.

I’ve been talking with a lot of people about the Cambridge startup ecosystem recently, and it’s been both very frustrating and very invigorating. Invigorating because there are a TON of cool ideas and startups getting going. Frustrating because we still aren’t building links amongst all these companies in order to take full advantage of what’s being developed.

Opening up

One of the themes I keep hearing about the area is that so much of what is done in Cambridge is silo-ed. The University has not just one or two, but a half-dozen groups dedicated to entrepreneurship! (CfEL, Cambridge Enterprise, CUE, CUTEC, etc.) Cambridge Enterprise and St. John’s Innovation Centre provide office space and serve as hubs for startups. The criticism I hear is that even in the “hubs,” most people/companies just work in their own offices, and there’s not a lot of interaction between them… a huge missed opportunity. There are lots of high-tech hardware startups that come out of Cambridge labs, and there are a lot of scary-smart computer scientists building crazy software in their labs. Rarely do these people even talk to each other, but imagine if they did!

We need to start systematically work on opening up the Cambridge startup community. (OpenCoffee Cambridge is just the first step in doing this, though I think a valuable one. But why, as just one example, doesn’t St. John’s Innovation Centre host startup-only BBQ’s in the summer?)

Putting pieces together

Part of the solution to solving this is to get people talking. OpenCoffee helps to connect people and companies, but that’s just once a week. Working in the same space with others would be another great step. I know that Martin Kleppmann has been working on a Cambridge CoWorking space to do exactly this, and look forward to hearing more about that. Let’s face it… all we need is a covered room with power and a bathroom, and internet/wireless access. In today’s market I’m sure there are some offices going spare where the owner would appreciate any kind of income. (Again, this would be even more ideal if both hardware-focused and software-focused startups came together under the same roof!)

Phase 1 — Full Moon Madness Demo nights

The first phase I’m working on is Full Moon Madness Demo nights. These would revolve around themes, and involve demos from both hardware startups and software startups. Five to six companies would have 5 minutes (strictly limited, once decided) to demo their technology. After that ~30 minutes, the rest of the evening the demo companies would be available to do in-depth demos, and the audience could network.

Startups would NOT be pitching their business idea, they’ll be DEMOING their technology/product. Powerpoint will NOT be welcome. By seeing all the technology in person, I hope to build links between these hardware and software companies to build very powerful businesses.

The event would be open to everyone in the tech scene. I imagine that it will start out being Cambridge-focused, but I hope that it will grow to be an event that people come to from across the UK to see the future of technology early.

On a more practical note, as I mentioned in my last post I think it would be interesting to switch around the days of the week. A favourite pub of mine in the US held “Full Moon Madness” specials every Full Moon, year round. I suggest that we hold demo nights on the same schedule, though anything that fell on the weekend would move to the closest weekday night.

Based on that, here are the suggested dates in the coming months:

  • Thursday, April 9th
  • Thursday, May 7th
  • Monday, June 8th
  • Tuesday, July 7th
  • Thursday, August 6th
  • Thursday, September 3rd

I’m thinking of centering the first night around the theme of new media technology. Based on that, I have the following questions for you! –

  • Does anyone have any recommendations for companies that are ready and able to demo next month?
  • Or recommendations for other themes?
  • Does anyone know of good venues to hold a night like this? (I’ve got a few in mind, but would appreciate suggestions.)
  • Does a 7:30pm start sound reasonable?

Future plans

I’m interested in your thoughts of what Cambridge can and should do to invigorate the startup scene. I’ve got a number of things simmering in my mind, but want to hear what you’ve got to say first.

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