A town built around centuries of world-leading academic research, today Cambridge is an innovation hotspot that is continuously producing new hi-tech companies. The cluster boasts a robust angel investing environment - especially in sectors like life sciences and biotech, as well as internationally renowned software companies like ARM.
“It's the oldest cluster in the UK. The top 1,500 companies that come out of Cambridge turn over USD13bn, which is significantly more than happens in London’s Tech City. It's a lot more developed as an ecosystem for angel investment than anywhere else in the UK,” says Sherry Coutu an investor with Cambridge Angels. “But it's not a fintech or a fashion area. It’s got more to do with science and telecommunications, as well as life sciences.”
Now, an increasing number of Silicon Valley giants are looking to the city to house their R&D efforts, with Amazon and Google acquiring startups and Apple opening offices in the region. With an environment that encourages research and innovation, as well as a wealth of talent Cambridge, or Silicon Fen, is a hub worth watching. Here are 10 startups to watch in 2015.
One of the greatest ongoing challenges in the internet of things and smart home space is building the platforms to pull together huge amounts of data from smart devices into one consumer-friendly interface. AlertMe is one company taking on the task with its software that brings home automation and energy analytics together into its app.
“We don’t just provide a hub, we provide a scalable, resilient and interoperable platform for an ecosystem of applications and devices in the home,” says AlertMe’s communications director Jody Haskayne. “When we started AlertMe in 2006, no one else was doing the connected home in this way. Cambridge was a definite centre in the UK for wireless technology and we are taking advantage of this expertise.”
Being early to the market has enabled AlertMe to pick up 500,000 users, but the key to success for any smart home platform is the devices it works with and so far AlertMe supports more than 55 devices from 22 different partners. However, the company, which has now raised USD36.8m in two rounds from five investors to date, also works with utilities and service providers to offer B2B smart home solutions for their clients. It’s quite clear that, while it’s still in its infancy, there’s money to be made in smart homes and AlertMe hopes its focus on resilience at scale and early presence in the space will allow it to secure a leading spot.
Crowdfunding is becoming an ever-more important part of the financial landscape as an increasing number of organisations, from charities to tech startups, turn to the disruptive new way of raising funding. With so many platforms now facilitating campaigns, Crowdsurfer is attempting to track it all, providing a Bloomberg-style dashboard for the crowdfunding and peer-to-peer finance spaces.
“We have the perfect storm of economic, technical and social events that make Crowdsurfer possible and necessary. The crowd finance industry has reached a tipping point. We’re now talking about billions of dollars moving over more than 2,000 platforms,” says Crowdsurfer CEO Emily Mackay. “Using data well is now absolutely essential to organisations to keep ahead, never more so in the world of finance. We have cloud computing readily available to handle massive data sets and bring the data to clients.”
The socially-motivated startup is backed by angel investors and while its product is still in beta, crowdfunding is only increasing in importance and the uniting all that data into something that can be analysed could prove an important catalyst in its future growth.
The medical and health tech sectors exploded to become one of the most important in connected devices last year. Aseptika is a hardware-software-bioware health tech company that develops a range of registered self-monitoring devices and validated apps through its Activ8rlives brand that allows users to understand their own data and remain independent. The company sells these devices, such as its BuddyWOTCH smartwatch, directly to consumers or through corporate wellness packages and even caters to respiratory conditions, such as Cystic Fibrosis and Asthma, not conventionally supported by online analysis and alerting services.
The company has received more than GBP1m (USD1.5m) in backing from the NHS’ Small Business Research Initiative (SBRI) which claims that the company saves the health service in excess of GBP50m a year by allowing patients to monitor themselves. The company’s devices range from smart accelerometers to thermometers to pulse oximeters which, unlike consumer health trackers, are registered by UK bodies for use in home diagnostics.
“Cambridgeshire is an ideal location for a health tech company, being right in the middle of a rich cluster of expertise and resources,” says Aseptika marketing director Jessica Auton. “Another aspect that is beneficial to our location is the important facilitators of business in this region, including the industry bodies such as Health Enterprise East, SBRI Healthcare, and Cambridge Wireless, which are invaluable in facilitating those partner introductions and chance meetings.”
Spinning out of PhD research, Audio Analytic uses sound-recognition technology to provide software for the home security and automation market. The company’s software, which was initially designed for the professional security industry, enables sensors to detect and alert users of specific types of incident, from glass breaking to smoke alarms or a baby’s cries.
Smart home technology is rapidly gaining traction with consumers and the startup’s head of business development Dr Andrea Cantone emphasises the company’s software-only offering in allowing it to collaborate with many of the hardware or devices makers bidding for control in this lucrative space. Audio Analytic has gone through two undisclosed rounds of funding from angel investors to date. With smart home security and automation markets becoming crowded the company is wise to stick to its strength in developing sound-recognition technology to provide the basis for other services.
Featurespace makes a pretty big claim when it says its technology predicts the future. The company specialises in adaptive behavioural analytics that combines big data with machine learning to provide predictive analytics for human behaviour. The technology’s uses range from fraud detection and risk management to customer management and retention. The company also partnered with the Responsible Gambling Trust and the Association of British Bookmakers to help identify addicted players from regular ones. Last year the company brought on USD4.5m in a round led by Imperial Innovations.
Featurespace’s technology is targeted at sectors that are undeniably lucrative, such as financial services and it benefits from Cambridge’s healthy ecosystem of talent and clued-in investors around this kind of heavy-duty machine learning.
“Our roots in Cambridge University are what drive our truly unique approach, with constant access to the latest research and analytical methods being developed within that environment,” suggests Featurespaces’ head of marketing and communications Amelia Caron. “Cambridge also offers the best in recruitment, not only in engineering and data analytics but in marketing and sales as well. The diverse staff whose academic rigor and technical leadership underpin Featurespace’s achievements is a direct result of this connection.”
Mental health treatment is still a problem - held back by patient embarrassment and many sufferers are uneasy with the idea of discussing issues face-to-face with a stranger. PsychologyOnline offers a channel through which those suffering from mental health problems can discreetly talk with accredited psychologists through an instant messaging service, rather than face-to-face. The company has raised two rounds of funding from investors including Cambridge Angels and Imperial Innovation and won contracts with nine clinical commissioning groups to integrate the service.
PsychologyOnline also partnered with the NHS, following a successful clinical trial of 300 patients. Connecting patients to medical professionals is a sizable market, with a plethora of startups emerging last year looking to let patients discuss symptoms and get referrals via their smartphones. Mental health is certainly an area where it makes sense for such a service to exist and the main threat to PsychologyOnline may come from other established doctor-connecting apps introducing rival services, though at present these mostly serve US audiences.
As anyone who has ever had to type up a recorded lecture or interview knows, transcribing can often be a time-consuming nightmare. Speechmatics, however, may finally be the solution to banish the practise with its speech recognition technology that allows for audio-to-text conversion, including punctuation. The company’s cloud-based service also makes content embedded in audio streams searchable and interpretable.
It all sounds too good to be true and company CEO Benedikt von Thüngen claims that consumers’ lack of faith in speech recognition technology, stemming from the underwhelming ability of existing products, is one of the barriers for the company. Speechmatics, charges on a pay-as-you-go basis and while it might prove a useful tool for consumers, the real money lies in potential contracts with clients applying the company’s technology to areas like media monitoring or audio data mining. The increasingly crowded nature of the speech recognition market and its growing interest to major tech companies, like Facebook which recently acquired Wit.ai, means competition will only increase for the young startup.
The balancing act between monetising mobile games audiences and maintaining a good user experience is a tough one to get right. Very few players actually pay for power up or extra lives, with 4% of Candy Crush users actually parting with cash, while advertising can easily annoy users. Giftgaming hopes to provide the link between brands, players and developers, by offering users power ups that also let them save coupons to their Passbook.
“We have 15 brands on board (and more on the way), and will be launching with Fluid Football, which has over 6m downloads, at the end of this month. In addition, we have 3 large game publishers signed up to our beta programme,” says company CEO Nick Hatter. “Within a week of publicly releasing our plugins and dashboard, we've already had some indie game studios reach out and start integrating Giftgaming”
With so many mobile games available it’s hugely difficult for developers to monetise on their audience. If Giftgaming can get the right brands and a hit games title on board then its approach could prove lucrative. However, mobile advertising is already very crowded.
GeoSpock develops a database-as-a-service designed to help companies cope with the huge influx of geo-locational data that is about to flood into the current systems with the forecast growth of GPS technologies and connected devices. The company’s products help users to operate and collect data from location-based services, such as social apps, more and more of which are now utilising users’ locational data for recommending nearby users or pushing relative advertisements.
Geospock last year brought on USD1.2m in seed funding, as well as an additional USD112,000 in joining TechStar Winter 2014 accelerator program. Locational data-based services largely suffer from reduced performance, as they scale, as well as an increasing burn rate as the data they gather inflates. GeoSpock wants to make scaling affordable, but this will make it difficult for the company to generate profit as cloud storage providers like Dropbox and Box highlight.
Licensing music is still an awkward task for content creators. Paying for the rights to well-known songs often causes problems when targeting international audiences when copyright collecting societies work on a country-by-country basis, while buying music directly from musicians often leaves smaller content producers cash strapped. Cambridge University spin-out Jukedeck develops software designed to automatically create unique music that users then own.
Users can tailor the style and tone of the music to suit their needs and the company highlights that the music is not based on loops, but written by the software note-by-note as a human would. The company, which raised USD830,000 from investors including Cambridge Innovation Capital, has now relocated to London to be closer to the creative communities its targeting. The move highlights that while Cambridge is a hub for hi-tech talent, consumers and other audiences are more prominent outside that cluster.