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Cambridge Design Partnership growing so fast it has 87 vacancies

Cambridge Design Partnership’s technology and design services are much in demand – so much so that the Toft-based company has invited applications for 87 new roles across its UK home and a facility in Raleigh, North Carolina.

The QuantuMDx Q-POC desktop analyser, which CDP helped develop. Picture: Keith Heppell
The QuantuMDx Q-POC desktop analyser, which CDP helped develop. Picture: Keith Heppell

The Raleigh facility sits neatly into an innovation hub, explains Mike Beadman and Matt Schumann, founding partners with Mike Cane (now semi-retired) during a Zoom call.

“We were in California for a bit, because we had a client out there,” says Mike of CDP’s US presence, which began in 2011 with the opening of a Palo Alto office. But North Carolina is preferable.

“It’s a tech triangle, and a research triangle, and we’ve placed ourselves right in there.”

“We chose North Carolina because we have some good customers there, and it has three good universities,” adds Matt. “It’s a new growth area for pharma and medical and medtech. It’s been two years we’ve been in North Carolina now.”

Most of the new roles are for Toft.

“Around 10 to 20 per cent are for Raleigh,” confirms Matt. “The majority are for the UK – the US office has the same sort of growth rate as the UK, but the UK site is much bigger. There’s 220 people here.”

Having moved to Toft following its Cambridge inception in 1996, CDP will move in 2022 into Bourn Quarter Business Park on Bourn Airfield area – a facility inspired by a high-tech campus in Eindhoven.

“We’ve been in Bourn effectively 25 years,” says Mike, “it’s been continuously expanding and sometimes it feels like we’re taking over Toft, perhaps they want their village back! We had 130 people on the site a year ago, now everyone is working from home and I’m thankful for that, as it was very packed in with 130. We wouldn’t be able to fit everyone in, so we’ve signed up for two buildings at Bourn.”

“It’s a quarter of the north-east airfield,” adds Matt.

“It’s similar to Toft in that it’s the same distance to Cambridge,” notes Mike. “We have a lot of cyclists, so we didn’t want to get any further out. It’ll be part of a Countryside Properties development with 3,500 homes so it’ll be a nice place to be in three years.”

The breaking ground ceremony for Bourn’s new business park was May 4.

“It’s a really exciting opportunity for us,” says Mike. “We’ll be up to 86,000sq ft whereas today we have probably 26,000sq ft, so it’s a lot.”

Founders Mike Beadman, left, and Matt Schumann of Cambridge Design Partnership. Picture: Keith Heppell
Founders Mike Beadman, left, and Matt Schumann of Cambridge Design Partnership. Picture: Keith Heppell

And it sounds like CDP is taking on 90 people every year.

“We did recruit around 90 people last year,” Mike says, “but this year it’s better planned.”

For sure, 2020 was havoc, but CDP was one of those companies best placed to cope with lockdown.

“It’s quite incredible how we’ve survived and had the best year we’ve ever had and everyone is working remotely,” Mike remarks. “We have 30 or 40 people on site, that’s increasing now as working from home can be, let’s face it, a bit lonely, but for us it’s been a great eye-opener.”

Matt adds: “We’ve been assessing what a flexible working policy might look like but I don’t think everyone will go back to a five-day, 100 per cent-at-work week. The positives are that people can communicate by Zoom, the downside is that people aren’t having the same type of conversations. We’re designing and making electro-mechanical devices used by people so we need to be very hands-on. Some roles need to be 100 per cent on-site all the time – for instance, we’re testing five days a week.”

Mike comments: “It’s an advantage from clients’ perspective on the West Coast or in Japan. We service businesses across the world and people’s lives need to work well. We want to be the most flexible we can.”

One of the reasons for the team rising to the occasion in a crisis may be that CDP became a fully employee-owned company in 2018, adds Mike.

An illustrative GGI depicting Bourn Quarter business park, CDP’s future home. Picture: Michael Sparks Associates
An illustrative GGI depicting Bourn Quarter business park, CDP’s future home. Picture: Michael Sparks Associates

“The employees own the whole of the company, so they are responsible for the company’s success, directly.

“We’re very careful to keep communication within the company working well, so we have two meetings a week – an all-company meeting includes a report of financial performance, new products, areas of interest… new joiners do a little presentation. We have a well-structured learning programme in and outside the company.”

Roles involved include lab technicians, industrial design, market research, software engineers, human factors including medical developments, to project leaders, and consultants. An average project “in normal circumstances” takes two years (eg a healthcare device) and nine months for a consumer project.

The business model is simple – the client retains the IP. It’s in the nature of CDP’s business model that where a product is developed, the client takes the credit – there may be no mention or acknowledgement of CDP’s contribution.

Matt says: “We have clients from global multi-nationals to start-up companies. Proposals often involve lots of ground-breaking or disruptive ideas where expectations are high.”

For CDP, the challenge now is recruiting – the Cambridge market is hotter than the Premier League the week before transfer deadline day.

“Yes, we have talent scouting, we use online tools and work with a lot of agencies,” says Mike. “Cambridge doesn’t have an unemployment problem so recruiting in Cambridge is the biggest challenge of the lot, but we’re 100 per cent employee-owned, plus there’s a lot of excitement to the business and the perks include good coffee for free – our meal service has continued throughout lockdown except for the first month last year.”

CDP doubled its turnover in the period ending March 31, 2021 from the previous year’s £18m.

“Our success was down to winning more work from clients across the consumer, industrial and healthcare sectors,” concludes Mike. “For example, over the last year we developed technology to track threats to wildlife, premium skincare packaging, a radical new approach to solar energy capture and an innovative robotic surgery system.”

CDP: where the magic coffee beans go.

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