Oxfordshire tech companies ready to power up government’s Green Recovery, but they can’t do it alone

Photo shows: The science of fusion energy, and major investment into it, should attract skills and funding
Close out Vessel Photographs – May 2011

Oxford and Oxfordshire’s technology companies are poised to deliver a green recovery but need long-term government thinking on funding and skills to be able to do so successfully.

That is the finding revealed by “Powering up the Green Recovery” , a major new report being published on Wednesday by Advanced Oxford, a not-for-profit membership group which undertakes research with innovation and tech-based businesses to help local and national policy making.

The full findings of the report will be revealed at a virtual launch event at 10am this Wednesday, 25 November.

Almost nine out of ten companies participating in the research see the green recovery as an opportunity but are bracing themselves for some major challenges, in particular securing funding and attracting skilled people.

With the majority of pre-revenue companies expecting to be revenue generating within one to two years, the fund-raising needed to fuel that growth and recruitment of skilled people were cited as key issues.

40 per cent of companies also said that uncertain markets and protecting intellectual property were also likely to be key barriers to growth.

Hiring to meet anticipated demand will see head count rise in all the businesses questioned over the next three years, with some projecting growth between 200 and 500 per cent. Three quarters expect to be raising more funds to fuel growth over the next three years

The report highlights the crucial role played by Oxford’s universities as a source of spin-out companies and the highly educated work force to staff them.

It similarly also identifies Oxfordshire’s tech hubs as central to the creation of new technology and innovative start-ups. Harwell Campus, home to the EnergyTec Cluster, and Culham, home to the UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA), are identified as crucial for attracting the talent to deliver the green recovery from the local area and far beyond. There is also exciting news of a water research hub in the making based alongside HR Wallingford.

The hubs are one of the five key reasons why start-ups reveal they have started and stayed in Oxford and Oxfordshire. The top five list includes – the founders come from or live in Oxford, the company is an Oxfordshire spin-out, access to skills, founders studied at an Oxford university and the chance to collaborate with higher education institutions.

Sarah Haywood, Managing Director of Advanced Oxford, said: “Through this research, we wanted to show how important companies are in the region in the move to a cleaner, net zero, sustainable future.

“We have found lots of exciting companies that are innovating and using science and data to drive forward economic growth.

“What is really exciting, is that despite Covid-19 and the challenges it has created for all businesses, these companies have the potential to grow significantly and to add new jobs.

“However, we can’t take this for granted.  If we want to see knowledge-based companies drive a green recovery, there is still a lot that needs to be in place, particularly investment and access to highly skilled people,” she added.

The survey clearly showed that start-ups, spin-outs, scale-ups and established technology companies in the area are ready to hire the right people and seek the investment needed to deliver the green recovery.

One-on-one interviews revealed the companies’ enthusiasm as well as their need for long-term thinking on government funding.

They are also calling for the UK to produce more engineers and for the government to provide reassurances over the speed at which they can hire internationally, particularly after the UK formally leaves the EU in 2021.

On funding, David Kingham, Executive Chairman of fusion company, Tokamak Energy, said: “Science and technology companies can deliver the green revolution – as well as major economic benefits to the UK – and the Prime Minister’s 10-point plan is a great step in the right direction. However, companies need long term commitment from the government to enable the private investment to flow. We hope this commitment will be made in the run up to COP26.”

On recruitment, Dr Graeme Smith, Oxbotica’s Senior VP of External Affairs said: “Oxbotica, the UK’s leading autonomous driving software company, regularly competes for top talent with American tech giants who can guarantee visas with job offers. The UK process is slower and less certain for international candidates.  Tech businesses could continue to be disadvantaged in securing top talent from outside the UK – even including the EU from 2021 onwards.”

On skills mix, Frank Averdung, CEO of solar power company, Oxford PV, said: “I can see a self-fulfilling prophecy that because you don’t have enough engineers, young people just don’t think there is a career in engineering for them.”

The findings of the research and the “Powering up the Green Recovery” report from Advanced Oxford will be published at www.advancedoxford.com

The launch will be presented by Advanced Oxford’s Chair, Dr Gillian Burgess and its Managing Director, Sarah Haywood.

It will also feature a panel of local technology companies including First Light Fusion, Spintex, Brill Power and Pivot Power, which is the lead company in the consortium behind Energy Superhub Oxford, one of two major energy demonstrator projects taking place in Oxfordshire, funded from the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund).

They will be discussing the report and why Oxford and Oxfordshire are best poised to deliver a green recovery as well as what they would like to see from local and national policy decision makers. The panel will be accepting Q&As from attendees.