Silicon Fen

From Academic Kids

Silicon Fen is the name given to the region around Cambridge, England, which is home to a large number of high-tech businesses. Many of these have connections with Cambridge University, and the area is now one of the most important technology centres in Europe. It is called "Silicon Fen" by analogy with Silicon Valley in California, and because of the large area of drained fenland to the north of Cambridge. The name is also a deliberate rhyme with "Silicon Glen", a pre-existing high-tech enclave in Scotland.

The so-called Cambridge phenomenon giving rise to start-up companies, in a town previously only having a little light industry in the electrical sector, is usually dated to the founding of the Cambridge Science Park in 1970. This was an initiative of Trinity College, Cambridge; and moved away from a traditional low-development policy for Cambridge.

The characteristic of Cambridge is small companies (as few as three people, in some cases), in sectors such as CAD. Over time the number of companies has grown; it has not proved easy to count them, but as of 2004 there are supposed to be about 3500. They are spread over an area defined perhaps by the CB postcode (which is sought after), or more generously in an area bounded by Ely-Newmarket-Saffron Walden-Royston-St. Neots-Huntingdon.

Only a tiny proportion of these companies have grown into multinationals: ARM is the most obvious example. The region does have one of the most flexible job markets in the technology sector, meaning that the same people are often retained in the Cambridge area after a start-up fails, in other companies. One explanation for the area's success is that after a while such an employment market is self-sustaining, since employees are willing to move to an area that promises a future beyond any one company.

The spread of technologies now includes biotechnology in a broad sense and bioinformatics, as well as mobile phones, on top of more traditional software development.

See also: Hermann Hauser, Andy Hopper, Acorn Computers Ltd, Sinclair Research Ltd.


  • The Cambridge Phenomenon: The Growth of High Technology Industry in a University Town, Segal Quince & Partners 1985, ISBN 095102020X

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