Two Oxfordshire businesses tipped in 15 top UK tech startups

Tokamak Energy, Milton Park

Two Oxfordshire businesses have been tipped in the 15 top tech start-ups in the UK, according to business and company data analysts, Beauhurst.

Since 2011 the UK’s tech startups and scaleups have collectively raised £37 billion in announced equity funding. While investment activity has slowed during the pandemic, says Beauhurst, the UK’s most promising startup companies have still secured some large sums of money.

Beauhurst profiled the UK’s best tech startups, based on the largest funding rounds secured in 2020 so far. According to its research, the companies included have developed innovative products and ambitious business plans, and secured the necessary funding to implement them.

But where are the regional companies in this list? It seems to be that to secure major investment, you have to be in London. A total of 13 of the 15 companies have their headquarters in the capital, but one of those headquartered in London has a major manufacturing base at Bicester.

The two Oxfordshire companies are electric vehicle company Arrival, and Tokamak Energy. While Arrival has its headquarters in London, its main research and development site is located in Banbury, where it acquired a new distribution, production and headquarters building last month (August).

Arrival was founded in 2015 and has raised a total of £318 million, of which £85.5 million was raised this year. In January it was announced that Hyundai Motor Company and Kia Motors Corporation had invested €100 million (£75 million) in the electric vehicle company, giving it the coveted “unicorn” status (a privately held startup company valued at more than $1 billion).

Arrival is developing what it calls “Generation 2 Electric Vehicles”.  Generation 1 electric vehicles are existing fossil fuel vehicles retrofitted with electric power trains, making them expensive, inefficient and costly to run and maintain.

The company’s Generation 2 products have been designed from a blank sheet and it says are superior vehicles in cost, design and efficiency.Generation 2 vehicles are assembled using small footprint microfactories, located in areas of demand and profitable at thousands of units.

Arrival has more than 800 employees in five countries.  A vertically integrated company which has created in-house software, components, sustainable materials and modular skateboard platforms.

Hyundai and Kia will use key Arrival technologies to help achieve their goal to develop mobility services and electrify their vehicle fleets.

The other Oxfordshire company in the Beauhurst list is Tokamak Energy. Founded in 2009 and based at Milton Park near Oxford, Tokamak has raised a total of £123 million, of which £67 million was raised this year. Its latest funding was announced in July, when it revealed it had been awarded £10 million from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, as part of the UK Government’s Advanced Modular Reactor (AMR) project.

The company has a mission to accelerate the development of fusion energy and to deliver power at industrial scale by 2025. This is a big ambition as despite the billions invested in this great white hope of technology, scientists across the world have yet to prove they can achieve fusion commercially. But that won’t stop the investment. Tokamak Energy’s world-leading team of experts are upgrading their latest-generation compact spherical tokamak, which they intend to be the first device in the world to demonstrate the commercial potential of fusion power. The device, known as the ST40, aims to produce plasma temperature of 100 million degrees within the next 2 years.  This is the temperature needed for controlled fusion power and is seven times hotter than the centre of the sun.

Nuclear energy harnesses the power of atoms. The UK’s nuclear power stations operate nuclear fission, which releases heat energy by splitting atoms. Fusion  is the combination of two lighter atoms into a larger one. Fusion is what powers the sun and scientists across the world are seeking to achieve nuclear fusion on earth. The aim is for the tokamak reactor to heat plasma up to 100 million degrees Celsius, seven times hotter than the centre of the sun. This is the fusion threshold at which hydrogen atoms can begin to fuse into helium, unleashing non carbon-emitting, virtually limitless energy.
Fusing atoms together in a controlled way releases nearly four million times more energy than a chemical reaction such as the burning of coal, oil or gas and four times as much as nuclear fission reactions (at equal mass). Fusion has the potential to provide the kind of baseload energy needed to provide electricity to our cities and our industries.

In January Tokamak Energy raised £67 million from new and existing investors. It was the largest fund raise to date and followed the delivery of important milestones towards commercial fusion. Dr Hans-Peter Wild led the fundraise with participation from existing investors including Legal & General and David Harding.

The company is a spin-out from Culham Science Centre near Abingdon, the world-leading centre for magnetic fusion energy research. It is addressing the enormous long-term global potential of fusion research, where the UK has a distinct global lead.

The only other company outside London in Beauhurst’s list of 15 top tech startups is Graphcore, headquartered in Bristol. This AI company has the technology to accelerate artificial intelligence and machine learning applications. Founded in 2016 it has raised total funds of £365 million, with £116 million being raised this year.