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34: Investing in early-stage science companies | Lucius Cary of Oxford Technology

21 Sep 2021 / Podcast Tax Enhanced

Lucius Cary first raised money for a small restaurant chain in the late 1970s. The difficulties of doing that inspired him to start a newsletter connecting start-ups and investors. Four decades later, he is on the seventh iteration of his fund.

We start with Lucius’s own story. He tells us how he found his first investors in an environment with no infrastructure at all. He tells us how this inspired him to help others with the same problems, and how that business led into fund management.

Oxford Technology still invests in very early stage-science companies, often investing before there is even a product. We talk about how he assesses such companies and how he paces investment to help manage the risk of being too early. We also talk about his ‘one-hour drive rule’. As an investor in over 150 companies, Lucius brings a wealth of examples, both of companies and his unique way of working.

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Lucius Cary is the Founder and Managing Director of Oxford Technology.

After an engineering apprenticeship at the Atomic Energy Research Establishment, followed by a degree in Engineering and Economics at Oxford, Lucius did an MBA at Harvard Business School. After a first short disastrous job, he decided to start his own business and experienced at first hand the difficulties of raising capital. Having been turned down by the few VCs who existed at the time (1972) he eventually raised money from people who today would be called business angels by means of a small (expensive) ad in the FT. By 1978 the business employed 50 people and was profitable and growing well.

To try to help entrepreneurs to raise capital more easily, he then started a second business, Venture Capital Report, a monthly magazine which wrote about entrepreneurs seeking capital and sold to investors. This ran for 25 years and was the forerunner of the business angel groups and crowdfunding platforms which exist today. By 1983, it had become clear that while ordinary businesses could raise capital through VCR, scientists could not – most investors don’t understand science.

So, in 1983 he started a third business – a fund which would invest small sums in start-ups to get them going. He has done this ever since and his business, Oxford Technology, is currently investing fund No 12. So, Lucius has been on all sides of the capital raising process – at first experiencing at first hand just how hard it is to raise capital to get started, then through VCT as an intermediary, helping entrepreneurs to raise capital and, since 1983, as an investor.

Website: www.oxfordtechnology.com