The Cambridge entrepreneurship programme igniting £multi-million businesses in a week

A Cambridge entrepreneurship programme has ignited a glut of £multi-million companies round the world, which have attracted more than £410million in investment and funding for the alumni’s trail-blazing ventures.

Dr Mahyar Salek - DeepCell

The companies - which reads like a Who’s Who list of luminaries and rising stars from the global tech and life science sectors – have all been created by founders who completed the intensive one-week IGNITE entrepreneurship training programme, which has been run by the Cambridge Judge Business School’s Entrepreneurship Centre for 22 years.  

To date, IGNITE has supported over 1,100 entrepreneurs from 50 countries across Europe, Asia and the US - and, over the last five years, has helped to launch more than 300 game-changing technology and life science-related businesses.

These include: 

  • California-based Deepcell Inc - raised a $73million Series B investment in March to further their AI-driven platform and single-cell imaging tech 
  • Micro-display technology pioneer Porotech - raised a landmark $20 million Series A round in February this year 
  • Green aerospace champion, Satavia - aviation CleanTech mission has won them a plethora of innovation and sustainability awards 
  • Audio Analytic - global leader in intelligent sound recognition using cloudless AI to provide consumer technology with hearing beyond speech and music 
  • Pathfinder Medical - raised £8.5million in funding earlier this year to further its electronic guidance system to help connect blood vessels during endovascular surgery  
  • Microfluidx - raised £1.5million in seed funding in 2020 to advance its microfluidics-based technology, which aims to combat challenges associated with the production of cell and gene therapies. Recently closed a pre-Series A round (amount undisclosed)
  • Bound4Blue - Spanish startup reinventing the sail to make shipping more sustainable with autonomous rigid sails systems  
  • Cambridge Intelligence – producing data visualization technology to uncover the hidden threats and risks in your data 
  • Ohio-based AlgoSurg - developing 3D surgery simulation algorithms and software for the future of surgeries  
  • Cambridge University spinout Spirea - novel ADC technology is revolutionising the treatment of hard-to-treat cancers 
  • India’s leading agritech innovator, BioPrime Agri-Solutions PVT - just closed a significant Pre-Series A round (amount undisclosed)
  • Glasgow-based Metix Medical - secured an initial £1.2million funding for their patient transport tech.

Deepcell’s co-founder, CTO & president, Mahyar Salek credits IGNITE with crucially changing his mindset from researcher to entrepreneur in a handful of days. 

He says: “Ahead of IGNITE, I didn’t feel ready to strike out and do something on my own. But, by the end of the programme, I had learned that, while experience is everything, the best way to gain the necessary experience to do something is simply to start doing it.  

“IGNITE shaped who I am in ways that I never imagined and turned me from a researcher into an entrepreneur. I learned how you can find success anywhere, even in places where you don't plan to be successful – and I left feeling empowered by the realisation that you don’t have to be limited to what you have trained to become. 

“Deepcell is now a team of 60, and our technology will level up basic biology research, diagnosis, and therapeutics, and advance the wellbeing of humankind at scale.” 

Another IGNITE alumnus is Dr Tongtong Zhu, CEO and founder of headline grabbing Porotech which is expanding globally in a $140billion display market. The company recently announced a strategic partnership with IQE, the leading global supplier of advanced semiconductor wafers. 

Dr Zhu says: “As a material scientist with very limited business know-how, IGNITE literally transformed me as well as my business idea. My business plan was critiqued and improved by mentors and experts, and I was helped to develop a successful pitch for the University of Cambridge Postdoc Business Plan Competition, which won me a £20,000 investment from Cambridge Enterprise and Entrepreneurial Postdocs of Cambridge (EPoC) in November 2018. 

“A year later, I raised a £1.5milion pre-seed investment to kick off the Porotech project, followed by another £3million Seed investment in May 2021. And our latest $20million Series A funding in February 2022 will accelerate our work towards the commercialisation of microLED for microdisplay applications, such as extended reality glasses for the Metaverse.” 

IGNITE’s unique blend of practical teaching sessions, expert clinics, high calibre mentoring, and keynote presentations are led by noted academics, entrepreneurs, influencers, and senior industry leaders from within Cambridge’s renowned innovation ecosystem. These sessions are enhanced with scheduled site visits to several notable Cambridge startups. 

Dr Renuka Diwan, co-founder of Indian agritech company, BioPrime AgriSolutions Pvt, says: “When I attended IGNITE, we had just founded the company and were at a crossroads, trying to understand which way to go – B2B or B2C? I cannot emphasise enough how important IGNITE was in our decision making. In one session, led by legendary entrepreneur and Arm co-founder, Jamie Urquhart, I got instant clarity from him. Jamie had encountered a similar predicament in his early career - whether to sell mobile phones or chips? He decided, rightly, to play to his strengths, which resulted in those who would have been his strong competitors becoming his solid clients instead. I was able to speak to him one-on-one, and he was supremely inspirational.”

The programme is focussed on fast-tracking great ideas to commercial success, enabling participants to validate their plans and innovations and turn concepts into real ventures, commercial applications, and sustainable businesses.  

Lord Karan Bilimoria CBE, Founder of Cobra Beer, is a long-time contributor to IGNITE. He says: “IGNITE is entrepreneurship at the heart of Cambridge. You are at a leading business school, at one of the best universities in the world, in one of the best entrepreneurial clusters in the world, and you’re immersed in it for one week – and, when you emerge, you have more knowledge and are better equipped to put your ideas into action around the world.” 

The summer Ignite programme takes place on 3 - 8 July 2022. Deadline for applications is 12 noon on 31 May 2022. For further information on the application process, please go to jbs.cam.ac.uk/ignite.

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