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Look Beyond London: Running a business in Cambridge

It’s known for its university, grand architecture and river tours – yes, we’ve moved into Cambridge for our latest Look Beyond London feature.
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From Leeds to Bristol to Birmingham, our Look Beyond London series speaks with those running a business in Cambridge, as we continue to find out how entrepreneurs outside the capital rate the towns and cities where they’re based.

An individual with a good oversight on locations if Ciaron Dunne, CEO of office space finder Office Genie, explained to Real Business why the company has thrived with headquarters in Cambridge.

“We launched the business in Cambridge because I lived here, naturally! I considered whether we should launch in (or move to) London, but Cambridge was cheaper – an important consideration when you’re starting and I had a good existing network of contacts to support me,” Dunne explained.

“In retrospect, it was totally the right decision, we would have been swallowed up in London.”

He went on to describe Cambridge as a natural environment for business growth because of the many startups and SMEs that inhabit the city.

“There is a culture of innovation and of people doing extraordinary things. A huge part of this related to the university and the related high-tech and bioscience industries that have grown here,” said Dunne.

“The compact size of the city means that, despite the diversity of businesses, there’s a real community spirit. It would be even better for us if there was more retail and ecommerce in Cambridge, but it’s a genuinely inspiring business community.

That said, he added that there are downsides to doing business in Cambridge. These include a shortage of office space and a high cost involved. Recruitment can also be an issue, as running the business in Cambridge means a lack of similar ecommerce companies to connect with and recruit from.

On a more positive note, he insisted there are positives too – and they outweigh the negatives. “The upsides include the general wonderfulness of the location and the high quality of life, which are also big draws for potential recruits, and the fact that you can be in central London in 45 mins, but don’t actually have to live there!”

With London in mind, he said that doing business in Cambridge offers its own status that the capital can’t offer, as well as high reputation.

“Cambridge has an incredible reputation for technology innovation that is unrivalled pretty much across the world. When we describe ourselves as a Cambridge tech company, people sit up and listen,” Dunne detailed.

“London has an incredible reputation, of course, for commercial and financial business. However, Cambridge stands alone for technology.

“Another specific advantage we’ve found is the chance to create a genuinely well-known employer brand even as a relatively small business; we have the kind of staff retention rates that would be unheard of in Soho or Shoreditch.”

Business in Cambridge

In Cambridge, there’s that exciting opportunity – if it doesn’t exist, you can create it”

Operating a business in Cambridge has allowed Dunne to see the changes that need to be made – specifically, calling for local companies to be more vocal.

“Cambridge businesses, as a rule, are amazing at achieving and terrible at promoting themselves,” he said.

“This is endearing, but also frustrating. I don’t know how to fix this, but I wish more people could hear about the amazing stuff I see at startup and business exhibitions. Oh, and please stop knocking down all the office space for student accommodation!”

Next, we heard from Alex Ruczaj, a local serial entrepreneur with plenty of experience of business in Cambridge.

Interestingly, Ruczaj originally opened a PR agency called Spark Communications in London back in 2000, but parenthood prompted a move to Cambridge, which is where new business ventures were launched to offer a better work-life balance.

“There were clear gaps in the market. In Cambridge, there’s that exciting opportunity – if it doesn’t exist, you can create it,” she said.

The Early Night Club was a business launched in 2009 and the business is still thriving eight years later. It offers a clubbing experience that ends at 11.30pm, giving those that miss nights out the chance to party without staying out to the small hours.

And in 2016, Ruczaj introduced another venture called My Little Festival, creating offbeat London-style events for Cambridge.

So how does business in Cambridge compare to London for her? There’s far more opportunity, according to Ruczaj. Continue reading on the next page for the rest of Ruczaj’s thoughts on the city, including a common problem, which all of the Cambridge business leaders we’ve heard from highlight.

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About Author

Zen Terrelonge

Zen Terrelonge is the deputy editor of Real Business, specialising in media, innovation, technology and the digital sector. A media professional with eight years worth of experience he has worked for both startup and established publications.

Real Business