CAMBRIDGE, ENGLAND (03/03/2000) - Tired of trailing the U.S. when it comes to technology-related economic success, Britain this week enlisted U.S. Ambassador Philip Lader to help move things along.
Cambridge, in the countryside of southwest England, is home not only to one of the world's leading technological universities, but also to a cluster of innovative research and development facilities. Lader paraded an entourage of diplomats and journalists through the area Wednesday, expressing the wish that the "special relationship" between the two countries will take on new meaning in the 21st century.
"We wanted to find some illustrious companies that have a U.S.-U.K. collaboration, and show the changing ways the two countries relate to each other," Lader said. His list includes Internet software firms Zeus Technologies and Autonomy, biotech firm Cambridge Antibody Technology Group, and Cambridge Display Systems, a research company developing new methods for building flat-panel displays.
"In Europe we still have a big gap," said famed Cambridge VC Hermann Hauser.
Having happily funded technology companies since the 1980s, Hauser has earned a reputation as the John Doerr of Cambridge. "There's a lot of amateurism here," Hauser said. "People don't get the culture [of startups] with their mother's milk."
The event was held to show just how helpful intergovernmental friendships can be. Lader's poster companies have all either received American funding, opened American offices, or been bought by American firms.
"It's very much a global world," Zeus chief executive Adam Twiss told a sagely nodding Lader. "We're very bullish about what we're doing in America. The U.S. is the biggest domestic market, and we're going to take what we're doing and apply it to the U.S. marketplace."
The U.K. executives and venture capitalists dutifully paid court to the visiting Americans, declaring over and over that American investment and experience had helped Cambridge take its technologies out of the laboratory and present them to the public market. Lader himself was keen to make hay from the transatlantic relationships, illustrating as they do the economic value of the friendship between President Clinton and British Prime Minister Blair.
Lader has had a keen interest in encouraging entrepreneurship in the U.K.," said Sheryl Daniels Young, managing director of Cross Atlantic Capital Partners, an investment firm that backed Zeus. "It's a more nascent market here than in the U.S. There's a real hunger to start companies."
Lader encouraged his hearers to exploit the special relationship between the two countries not only to get money out of the U.S. and into the U.K., but also to help American companies get their hands on the intellectual capital concentrated here. "I get very frustrated when people express the bilateral relationship only in geopolitical terms," he said. "There is a huge preponderance of activity that is commercial and intellectual."
Europeans on the tour expressed frustration with the attitude of their continent's financial community toward high-overhead, low-revenue startups.
"There is a fear of risk taking," said Danny Chapchal, chief executive of Cambridge Display Technologies. "There is lots of capital but no venture."