Have you heard of Silicon Valley? Chances are, you’re probably aware of this technological paradise in San Francisco. Bit of a stretch for a plane ticket? Don’t worry, just visit Cambridge! Luckily we have our very own science and technology hub, Silicon Fen.
Cambridge is surrounded by extremely flat, marshy areas that have been drained over the years and are known as the Fens, hence Silicon Fen. However, this fast-growing area of the city is also known as the Cambridge Cluster, if you prefer.
So…what exactly is Silicon Fen?
Silicon Fen is a cluster of over one thousand cutting-edge science and tech companies that have set up shop in Cambridge, and its growth rate shows no sign of slowing down. Most of the businesses are based at the city’s science parks, a short cycle or drive out of the centre.
Surely you’d rather live in California?
While it’s definitely not always sunny in Fenland, companies are finding that there are positives to Cambridge’s answer to Silicon Valley. For one, while rent is on the expensive side for the UK, it is still miles cheaper than you’d pay in California, which is a draw for potential employees. There are also good schools in Cambridge, and easy access to London with an hour’s train ride. It’s also appealing to business owners, since lower rent equals lower salaries, meaning their overheads can be lower and their profit margins higher if they base themselves in Cambridge.
So…which companies will I find at Silicon Fen and what do they do?
You’ll definitely have heard of AstraZeneca; you may even have had their Covid vaccine in your arm this year! AstraZeneca is just one of many world-renowned Life Sciences firms found in Silicon Fen.
Apple have an office near the railway station in Cambridge, and it used to be pretty elusive – its logo didn’t even feature on the building! It turned out that all the secrecy was hiding research for Siri, Apple’s infamous virtual assistant.
Why do all these companies begin with A? Amazon’s Cambridge office was used when they tested out Prime Air, their drone delivery service which is currently still in development. Sound futuristic?
Apple competitor Microsoft also have a research office in Cambridge, where a lot of the focus is on Artificial Intelligence. Microsoft Cambridge say so far they have ‘only scratched the surface’ of what technology can do.
Artificial Intelligence seems to be a running theme, and FiveAI are continuing it with their plans for driverless taxis. Voted start-up of the year by Business Weekly in 2017, it’s an example of the rapid growth you can expect from a Silicon Fen firm – it now employs over 100 people. However, the next step in their journey looks to be a move to Business to Business – licensing its technology to other companies building autonomous cars.
Tech giant Arm began with a team of engineers and a converted barn. Today things look a little different, as the company struck gold with their silicon chips which are now standard in smartphones everywhere.
This one is a bit special, because Raspberry Pi is an educational charity that aims to teach people about tech. They sell a tiny, affordable computer that helps students to learn programming through fun projects. They also run an outreach programme to give digital power to people all over the world.
I hope this blog has given you some insight into what people mean when they’re talking about Silicon Fen, and why it’s such an up and coming part of our city. If you work in STEM and you’re wondering about making the move to Cambridge, get in touch with us and we can have a chat about our English for Work courses, which teach you all the English you need for the industry you work in. Also, check out our Instagram @abclanguagescambridge and leave a comment on one of our photos to let us know what you’d like to see on the next blog. Bye for now!
Allegra Goodwin, Student Experience Manager