Luck, clear vision and sheer hard work lead to success

When starting a new business, having a little luck may be as important as coming up with good ideas and finding the right people.

The founders of both Abcam and Ubisense – successful Cambridge companies that started small and have grown to conquer international markets – acknowledged an element of luck when describing their early days to Cambridge Network members last night (Weds).

The Open Meeting, held in Clare College’s new Gillespie Centre, heard Jonathan Milner, founder and group CEO of Abcam, and Paul Webster, founder and director of hardware at Ubisense, talk about their respective companies’ paths to success, despite some difficult times along the way.

Jonathan said there was ‘a bit of luck and serendipity’ involved in 1998 when he met Dr David Cleevely – the man who has helped to finance and support his business and who has also acted as Jonathan’s business mentor.

For Paul and his fellow Ubisense founders, the luck came through being in Cambridge and among its entrepreneurial networking community. Being here led to a valuable ‘internship’ with a local venture capital company, and also to a chance meeting with Cambridge Consultants, who helped to ‘derisk’ their technology.

Alongside luck, clear vision and focus as well as sheer hard work had helped both organisations to succeed.

Abcam had grown from ‘three people crammed into a room that had been the morgue attached to Addenbrooke’s’ to what it is today – an AIM-listed, 150-people strong business with state of the art facilities all over the world and revenues of around £50 million.

From its first prototype in 2003, Ubisense had built its business at a phenomenal rate – ranking number two in the 2008 Deloitte Technology Fast 50. Rankings are based on average percentage revenue growth over five years: Ubisense grew 15324 per cent during this period. The company now employs over 80 people in Cambridge and around the world.

Both speakers felt that their companies had overcome obstacles because they did not fit a conventional mould and – although this meant they did not attract VC funding, relying instead on business angels – it also meant they were less restricted and thus able to develop profitable new models.

Success in the end came down to committed and hard-working people, making good decisions based on good information.

The meeting was kindly sponsored by McTear Williams & Wood and chaired by one of its founders, Andrew McTear.

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