Innovation in Manchester or Cambridge? 

All innovation comes from people who give a damn also being able to do something about it. Cambridge isn’t lacking people who innovate; the unanswered challenge is where can they afford to sleep while doing it? The current answer is “somewhere else”. 

What a UK venture capitalist actually does is move money from limited partners to landlords – San Francisco suggests 30% of VC cash goes that way (and that probably doesn’t include staff salaries spent on rent?)

The tech lobby group “Innovate Cambridge” seems to be assuming that companies will be formed in Cambridge then move to Manchester to grow so they can afford space to work, and their staff can afford a house for their family. It’s better than the SF equivalent.

Manchester has the metrolink and train stations; Cambridge has bicycles. Manchester has nightlife, non-tech industries, and hills; Cambridge doesn’t have hills, but does have cows, commons, and dentists. Etc.

The constraint isn’t innovation, it’s retention of innovators, especially those who don’t have wealth to burn while they figure it out.

Having lived in Manchester and Cambridge, some thoughts on what questions the collaboration might want to have some answers on.

Differing Cost of the same business?

For a business, especially a startup which has more equity than cash, the cost of living of staff has a large impact on cash flow and runway. The more rent and expenses cost, the greater the need for staff to have cash salary to cover it and the less they can be paid in equity, which makes the company burn cash faster, and be less likely to survive.

The Manchester side of the innovation partnership should publish a public assessment for a few different industry sectors, using real examples where they can get them, comparing the cost of doing that business in Manchester vs Cambridge:

  • What’s the rent and public transit travel time for an equivalent office / lab / light industrial office either near the centre, or at the commutable fringe?
  • What’s the option of rent and house prices for staff to live and work, and have a work-life balance they want?

Cambridge may be the place that founders might meet, but Manchester may be where their staff can probably afford to live – what is the effect of current house prices on salary needs (for rent+life) of staff at startups which have limited runway?

After the election

With an election ongoing, perhaps parties will consider how to fund Manchester’s public service, and also make it so children who currently live in Cambridge will be able to afford to live here if they want to in future.

Manchester and Cambridge both have their own multi-century heritage and traditions. A company moves on, but the place endures. Having a government that cares about either place will be an improvement. 

posted: 31 May 2024

Breaking the law seems like a rational act for AI startups, and what to do about it at the AI summit

“National security” scale risks are the topic of the “AI Safety Summit”, which is the sort of thing you want governments to spend their time reducing. I’m glad there’s a summit on a potential catastrophe, as we should do more about all catastrophic risks… so how’s climate going?

Some in civil society argue that catastrophic harms are not the best topic for a summit, and they may even be right, but it is the summit it is. That the summit organisers cited the power of health chatbots as the epitome of civil society (p17) suggests someone listened too much to the bankrupt company Babylon rather than those who were proven right. The cash for scrutiny of health chat bots in civil society is probably less than the summit will spend on snacks and nibbles, and certainly less than the well funded tech fringe will spend on refreshments (although maybe it’s more than Babylon Health PLC’s current market cap). Show me your budgets, and I’ll see your priorities.

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posted: 24 Oct 2023