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#UK Latest news


Illumina’s $8bn holy GRAIL as it launches new era of cancer detection

Genomic sequencing supernova Illumina, whose European research HQ is in Cambridge UK, is paying $8 billion in cash and stock to acquire California healthcare business GRAIL and spark…
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Frontier Developments named Business of the Year

Frontier Developments, Cambridge’s world-leading video games developer is today unveiled as Business of the Year in the toughest competition in 30 years of the Business Weekly Awards…
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Magnifique as CMR Surgical robots wow French market

Surgical robotics innovation from a Cambridge-based world leader has penetrated one of the world’s biggest markets for the technology.

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Rnwl founder Goncalo de Vasconcelos

Google entrepreneur backs Cambridge InsurTech company Rnwl

Cambridge InsurTech startup Rnwl has raised a second tranche of cash in record time with the promise of more to come as it wows the crowd on Seedrs.

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easyJet names TUI high flyer as chief financial officer

Luton-based low fares airline easyJet has unveiled a new chief financial officer.

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East of England manufacturers hit hard by COVID-19 impact

East of England manufacturers are continuing to cut back on investment in response to the impact of the pandemic, according to a major survey published by Make UK and BDO.

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Facebook and Be the Business provide free digital training for local businesses

Be the Business, a not-for-profit movement bidding to help every firm in the country improve their performance, is partnering with Facebook to host an event in the East of England…
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Government seeks new Innovate UK lead as Campbell joins LifeArc

The UK Government is looking to recruit a new Executive Chair for Innovate UK. The position had been held on an interim basis by Dr Ian Campbell after former Pfizer Neusentis CSO…
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UKRI invests millions in trials using whole genome sequencing to beat cancer

UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) has injected £8 million into seven clinical trials which are using whole genome sequencing to defeat cancer.

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IBM and Cambridge Quantum Computing push fresh frontiers

A collaboration between global technology behemoth IBM and UK-based Cambridge Quantum Computing is scaling fresh heights.

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The Covid Conundrum…

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#UK Illumina’s $8bn holy GRAIL as it launches new era of cancer detection


Genomic sequencing supernova Illumina, whose European research HQ is in Cambridge UK, is paying $8 billion in cash and stock to acquire California healthcare business GRAIL and spark a new era of cancer detection technology.

The move looks a master stroke as the play addresses a market forecast to grow to $75bn by 2035.

GRAIL stockholders will also receive future payments representing a tiered single digit percentage of certain GRAIL-related revenues. The deal has been backed by both companies’ boards.

Francis deSouza, Illumina’s president and chief executive officer, has no doubts the move is a game-changer in the fight against cancer.

He said: “Over the last four years GRAIL’s talented team has made exceptional progress in developing the technology and clinical data required to launch the GalleriTM multi-cancer screening test. 

“Galleri is among the most promising new tools in the fight against cancer, and we are thrilled to welcome GRAIL back to Illumina to help transform cancer care using genomics and our NGS platform.

“Together we have an important opportunity to introduce routine and broadly available blood-based screening that enables early cancer detection when treatment can be more effective and less costly. 

“Multi-cancer early detection is better for patients, their physicians, and payors. As we accelerate our path to clinical leadership and the path to multi-cancer early detection, we will continue to drive significant value creation for our stockholders.”

The deal is very much a case of ‘back to the future’ for Illumina. GRAIL was founded by Illumina in 2016 and spun out as a standalone company, powered by Illumina’s NGS technology, to develop state-of-the-art data science and machine learning and create the atlas of cancer signals in the blood, enabling multi-cancer early detection tests. 

GRAIL raised around $2 billion to support its innovative technology platform and develop Galleri. An earlier version of Galleri was able to detect more than 50 cancer types, over 45 of which have no recommended screening in the United States. 

Nextgen Galleri is expected to launch commercially in 2021 as a multi-cancer, laboratory developed test for early cancer detection from blood. GRAIL plans to follow Galleri with future blood-based tests for cancer diagnosis, detection and post-treatment monitoring of cancer patients.

CEO Hans Bishop said: “Cancer is one of society’s most significant challenges with most cancer being detected too late. We believe multi-cancer early detection technology could address a tremendous unmet need and reduce the cancer burden worldwide. 

“Combining forces with Illumina enables broader and faster adoption of GRAIL’s innovative, multi-cancer early detection blood test, enhancing patient access and expanding global reach. 

“We are excited about this next step in our journey to transform cancer detection and outcomes and create value for patients and their families and communities, health care providers and payors, employers, and stockholders.”

The cash consideration to GRAIL stockholders excluding Illumina of approximately $3.1bn is expected to be funded using balance sheet cash of both Illumina and GRAIL plus up to $1bn in capital raised through either a debt or equity issuance. 

In advance of this anticipated issuance, Illumina has obtained financing commitments for a $1bn bridge facility with Goldman Sachs Bank USA.

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Publié dans #UK

#UK Frontier Developments named Business of the Year


Frontier Developments, Cambridge’s world-leading video games developer is today unveiled as Business of the Year in the toughest competition in 30 years of the Business Weekly Awards. 

The company, which passed a billion dollar valuation in the summer, held off a strong challenge from surgical robotics pioneer CMR Surgical to take the honours.

Although the honours were based on the last 12 months of trading, 2020 is going even better for Frontier. At the start of this week the share price soared 125p to 2,550 (up 5.15 per cent) and the market cap tipped $1.26 billion.

While only privately held startups qualify as unicorns, Frontier’s achievements set against the impact of COVID-19 on capital markets is little short of sensational. And, as we said in an exclusive article recently, there is much more to come: The industry is already valued at $150 billion and is forecast to grow at a conservative 10 per cent a year.

Frontier has gone from strength to strength since transitioning to a new business model and listing on the AIM market in 2013 and 2020 marks a golden age for the enterprise despite coronavirus.

The company has a number of highly anticipated partnerships on the table that are being rolled out imminently and over the coming years; its strong track record over many years as both a developer and a publisher has seen its share price grow more than ten-fold in less than four years. 

Frontier’s ‘launch and nurture’ strategy for its immersive games including Elite Dangerous, Planet Coaster, Jurassic World Evolution and Planet Zoo, is holding the business in high esteem within the gaming community.

Its recently established foothold in the third-party publishing business also has investors excited. With five development partners signed in less than 12 months, this publishing business looks set to add further value to Frontier’s already prosperous portfolio.

CMR Surgical’s Versius robotic arm

Cambridge unicorn business CMR Surgical won the inaugural Sir Michael Marshall Engineering Excellence Award for the innovation and development inherent in its Versius robot arm for keyhole surgeons.

In late July we reported that the company had engineered a potentially lucrative new market in the Gulf for its Versius robotic arm for keyhole surgery. CMR experienced a strong start to 2020 with new installations and orders in markets including the UK, India, Italy and France.

As part of its accelerating global rollout, CMR formed a partnership with Gulf Drug – a medical equipment supplier in the United Arab Emirates – to take Versius to this strategically important region, increasing its commercial presence across Asia and the Middle East.

Strong progress has been made as part of the Versius clinical programme, with over 600 clinical cases successfully completed across gynaecology, upper GI, urology and colorectal surgery.

CMR Surgical joined the ranks of Cambridge’s $billion valued unicorns with a £195m Series C raise and has recently further strengthened its senior management team as it continues to grow worldwide.

Simon Galbraith, CEO of Redgate Software

Redgate Software, shrewdly led by CEO and co-founder Simon Galbraith, wins the International Trade Champion Award. The company is a soaraway success on the global stage, selling database development solutions.

It produced a stroke of genius in terms of global growth last year when it decided to invest $10 million in the acquisition and ongoing development of the biggest cross-platform database migrations tool, Flyway. 

Already widely known for its SQL Server expertise, the move was a ‘killer’ play – designed to accelerate Redgate’s plans to enable the database to be included in DevOps, whatever database technology its customers are working on.

The Disruptive Technology Award goes to GeoSpock, the Cambridge extreme data technology pioneer. As we have previously and exclusively revealed, the company is in the process of wrapping up a megabucks and transformational investment round to underpin further international expansion.

GeoSpock founder Steve Marsh

GeoSpock has some exciting strategic investors lined up that are well positioned to ensure the company represents the de facto database powering telco IoT and Smart City deployments globally. We are further assured that the company has some major lines of business ‘cooking’ in Asia where appetite for GeoSpock’s technology continues to grow.

Tech Scale-Up of the Year winner, UltraSoC was acquired for multimillions this summer by Texas-headquartered Siemens Digital Industries Software.

UltraSoC provides instrumentation and analytics solutions that put intelligent monitoring, cybersecurity and functional safety capabilities into the core hardware of system-on-chip. 

Prior to the Siemens acquisition, UltraSoc had closed a £5 million equity funding round, opened an engineering centre in Warsaw, recruited substantially in Cambridge and Bristol and increased its commercial presence in Europe, the US, Japan and China.

Some of the UltraSoC employees in Cambridge

Biotech Scale-Up of the Year Evonetix is developing a desktop platform for scalable, high-fidelity and rapid gene synthesis. It is collaborating with US company Analog Devices Inc to fast-track the development and scale-up of the UK innovator’s desktop DNA writer. The technology will help facilitate the rapidly growing multibillion-dollar synthetic biology industry, Evonetix says.

Evonetix’ novel silicon chip controls the synthesis of DNA at many thousands of independently controlled reaction sites or ‘pixels’ on the chip surface in a highly parallel fashion. 

The Evonetix team

Cambridge cell technology gamechanger Mogrify celebrates a double success in the Business Weekly Awards. The young company won the fiercely contested Life Science Innovation Award, sponsored by global Big Biotech AstraZeneca while co-founder and chief scientific officer Julian Gough is named Cambridge Enterprise Academic Entrepreneur of the Year.

Spearheaded by entrepreneur and CEO Dr Darrin Disley, Mogrify® has developed a proprietary direct cellular conversion technology which makes it possible to enhance existing stem-cell forward reprogramming methods or bypass development pathways altogether, effecting a direct transdifferentiation between a mature cell type to another mature cell type. 

Leveraging advanced datasets of next-generation sequencing and regulatory networks, Mogrify is deploying this platform to engineer an evergreen and scalable source of cell types that exhibit efficacy and safety profiles necessary to transform the development of ex vivo cell therapies or in vivo reprogramming therapies for diseases with a high unmet clinical need.

After a stellar performance in its first year of operation which saw the company raise $20 million of start-up capital, $2.5m grant funding and close several deals with US BioPharma, Mogrify pivoted its business model to become a developer of ex vivo cell therapies as well as in vivo reprogramming therapies for indications of unmet need in haematology, immunology and ophthalmology.

The company is progressing these programs through pre-clinical development whilst forming strategic alliances with major European, US and Japanese biopharma players. 

Members of Mogrify’s leadership team outside their Cambridge HQ. Photo by Phil Mynott.

Healx is our AI Innovation winner. Only last October, Healx – which is leveraging AI technology to repurpose drugs to treat the planet’s rarest diseases – raised $56 million in a Series B round backed by Japanese and European investors  to take its haul in a calendar year to around $66m.

In the last three months the company has agreed further significant global collaborations in uncharted areas of rare disease. Healx is looking to double its headcount by the start of 2021.

Healx co-founders Dr Tim Guilliams and Dr David Brown

Young Company of the Year is Wellcome Sanger Institute spin-out Microbiotica; at just over three years old Microbiotica is the startup equivalent of an infant prodigy. And its potential for growth from young legs is immense.

The company recently joined forces with Cancer Research UK and Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust to pilot a major new cancer initiative.

Microbiotica was launched in December 2016 with the aim of creating a global leader to exploit the leading microbiome science built at Sanger. The new collaboration is designed to identify and develop microbiome co-therapeutics and biomarkers for cancer patients receiving immune checkpoint inhibitor therapy.

Microbiotica CEO Mike Romanos

PROWLER.io, which is leading the UK’s push to become the AI technology capital of the world, won the Cambridge Judge Business School Graduate Business of the Year accolade. Among its founders and its growing workforce abounds Cambridge academic talent.

PROWLER.io was founded by mathematicians and engineers following years of research into machine intelligence, probability theory and multi-agent problems. Founded in 2016, it now has more than 110 employees from 29 countries.

PROWLER.io founders Dongho Kim and Vishal Chatrath

Cambridge Judge Business School Woman Entrepreneur of the Year is Martina King, the CEO of Cambridge’s world-leading machine learning company Featurespace. The company’s international growth under King’s inspired leadership, with a technology based on University of Cambridge IP, made her the outstanding candidate for the Award this year.

King has also helped take the company into a thriving enterprise in the United States where headcount and contracts are rocketing.

Featurespace CEO Martina King

Cambridge Enterprise, the university’s commercialisation arm, was thrilled to  select Mogrify CSO and co-founder Julian Gough as winner of its Academic Entrepreneur of the Year Award.

Mogrify CEO Dr Darrin Disley said the honour was thoroughly deserved: “Julian Gough is a very well deserved winner of the Academic Entrepreneur of the Year accolade. His drive and perseverance in the period 2016 to 2019 is the sole reason Mogrify was able to bridge the transition from a tripartite academic collaboration into an emerging biotech of sufficient calibre to attract Ahren Innovation Capital to invest, myself to take over the helm as CEO and for pharma industry leaders such as Dr Jane Osbourn and Dr Lorenz Mayer to join the board of directors.”

Julian Gough, Mogrify co-founder and CSO

Dr Hermann Hauser won the  Cambridge Enterprise Lifetime Achievement Award: Co-founder of the iconic Acorn Computers; co-founder of Arm, the world’s greatest superchip innovator; co-founder of Amadeus Capital Partners – Dr Hauser would figure centre stage in pretty much any global academic and corporate company. Dr Hauser expressed himself “flattered” to be chosen.

Cambridge Enterprise CEO Dr Tony Raven felt Dr Hauser was long overdue recognition for putting the cluster on the world business map and working hard to keep it there.

This is the third year that this particular accolade has been awarded. Nobel Prizewinner Sir Greg Winter was the inaugural champion and last year the prize was shared by the co-founders of genomics sequencing trailblazer Solexa, Sir Shankar Balasubramanian and Sir David Klenerman. All the winners to date are knights of the Realm or British Empire.

Dr Hermann Hauser

The UK/China Award sponsored by Cambridge China Centre was won by TusPark, which has pioneered a beautiful biotechnology innovation hub at the Science Park and also invested in a number of local businesses. “It’s such an honour that TusPark UK has been awarded the The UK/China Award,” a spokesperson said.

TusPark UK is a magnificent ambassador for two-way trade between the territories and its flagship Bio-Innovation Centre at Cambridge Science Park is already making big headlines through the quality of its initial tenant companies.

Superchip architect Arm, which has agreed a $40 billion takeover by US company NVIDIA, wins the Kate Gross Prize for Social Enterprise. Last year, President and chief operating officer Graham Budd took an Arm team to tcheat with a battery of smart technologies to combat medical, food, flooding and other life-threatening crises.

It is one of many such global initiatives where Arm staff and management are adapting bleeding edge wearable and other technology to the needs of people in deprived areas of the globe.

Arm ambassadors meeting children in flood-hit Chikwawa District . All images courtesy of Arm.

The Business Weekly Awards were due to be presented at a gala dinner in March but the lockdown guillotined those plans. Attempts have been ongoing to hold a physical presentation around now but the Government’s new rule of six has again intervened – unless we meet in plus fours pretending we are shooting grouse or stage an impromptu fox hunt. The fox has been donated by – no, forget it.

Instead, lead forensic sponsor Mills & Reeve – the Cambridge based global law firm – will host a staggered presentation event within the next few weeks at which a representative of each winning company will receive their Award from one of the sponsors on a socially distanced and staged basis. 

We will be launching the 2020-2021 Awards next week and are already taking entries. All the major sponsors have renewed their backing for the next Awards competition – a huge show of faith in the merit of the competition and their stated regard for Business Weekly’s role in promoting Cambridge on a world stage.

THE 30th Anniversary Business Weekly Award winners at a glance:

Business of the Year – Frontier Developments
Michael Marshall Engineering Excellence – CMR Surgical
International Trade Champion – Redgate Software
Young Company of the Year – Microbiotica
Disruptive Technology – Geospock
Life Science Innovation  Mogrify
AI Innovation – Healx
Biotech Scale-up of the Year – Evonetix
Tech Scale-up of the Year – UltraSoC
The UK/China Award – TusPark UK
Kate Gross Prize for Social Enterprise – Arm
Cambridge Enterprise Lifetime Achievement Award – Dr Hermann Hauser
Cambridge Judge Business School Woman Entrepreneur of the Year – 
Martina King (Featurespace)
Cambridge Enterprise Academic Entrepreneur of the Year – Julian Gough (Mogrify)
Cambridge Judge Business School Graduate Business of the Year – PROWLER.io

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Publié dans #UK

#UK The Covid Conundrum…


The Covid-19 pandemic divided the country into two camps, and I don’t mean the healthy and the vulnerable, but the selfish and the selfless.  In the latter category is a near neighbour of mine, who has popped a note through every letterbox in our street offering to run errands for the ill and elderly.  

In the other category were the bog roll bandits and needlessly greedy scourers of the supermarket shelves.  

The equivalent, in our business, are the corporately responsible and irresponsible.  In the latter category are those who played on people’s fears by offering medical supplies – face masks are a favourite – for which they make extravagant claims (they will prevent or cure viral infection) and for which they charge inflated prices.  Fortunately, the ASA clamped down on the worst of these ‘spivs’.

On the other hand, are those who committed funds to support Corvid-19 response ($15 million – approximately £7 million – in the case of Nike), as well as embracing the same spirit in their advertising.

Nike’s Covid campaign made the statement: “If you ever dreamed of playing for millions around the world, now’s your chance.  Play inside, play for the world”.  It strikes a nice balance, doesn’t it, between appealing to its customers sporting ambitions and their humanity, their consideration for others.

Nike are experts at building brand loyalty whilst creating individual product/range appeal. Massive budgets aside, their ideas and the execution of those ideas is spot on. And it’s always the ideas that count.

Their advertising sometimes falls between brand advertising and public service advertising. Similar examples might be the breweries urging pub goers to ‘Drink responsibly’ and turf accountants advising punters: ‘When the fun stops, stop’. However, a responsible five second message dissuading you from doing something tacked on to the end of a twenty five second message persuading you to do it, has limited value in my book.   

As far as real public service advertising is concerned, perhaps Boris should go the whole hog and it’s time to revive some of those old WW2 classics – ‘Dig for Victory’ (the way food prices are going we’ll soon all need to grow our own!), ‘Make Do and Mend’ (ditto for clothing and consumer goods), and if you want to strike a Churchillian note (and we know he does), ‘Let Us Go Forward Together’. 

However, I honestly feel that for business in general and marketing in particular ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ might be the best message for now.


@rick_simpsons  @SimpsonsCreate

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Publié dans #UK

#UK NVIDIA-Arm deal: Cambridge coup or death knell for UK tech?


US tech giant NVIDIA piled on the sugar and honey with jam on the side as it reeled off the positives of its $40 billion acquisition of Cambridge silicon superhero Arm. Rather than swallowing hype about the deal hitting the sweet spot, critics triggered an alert for wasps and a potentially deadly sting.

Arm’s Japanese parent SoftBank has agreed terms for the deal and emphasised an upside that looks fabulous for Cambridge and the UK on the face of it:-

  • A new and world-leading Artificial Intelligence megahub for Cambridge
  • A $1.5bn equity windfall for Arm employees, potentially triggering a fresh wave of tech startups funded by newly created Arm millionaires
  • A pledge to keep the superchip architect’s HQ in Cambridge and not move it to California
  • Promises to grow headcount rather than cut jobs here and to physically grow Arm’s Cambridge mothership.
  • The decision to exclude Arm’s potentially world-beating IoT Services Group from the acquisition.

Too good to be true? Cambridge entrepreneur Hermann Hauser thinks so and has been backed by scores of executives in an open letter to Boris Johnson warning the PM to intervene.

The UK government has promised to inspect the terms of the deal; the proposed transaction is subject to customary closing conditions, including the receipt of regulatory approvals for the UK, China, the EU and the US. 

Completion of the transaction is expected to take place in approximately 18 months. That leaves room for a riptide of water to flow under a number of global bridges. Independent observers are pointing out that this could either prove the greatest thing that has ever happened to Cambridge technology or turn into a bloodbath at a time when the UK government is struggling to strike trade deals with world powers.

NVIDIA says it will create the world’s greatest AI research superhub in the UK’s leading technology cluster. It will be based at Arm’s existing Cambridge HQ building, which has been significantly extended in the last couple of years.

The Artificial Intelligence nervecentre will embrace a startup accelerator, international research collaborations, training and Fellowships. It will host an Arm-based supercomputer; the facility will serve as a broad-based hub for collaboration by AI researchers, scientists and startups across the UK and internationally.

NVIDIA says: “We are excited to be creating a world-class AI laboratory in Cambridge at the Arm headquarters: a Hadron collider or Hubble telescope, if you like, for artificial intelligence. 

“NVIDIA is the leader in AI computing while Arm is present across a vast ecosystem of edge devices, with more than 180 billion units shipped. With this newly announced combination, we are creating the leading computing company for the age of AI.”

Arm CEO Simon Segars was upbeat about the proposed deal, saying: “Arm and NVIDIA share a vision and passion that ubiquitous, energy-efficient computing will help address the world’s most pressing issues from climate change to healthcare, from agriculture to education.”

“Delivering on this vision requires new approaches to hardware and software and a long-term commitment to research and development. By bringing together the technical strengths of our two companies we can accelerate our progress and create new solutions that will enable a global ecosystem of innovators. My management team and I are excited to be joining NVIDIA so we can write this next chapter together.”

Arm co-founder Hermann Hauser, representing a global cohort of complainants, doesn’t agree. He tells the PM:  “We are concerned about the impact on jobs in Cambridge, Manchester, Belfast, Glasgow, Sheffield and Warwick where thousands of Arm employees work.

“The sale of Arm to Nvidia will destroy the very basis of Arm’s business model which is to be the Switzerland of the semiconductor industry dealing in an even-handed way with its over 500 licensees. Most of them are Nvidia’s competitors. Among them are many UK companies. Assurances to the contrary should be legally binding.

“Most importantly for the long term, it is an issue of national economic sovereignty: Arm is the only remaining UK technology company with a dominant position in mobile phone microprocessors. It has a market share of over 95 per cent. 

“The UK has suffered from American technology dominance by companies like Google, Facebook, Amazon, Netflix, Apple and others. As the American president has weaponised technology dominance in his trade war with China, the UK will become collateral damage unless it has its own trade weapons to bargain with.

“Arm powers the smartphones of Apple, Samsung, Sony, Huawei and practically every other brand in the world and therefore can exert influence on all of them.

“A sale to Nvidia will mean that Arm becomes subject to the US OFAC regulations. There are hundreds of companies in the UK electronics industry employing tens of thousands of people who use Arm in their products. Many of them export to major global markets including China. They will all have to comply with the US OFAC regulations.

“This puts Britain in the invidious position that the decision about who Arm is allowed to sell to will be made in the White House and not in Downing Street. Surrendering UK’s most powerful trade weapon to the US is making Britain a US vassal state.”

Dr Hauser demands legally binding job guarantees for all Arm employees in the UK and a legally binding agreement that NVIDIA must not gain any preferential treatment over other Arm licensees.

He says the natural alternative to an Arm sale to NVIDIA is to take Arm public on the London Stock Exchange and make it a British owned company again with a Golden Share for national economic security. 

And he lays it on the line to Boris Johnson: “As you have spent £500m to help OneWeb out of Chapter 11, which arguably is not as important to Britain as Arm, you could spend £1-2bn as the anchor investor for an IPO on the London Stock Exchange and get a Golden Share for it so that this problem cannot happen again.

“If you do not make Arm a British owned company again with a Golden Share for national economic security, history will remember you as the person who, when the chips are down, failed to act in the national interest.”

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Publié dans #UK

#Asia #Japan What’s really changed after six years of Disrupting Japan


Disrupting Japan is six years old and ready to party!

Unfortunately, we can’t. Like so much else in 2020, this year’s big, live show has been canceled, but I hope you’ll make it next year.

It’s not all bad news, of course. There are a lot of great things happening for both Disrupting Japan and for Japanese startups. So looking back on these six years, I’d like to share some of the most important changes that are happening in Japan.

Please enjoy.

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Welcome to Disrupting Japan, straight talk from Japan’s most successful entrepreneurs. I’m Tim Romero and thanks for joining me.
This is our sixth-anniversary episode. Over the past six years, it’s been a Disrupting Japan tradition to have our big Disrupting Japan Live and Unleashed show on our anniversary. We get three of Japan’s startup thought-leaders on stage and invite a few hundred of our closest friends over for an evening of drinks, conversation, and just hanging out with a lot of cool people.
Unfortunately, this year the coronavirus makes this impossible. So we’ll pick up that tradition again next year.  What I had planned for this year’s anniversary episode was to tell you a special story about innovation at it’s best in Japan. The real story behind a video you’ve seen a dozen times on the internet and Western news media.
But before that, I wanted to talk briefly about three critical things that have changed for startups in Japan and as those introductory notes became longer and more interesting, I realized I was going to have to split the show, so I’ll tell you all about that video in a future episode.
Today, there is something else you should know.
But before we get to that, I want to thank you.  When I started Disrupting Japan six years ago, I really could not have imagined what it would become. At first, Disrupting Japan was just me sitting down and talking with my founder friends, and I guess in all the important ways, it still is just me sitting down with my friends.
But Disrupting Japan has grown with Japan’s startup community. We now have around 10,000 listeners all over the world, and we’ve ranked as Japan’s #1 entrepreneurship podcast and occasionally break into the top five Japanese business podcasts as well.
So after six years, I want to thank all the amazing founders who have come on the show to tell us their stories so honestly, the fans who have spread the word about the podcast in a way that online marketing never could, and to thank you, for listening. I appreciate you choosing to spend your time with me, and I work incredibly hard to make sure this show is worth your time.
Looking back on six years, I want to share with you the three most important ways that Disrupting Japan has changed, and what that tells us about how things are changing for Japanese startups.
Now, these aren’t the big data-driven headline numbers that you already know about. These trends are more personal, more human, and maybe in a way, more important.

1) Origin Stories
During the first two years of Disrupting Japan, I would almost always ask founders about how they started their startup. Many had pretty dramatic stories. Many telling of how their wife or parents were opposed and tried to talk them out of it or force them out of it, or how they had to give up their apartment to save money meet payroll.
Many founders had a family role model. A non-conformist relative who was maybe an entrepreneur themselves, or perhaps an artist or musician. Someone who believed in them when everyone else doubted.
One of our founders even sold his wife’s jewelry to make payroll.  Although his parting advice to me on that matter was “Tim, your startup is very important, but there are some things you should just never do.”
But as long-time listeners have probably noticed, we don’t hear those kinds of origin stories anymore. When I bother to ask the question these days, the most common reply is something like “Well, I really wanted to do it,

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#UK PE houses could react faster than trade buyers to M & A opportunities


The private equity industry has been affected by the COVID-19 outbreak, in common with most other industries, writes Mark Pinder of Birketts LLP. But how insulated is it? And what changes in practice have we seen?

In addition to COVID-19, this all has to be set against the background created by both Brexit and the tremendous political uncertainty created by the 2020 US presidential election. We live in interesting times. 

It is arguable though that, whilst banks have found themselves increasingly tied up in regulation since the financial crisis of 2007/8 and the returns of public markets have fallen when compared with the PE market generally over the last 10 years, the PE market today is in prime position to stand tall and grow in its attractiveness for investors. 

Over recent months, however, there has unquestionably been a slowdown in deal activity and, partly as a consequence, focus has switched towards existing investment portfolio management. A case of seeing if more value can be squeezed from existing investments rather than seeking new, more risky ones. 

There is also another pressure point for those PE houses which raised funds shortly after the 2007/8 financial crisis: the private-asset managers managing the funds (the general partners or GPs) are finding themselves under increasing pressure to crystallise investments and share the resultant fruits with their limited partners (the suppliers of capital) as these funds gradually mature. 


So what changes in behaviour have we been seeing in recent times? As a result of this more uncertain environment, we are seeing three main changes.

There is increased pre-investment diligence, particularly for investors wanting to assess the likely (but difficult to predict) impact on target businesses being caused by Brexit at the same time now as trying to understand and quantify the long-term implications of the COVID-19 pandemic. Challenging to even the most adept of economic forecasters. 

Of course, every cloud (and all that) means that market uncertainty can and does throw up new opportunities, particularly for cash-strapped businesses. We are also seeing issues surrounding directors’ potential liabilities becoming ever more prevalent. There is growing pressure in the UK and across the rest of Europe on directors and how they operate and make decisions, particularly in relation to bribery and corruption, money laundering, modern slavery, sanctions and tax avoidance and evasion. 

It is quite obvious that directors are being held to a higher standard of responsibility, in some cases even to a criminal level, for acts which previously might have fallen behind the corporate veil. 

This impacts the private equity industry by inevitably resulting in an increased focus on internal compliance processes and procedures – increasing costs and time spent in evaluation. 

We have also seen the debt: equity balance alter over the last 10 years with debt forming a larger part of investments. Lending has been moving away from traditional lending banks to more specialised private-credit firms. 

The industry has seen a growth of closer relationships between the PE houses and these more specialist lending firms as they are more in tune with the PE market they serve. 

This evolution, coupled with the terms of the lending used to back PE deals seeing a shift to more ‘covenant-light’ agreements, has resulted in investee companies being able to withstand bigger falls in performance without triggering penalties from their lenders. 

This ‘elasticity’ has limits though and falls in performance during these difficult but hopefully short-term times has resulted in an increasing willingness by PE houses to ‘cure’ the problem of lenders getting concerned by injecting cash for fresh equity. 

Watching brief

It is going to be very interesting to watch the PE market in coming months – there is undoubtedly a growing pile of cash (or to be more accurate committed but unspent capital, otherwise known as ‘dry powder’) ready to be applied towards new investments.

Whilst some of this is currently going into supporting existing investments, helping them through this trying and quite unusual period, there remains much to be spent on new investments. 

And with prices depressed, we expect to see PE houses start reacting more quickly than trade buyers to these new opportunities. This could be an excellent time to buy.

• You can call Mark Pinder on 01223 643128 or email him at: mark-pinder [at] birketts.co.uk


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#UK Planning for the future


Last month saw the publication of the Government White Paper ‘Planning for the Future’, writes Colin Brown, Partner, Planning & Development, Carter Jonas Cambridge. Published on 6 August, it set out a package of reforms which represent the most fundamental change in England’s planning system since the 1947 Town & Country Planning Act.

A consultation period now follows, after which primary and secondary legislation will be required for some elements.

The White Paper is meant to address perceived weaknesses in the current planning system and is set against the Government’s pledge to “build, build, build” and “level up” the variations in prosperity between different parts of the country, as well as to increase international competitiveness post-Brexit.

The proposals follow important changes announced in July, including the changes to the Use Class Order, which came into effect on 1 September 2020.

The White Paper sets out proposals across three ‘pillars’ – planning for development; beautiful and sustainable places; and infrastructure and connected places. 

The proposals are extensive and wide-ranging, but perhaps the most fundamental aspect is the shift towards a zoning-style system. This would require local planning authorities (LPAs) to identify land in their Local Plan as falling under one of three categories: Growth, Renewal or Protected.

Growth areas suitable for substantial development – outline approval for development would be automatically secured for forms and types of development specified in the Local Plan. 

In these areas, development would automatically receive outline planning permission for the principle of development. New settlements, urban extensions, and former industrial/urban regeneration sites would be included in this category (areas of flood risk are specifically excluded) and growth clusters around universities are mentioned.

Renewal areas suitable for some development, such as ‘gentle densification’ – This could include infill of residential areas, development in towns and small sites on the edge of villages which are not protected. 

There would be a statutory presumption in favour of development for the uses specified as being suitable in each area. There would be automatic consent for schemes which meet design and other prior approval requirements.

Protected areas where development would be restricted – For example green belts and conservations areas, and where an application for express planning permission would still be required for new development.

For exceptionally large sites such as new towns, the Government wants to explore a Development Consent Order under the Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects regime.

In growth and renewal areas, the Local Plan would set out suitable development uses and limitations on height and/or density. It would still be possible for a proposal which is different to the plan to come forward, but this would require a specific planning application.

Also suggested is a potential alternative approach combining growth and renewal areas into one category and a broader alternative of limiting automatic permission in principle to land identified for substantial development. 

Under current arrangements, Local Plans already allocate sites for specific uses, in a not dissimilar way to the first two of the three proposed categories. 

However, the automatic granting of planning permission and ‘permission in principle’ under the proposed system may mean that the ability of local authorities to control development will be much more limited than currently.

Overall, this broad-brush approach to growth, renewal and protected areas makes sense. Uncertainty holds back businesses across sectors, and the development industry is no exception. Creating greater certainty around what is acceptable looks to be a positive step.

However, the shift away from a case-by-case to a rules-based approach, risks creating a more centralised system that is less accountable at a local level (something which only a few years ago the Government was keen to move away from). 

Reducing the democratic process will be challenged if this is seen as a ‘gravy train’ for developers and landowners. Of course, this is an over-simplification as it is a relationship that also involves the consumer, where choice and value for money are as important as quality.

There is also a question mark over how flexible the new system will be in allowing alternative uses if the allocated use does not come forward. This could potentially stifle development.

In cities such as Cambridge, large swathes of central urban areas fall within Conservation Areas and will more than likely fall within the protected category, meaning that new development will require an application for express planning permission, as is the case presently. Will a variety of sub-categories therefore be required to fit different area profiles?

There is also concern that the proposal to grant outline planning permission automatically for sites through the plan-making process could be highly complicated.

The suggested approach is not equivalent to zoning elsewhere in the world and does not mean the end for planning applications. Protected areas will still require ‘normal’ planning applications and some form of reserved matters application will be required in growth and renewal areas where outline permission is assumed on allocated sites. If a developer wants to step outside of the allocation an application could still be submitted.

Above all, however, this approach highlights the primacy of the Local Plan and the intention to make it the centre-stage of the process going forward.


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