Cambridge: City of Innovation - Protecting the future as the GreenTech market booms

Thought Leadership published by Marks & Clerk, under Clean Tech, Energy applications, Innovation / Incubation, Start ups, Sustainability

As the GreenTech market gears up for remarkable growth, technology hubs globally have a chance to seize the moment and influence the future. Esther Ford, Partner at Marks & Clerk, notes that in this dynamic landscape Cambridge has already established itself as a formidable technical powerhouse.

With the GreenTech market set to evolve at an extraordinary rate, technology hubs around the world have an opportunity to rise to the occasion and shape the future. In this context, Cambridge is already known as a technical powerhouse. It is also able to attract international finance to tap an unprecedented growth opportunity: according to a recent report by Forrester (1), the annual “green market revolution spend” will rise to US$8.1 trillion by 2030, equivalent to 5.8% of global GDP. This makes GreenTech - including Sustainability - one of the biggest growth sectors globally, and an opportunity to use the unique experiences and talents of the Cambridge community. By creating new ideas for sustainability across all disciplines, including the traditional and computer sciences, engineering and technology - and just as importantly bringing them to commercial reality - Cambridge can bring about rapid change to positively impact our world.

An Opportunity for Cambridge

GreenTech is appropriately described as a ‘vertical sector’, poised to bring a fundamental shift across the global economy. New science and tech IP will transform the way products, resources and services are designed, used and delivered. This is not least because GreenTech is a direct response to far-reaching and diverse changes in regulation, and in both industry and consumer behaviour - all of which are brought about by the perfect storm of the energy crisis and indisputable evidence of climate change. 

Moreover, these changes are paving the way for the adoption of new technologies and resultant gains - by both technical innovators and financiers - including through acquisitions and mergers. This means that now is an ideal time for Cambridge innovators to start a GreenTech company, or to transform an existing tech company to embrace new opportunities in Sustainability.

As an example of the extent of regulation shift, on April 17, 2023, the EU published commission regulation 2023/826, which will become mandatory for businesses to comply with on May 9, 2025. This regulation impacts electrical equipment operating in standby, and considerably limits their power consumption when in ‘off mode’. Targets like this require the rapid adoption of new technologies, and we are already seeing a number of potential ‘unicorns’ in the Cambridge area rising to the challenge, including for example Pulsiv and Cambridge GaN Devices.

On the other hand, customer behaviours and needs – whether the customers are consumers or businesses - are also changing rapidly, driven by both individual experience of climate change and the cost of energy: the mantra of “buy less, use less but do more” is winning with a clear shift to products that cost less to operate and purchase. For example, being 70% more efficient than a standard oven and certainly using a lot less material, the humble air fryer - despite a general drop in consumer spending of 10% - has been growing at a rate of 7% (CAGR). 

These two factors of regulation and customer behaviour are compelling, and thus accelerating a change in funding channels for both start-up and mature businesses. Traditionally the preserve of Angels, Venture Capital or Private Equity, we are beginning to see the arrival of additional finance sources for technology. This is perhaps not surprising, given that the U.S. Inflation Reduction Act directed $400 billion to clean energy, also incentivizing Europe and Canada for example to invest similarly.

However, and as discussed at this year’s Innovation Zero conference in London, there are currently just not enough projects or fundamental technologies to address the need. This is where Cambridge can help, and can win ‘big’.

Continuing Cambridge’s >800-years of scientific innovation, we are now seeing fundamental developments and associated commercial successes in fields such as batteries (eg Nyobolt or Echion), energy conversion (eg Pulsiv) and electric motors (eg Monumo). Many companies are also harnessing ‘for good’ technologies that are not necessarily recognised as ‘green’: witness, for example, the use by Monumo of DeepTech, including AI, to redesign the electric motor almost from first principles. It is also notable that Cambridge companies are responding to the sustainability opportunity in all disciplines. For example Xampla - based on Cambridge Science Park - is using plant proteins to develop natural and biodegradable materials that replace polluting plastics. And within the wider East Anglia region, there is impressive biotech talent in the Norwich science community, including Colorifix who were listed for the Earthshot prize. Colorifix use colours created by natural organisms, or ‘beasties’, to make dyes that are sustainable in comparison to traditional chemical technology. 

Greentech innovations also appear in various ‘guises’. For example, Radiant Matter was founded by Elissa Brunato, a member of the Women in Sustainability Innovation cohort at the University of Cambridge. She is transforming fashion by making biodegradable sequins that don’t need metal pigments; apparently popular with Stella McCartney and Cara Delevingne amongst others. Even glamour is going green!

So, while the challenge is great, so is the opportunity. Using an expression coined by Xampla, Greentech is: “Good for business and the planet”. This is a great reason to create a start-up, or transform an existing tech company now, to further build out the sustainability ecosystem in Cambridge. 

Support for GreenTech Innovation

Governments all around the world are committed to Net Zero obligations, in line with the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). In fact, the UK government was the first major economy to commit to a legal obligation to reach Net Zero by 2050, and subsequently published its Ten Point Plan for a ‘Green Industrial Revolution’. The plan focussed on technologies such as: offshore wind, green hydrogen, nuclear power, zero emission transportation, and greener buildings. Correspondingly, government bodies are working to ‘oil’ (in a plant-based way!) their mechanisms for supporting innovation in these fields. 

For example, the UK Intellectual Property Office (UKIPO) is actively looking at how to support innovators, entrepreneurs, SMEs and larger businesses, and universities, in fields such as offshore wind, EVs, and Carbon capture and storage. This is a key priority for the UKIPO and includes a review of the existing ‘Green Channel’ patent acceleration process. Notably, the Green Channel aims to reduce the timescale for grant of a patent application to just 9 months, if an environmental benefit is identified by the applicant. This allows inventors and entrepreneurs to gain the confidence of investors early on, based on a granted GB patent, even while longer time scales for intellectual property protection globally, eg through US and Unitary European patents, may still apply. The UKIPO also provides a publicly searchable database of Green Channel applications, for those seeking cutting-edge solutions to environmental issues. According to the UKIPO, usage of the Green Channel has increased sharply since 2017.

Similarly, and on an international level, the World Intellectual Property Office (WIPO) has created ‘WIPO GREEN’ (2), which is an online platform to enable technology exchange and partnerships. The platform allows users to upload their GreenTech solutions to a “Marketplace for Sustainable Technology”, and thus aims to accelerate the distribution and adoption of new GreenTech solutions worldwide.

These UKIPO and WIPO programmes, and the wider innovation eco-system, are clearly making a real difference. UKIPO analysis of international patent families has shown that patenting in the fields identified by the UK’s Ten Point Plan has grown significantly since 2001, and in particular since 2010 has remained exceptionally high compared to the base line of patenting across all technologies. The highest growth was reportedly in Wind Power, followed by Greener Buildings. The UKIPO also detected a high degree of specialism in UK innovation, in relation to in offshore wind, nuclear power and greener buildings. In this regard, we do note that none of the top ten ‘green specialists’ in the UK as identified by the UKIPO are as yet based in the Cambridge area. Encouragingly however, and again based on UKIPO analysis, companies in our area, eg Johnson Matthey, are already top users of the UKIPO’s Green Channel.

Alongside government organisations, support for GreenTech within Cambridge’s scientific and technical community is being galvanised through by local networking organisations. For example, Cambridge Wireless’ special interest group for Sustainability brings together researchers, starts-ups and global corporations that are active in Cambridge, to exchange best commercial practices for sustainability. The group is championed by specialists from product companies including Beko, Flex and Vodafone, as well as from Marks & Clerk. Similarly, the Technology Transfer Offices of Cambridge, Oxford, Imperial and UCL Universities recently joined forces in an inaugural “IP4U” tech fair focussed on Sustainability, to facilitate fast-track partnerships with investors for commercialising university research.  Additionally, IP4U introduced MATcelerate ZERO – the brain child of Dr. Gillian Davis of Cambridge Enterprise – which is expected to reduce lab-to-market timescales for sustainable materials down to ~7years instead of 20 years. Encouragingly, the MATcelerate ZERO programme is based on proven accelerator models in the pharmaceuticals industry - so we can realistically ‘watch this space’. Further relating to materials science, we can already see ‘concrete’ spin-outs from the University of Cambridge, such as MimiCrete that is developing self-healing concrete substitutes.

Marks & Clerk is committed to supporting these promising initiatives to harness the extraordinary experience and talent of the Cambridge area, to provide us all with sustainable (and happy!) futures. In particular, we have published the hugely successful and first-of-kind e-book “The IP Driven Start-Up” (3), authored by our partner Dr. Robert Lind and based on his wealth of experience in protecting disruptive technologies. In addition, specialists in our Energy & Environment Group can provide IP strategy advice to support you, including by evaluating your IP, where appropriate obtaining retrospective acceleration at the UKIPO for any existing patent applications, and providing access to acceleration channels around the world, eg at the IP offices of the US, China, Korea and Japan. Together, we can identify the best IP strategy for achieving a more compelling investment case for your GreenTech innovation.


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