Oxfordshire: Tech leaders ready to deliver green recovery

Oxford and Oxfordshire’s technology companies are poised to deliver the green recovery the prime minister is calling for but need long-term thinking on funding and skills from government to do so.

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

The report includes key findings from a qualitative survey of technology business of all sizes and at all stages of maturity. Many were followed up with telephone interviews to build case studies that underline the green recovery is an opportunity Oxford and Oxfordshire technology companies are poised to deliver.

Key findings of the research

  1. Nearly nine in ten (88%) agree or strongly agree the green recovery is an opportunity. The majority of pre-revenue companies expect to be revenue generating within one to two years
  2. 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%.
  3. 3 in 4 expect to be raising more funds to fuel growth over the next three years
  4. 80% name investment, and 50% cite access to skilled employees and grant funding, as key growth enablers.
  5. 60% name investment and 40% say uncertain markets and protecting intellectual property as key barriers to growth

Why Oxford is the epicentre of the green recovery

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.

The survey and interviews of Oxfordshire technology companies has provided useful insight into what is needed.

“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,” said Sarah Haywood, Managing Director of Advanced Oxford.

What companies tell Advanced Oxford they need

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