Stunning story of growth on Cambridge Science Park
CSR founder Phil O'Donovan on scaling up in Silicon Fen
Cambridge Science Park has been nurturing and supporting businesses for decades: for many entrepreneurs the key milestones of their careers have taken place on the site.
Phil O’Donovan is one of them: as one of the founders of CSR, the start-up’s growth trajectory took him all around the Park as the firm grew into a FTSE 250 listed company. Today he is a Cambridge-based angel investor in technology start-ups and an advisor and speaker to universities on entrepreneurialism and the commercialisation of their IP.
“I originally ran the Telecoms Practice at Cambridge Consultants on the Park,” he says of his adventure. “CSR started in 1998 and we spun-out of Cambridge Consultants in April 1999: I was one of the nine founders of Cambridge Silicon Radio and then, after two years, we were able to purchase the domain name csr.com. We floated in April 2004 and became a FTSE 250 company in July 2004, our annual revenues reached $1billion and Qualcomm in the US made an offer for the company in 2014 which was inked in 2015.”
The Qualcomm deal was worth $2.4billion and Phil gradually detached himself from the company following the floatation, and finally left CSR in 2008.
“We grew from nine people on the Science Park to more than 2,000 people world-wide with 1,000 in the UK. We did that by recruiting madly and by acquiring smaller companies. The Science Park provided flexibility and we were easily able to grab extra space as we needed it,” he says. “We wended our way across the Park, moving from building to building as we needed extra space.” Phil studies the map in the picture, tracing the exhilarating journey of the CSR juggernaut.
“I’d started at Cambridge Consultants which was based at 29/3, moved into 28, then moved into 31-35, then into 400, that was the biggest building we had on the Park.
“Everything happened on the Park, other than the companies we acquired which were based abroad, or elsewhere in the UK. The Park has flexible accommodation and pleasant vistas as well as lakes and greenery. We could take a walk if we were getting a bit het up, or go and eat sandwiches on the grass plus there was Amanda Staveley who ran the Quorum from 1998 to 2000 – today it’s the Trinity Centre.
“Unit 400, that was 33,000 sq ft, then after that we moved down the road to the Cambridge Business Park, where Qualcomm is now. We selected the Churchill building and moved across in 2003.
“There was no better place for us to live and grow, and we were helped along the way by David Lupson and his team at Bidwells – the managing agents for Trinity College, which owns the Science Park.”
Eventually, however, they had to leave. The Park had more than done its work: CSR’s space requirements meant it needed to relocate.
“Our firm plan from the outset was to become the Bluetooth market leader,” says Phil.
In 2003, CSR had 500 qualified Bluetooth design wins which was 10 times more than our nearest competitor. These design wins were enabled by CSR co-founder Glenn Collinson who as, marketing director, master-minded CSR’s penetration of the Bluetooth marketplace.
“The main thing that we did under the direction of CSR co-founder and chief technology officer, James Collier, was to develop the world’s first single-chip silicon radio using complementary metal oxide semiconductor (CMOS) technology. The product won the MacRobert Gold Medal, a solid gold medal given by the Royal Academy of Engineering for commercial engineering excellence, in 2005.”
Phil is still delighted with the fabless semiconductor company’s achievements which made CSR one of the UK’s biggest success stories of the past decade. He also argues that fabless manufacturing – outsourcing the manufacturing of silicon wafers to a separate plant or foundry – provides opportunities for other Cambridge companies.
More recently, Phil can be found at the Bradfield Centre where Cambridge Angels has an office.
“Emmi, our ‘deal wizard’, is based here so we have regular Wednesday company pitchings from emerging companies wishing to raise their first round of finance.
“Cambridge Angels is a club of like-minded members whose current chairman is Peter Cowley, who is also president of the European Business Angel Network. It’s collegiate.
“I spend 50 per cent of my time on angel business with the Cambridge Angels and other groups, hearing pitches, coaching and mentoring companies, and the remainder of my working time I devote to speaking at various UK universities.
“Each angel has expertise… I’m looking for companies focused on chips, comms, batteries, software – mostly ‘hard’ technology. Vehicles for this technology include robots, drones and other animated systems. I and most angels like high-risk, high-reward companies.
“The Bradfield Centre opened last July and Cambridge Angels has had space since. It’s all about creating a hub here. The Centre offers something that didn’t exist before, which is targeted at supporting emerging groups of people who wish to become businesses; the Centre brings people together to listen and learn. People will congregate here and start doing things together, some of which may become the CSR’s of tomorrow.
“In this way, the Bradfield Centre provides a clear and convenient focus. The message is: CSR started here and became a world-class company and you can do it too.”