University of Cambridge green startups leading the way

Over 750,000 startups were registered in the UK between March 2021 and March 2022. Although that’s a 7% drop from the previous year, it was the second-highest on record. In simple terms? More than one company was created per minute in the last two tax years.

The impact of the startup market cannot be underestimated. Small business has a critical role to play in helping the UK achieve its climate commitments. And they can’t do it on their own.

Many startups dissolve in just the first year, faced with obstacles like a lack of capital resources, poor product-market fit, competition or inadequate skills to grow the business.

But another big challenge is how to become sustainable – namely through creating a clear path to net zero. There is so much to consider and it can often be daunting for startup founders. Every element of a product/service must be considered, from packaging and ingredients, to the energy use in your offices or which suppliers to partner with.

Startups often feel they have fewer resources and are laser-focused on staying afloat. So where and how does sustainability get factored in?

At the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL) we’ve launched a business innovation hub called The Canopy, to help startups on their path to net zero. 

Our very first startup was electromagnetic engineering company, Monumo, who are setting out to reinvent the electric motor, an increasingly vital technology in today’s world. 

Perpendicular Architecture, the brainchild of Patrick Usborne and Aelene Thorne, aims to tackle the climate emergency and biodiversity loss through the built environment. Then there is New Allotment, co-founded by journalist Greg Cochrane, which is an audio production company focused on telling climate stories and the way they intersect with popular culture.

Rural Voices was founded by Miguel Zamora. Miguel amplifies farmers’ voices so we can build more resilient supply chains for products we take for granted, like coffee. Advanced Infrastructure, founded by Christopher Jackson and Lily Cairns Haylor, is a data science and software startup who want to make it easier for local authority planners and network operators to plan a net zero transition. The list goes on…

Startups at The Canopy get access to knowledge, skills and mentoring – and we connect them with some of our most ambitious investors who can take them on as their first clients. 

We also offer a series of accelerator and incubator programmes for startups at every stage of their journey, such as Sustainability Essentials for your SME/ Startup and Launching your sustainability product.

It’s a collaborative community open to entrepreneurs creating green solutions, as well as those wanting to integrate sustainability into the core of their business operations.

All are based in our ‘deep green’ HQ in central Cambridge, the Entopia building - an energy-efficient, sustainable retrofit. What used to be a 1930s telephone exchange is now a world-leading example of green architecture, aiming for BREEAM certification (Outstanding), the Passivhauss 'EnerPHit' standard and WELL (Gold) certification. 

After the most recent IPCC report came out this year, it’s clear we need a huge societal transition to reach net zero. The report highlighted that emissions must peak by 2025 to limit global warming to 1.5oC above pre-industrial levels. But action by leading businesses alone will not deliver the full transformation needed - we need to work with all kinds of enterprises, both big and small. 

The opportunities are endless for these cutting-edge startups - they are the future. But they are also part of a business and market ecosystem that needs nurturing and support to flourish.