A fund, backed by some of Cambridge’s most well-known scientists, called Ahren Innovation Capital has raised about £200 million ($254 million USD) to invest in U.K. startups, and compete with U.S. investment companies to keep startups in the region, according to a report by the Financial Times. The fund wants to invest in companies that have market potential, and help with capital for companies in the U.K., in comparison to the United States.
“There is enormous potential here to create really exciting and innovative new companies, but we have not had the level of capital needed to support them,” said Alice Newcombe-Ellis, Ahren’s founder.
Companies from all over the financial spectrum have invested in Ahren, including Unilever, Sky, Aviva, billionaire André Desmarais from Canada and Carlos Rodriguez-Pastor from Peru.
The firm is focused on “the intersection of deep science and deep technology — fundamental advances that also have great commercial potential,” she said. It has four main fields of activity that it’s interested in: artificial intelligence (AI) and the brain, space and robotics, genetics and biotech, and energy efficiency.
Newcombe-Ellis, a mathematician before she became an investor, was able to get eight senior Cambridge professors to be science partners in the firm, including Martin Rees and Venki Ramakrishnan, former and current presidents of the Royal Society, Britain’s foremost scientific organization. The professor who invented the tech, Shankar Balasubramanian, used to decode DNA, and is also part of the fund.
“Alice has done a remarkable job pulling our group together,” said Balasubramanian. “Most of us knew one another in Cambridge, but, without her, we would never have organized ourselves in this way to help create great enterprises on a really long-term basis.”
Another investor in the fund is British broadcaster Sky. Andrew Griffith, the broadcaster’s chief operating officer, said it felt like investing in the country itself.
“The main thing that appeals to us is that we gain exposure to some of the big scientific breakthroughs in fields, such as quantum computing, that are just over the horizon, but will affect our industry,” he said. “It also appeals that, together, we are investing in the U.K.”