Britain's new silicon valley

Oxford now rivals Cambridge for new technology
OXFORDSHIRE - WITH Oxford University to the fore - is emerging as one of Britain's fastest-growing high-technology regions, according to research from academics at Cambridge and Coventry Universities.

The study shows that Oxfordshire has about 26,400 people employed in 730 hi-tech companies. This compares with 30,000 employees in 1,000 businesses in Cambridgeshire, often regarded as Britain's answer to Silicon Valley in California.

The findings come as Isis Innovation, the university's technology transfer company, launches its latest spin-off, MicroGenics. This company - the third to be spun out of the university since March 1998 - will develop screens for antibiotics to deal with the problem of resistance in infections.

As well as launching companies like MicroGenics and its predecessors, Oxford Asymmetry, Oxford Biosciences (now PowderJect Pharmaceuticals), Oxford Biomedica and Oxford Molecular, Isis Innovation has helped scientists to protect their intellectual property rights and assess their potential for commercial development.

The establishment of the Oxford Science Park three years later attracted to the city the research laboratories of such companies as Sharp and Yamanouchi and the US chemicals company Dow Elanco.

Isis Innovation has also recently launched a programme to maximise the commercial potential of Oxford science. The university will provide an annual grant of pounds 300,000 for five years to cover the expected cost of patents and a development fund of pounds 1m.

Meanwhile, research by Professional Personnel Consultants shows that pay is continuing to rise well above the norm. Hardware and software engineers have seen rises of nearly 7 per cent per annum, information technology specialists by about 10 per cent. Peter Moon, managing director of Professional Personnel, said: "Even with a significant cooling of the economy, it is probable that the present demands will continue well beyond the year 2000."