Finance · 20 November 2015

Oxford University launches accelerator to “start playing catch-up” with Cambridge’s startup success

Oxford University has several programmes for students to bring their ideas to market, but these focus on high-tech engineering and science research
Oxford University has several programmes for students to bring their ideas to market, but these focus on high-tech engineering and science research

The Oxford Guild has launched the full version of its Oxford Accelerator – after trialling the initiative last year, in a bid to become the “entrepreneurial capital of the world” and trump Cambridge.

The programme will be open to applications from students, Oxford alumni and budding startups from the surrounding area.

Abbas Kazmi, co-founder of the Oxford Accelerator, hopes to build a group of between 15 and 25 entrepreneurs who will receive “everything from mentoring and training to access to workspace and funding”.

The programme hopes to be the equivalent to the hugely successful California-based Y Combinator accelerator and has secured six-figure investment from a range of angel investors and VC funds.

Oxford University has several programmes already which enable students to bring their ideas to market, including Oxford Launchpad and Isis Innovation, though these have quite specific remits.

Kazmi said that so far, opportunities for Oxford students to get support and funding had been limited – particularly for undergraduates who want to set up their own firms. The focus had been on “creating spin-offs from high-level department based engineering and science research that academics, PhDs and post docs have been working on”.

For those who want to create something more commercial for a mass market “such as apps, service businesses or lifestyle companies, there is a gap in the market in terms of guidance and we want to be there to fill that”, he added.

While Cambridge has created 93 spin-outs and 73 startups, Oxford has 106 spin-outs but only 19 startups, according to The Spinouts UK Survey.

“We need to start playing catch-up. Oxford only made this a priority in the early 2000s while Cambridge has been doing spin-outs since the 90s. We’re an hour from London and have a larger population, there’s no reason we can’t grow,” Kazmi said.

“People think it’s harder to start a business than it is and that’s something we’re looking to change.”

Research from Santander in December 2014 found that nearly a quarter of UK students were starting a business while at university, with an estimated collective turnover of over £44m per year.

The survey of 2,000 full-time undergraduates found that the most popular ventures were technology-based or in arts and crafts, with 22 per cent of those that had started a part-time firm operating in these areas.

Of the 24 per cent of UK undergraduates currently running a business, 27 per cent said they plan to pursue their firm as a career after they graduate, while 53 per cent said they intended to continue their venture as a second job or hobby after university.

Simon Bray, Santander Universities UK director, said: “Students are generating significant sums of money and gaining invaluable experience as a result of their entrepreneurial ventures. The prevalence of these businesses demonstrates a great deal of skill and initiative from students across the UK, who are already under pressure to meet the demands of their studies.”

Image: Shutterstock

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Rebecca is a reporter for Business Advice. Prior to this, she worked with a range of tech, advertising, media and digital clients at Propeller PR and did freelance work for The Telegraph.

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