Open for business

Over the past ten years a significant number of companies have been formed in and around Cambridge that share similar founding characteristics: strong links with the academic community, marketable science and technology and real entrepreneurial spirit. The emergence of these organisations led many to talk about the “Cambridge Phenomenon”. If such a phenomenon exists, Abcam was, and remains, one of its leading players.

In 1998 principal founder Dr Jonathan Milner was working as a post-doctoral research scientist at the University of Cambridge. But his work into the newly discovered breast cancer protein BRCA2 was seriously hindered due to a lack of good quality antibody reagents. Jonathan, along with other researchers, hit upon the idea for a company that would supply antibodies using the internet as a point of sale (the name Abcam is derived from Antibody {Ab} and Cambridge {cam}).

Soon after, Jonathan met with Cambridge telecoms entrepreneur Dr David Cleevely. David was sufficiently impressed with the idea to join with Jonathan and provide business expertise and capital to the fledgling company. By the summer of 1998 Jonathan was convinced at the viability of the business idea and the market potential for antibodies. He therefore decided to leave academia and concentrate on building the new company full time.

From the outset Abcam was clear about its market proposition: it would sell the best antibodies in the world with the most comprehensive, honest and up-to-date datasheets, coupled to fast delivery and exemplary customer service and technical support. These guiding principles are as valid today as they were then and have helped steer the company from a one-man start up to an international market leader in little over seven years.