Six world-changing ideas in 90 seconds

Cambridge Enterprise (CE), the commercialisation arm of the University of Cambridge, has launched a film that showcases some of the world-changing ideas it has supported in the journey to market – from a drug with the potential to save millions of lives to a flower seed mix that helps bees.

CE played a crucial role in all steps of the development of ichorcumab – from patenting to licensing to the final negotiation to get this taken over by a big pharma. They played a critical role throughout and we couldn’t have done it without them

Jim Huntington

The film, a distinctive take on innovation, employs a custom-built chain-reaction device, taking viewers beyond the licences, patents and investment that are central to CE, by illustrating the impact of commercialising University research.

“I have a drawer full of promotional videos from other companies that I’ll never watch because they all mirror the same ‘talking head’ format,” said Cambridge Enterprise CEO Tony Raven. “We wanted something that would grab people’s attention and get them telling our story, something outside the box.”

Thus was born CE’s take on the classic ‘Rube Goldberg’ machine, which was named after the American inventor and cartoonist. His illustrations depicted deliberately complex inventions performing simple tasks, usually as a chain reaction.

Using models, pyrotechnics and one very patient University Professor, Cambridge Enterprise’s video illustrates some of the work the company has supported commercially: the anti-thrombin drug ichorcumab, which has the potential to save millions of lives, a revolutionary suspension technology used in Formula 1 racing, a programme to prevent ideological extremism and intergroup conflict, a flower seed mix that is helping the UK’s bee population survive and flourish, software that creates unique music at the touch of a button, and a breakthrough in DNA sequencing technology.

CE played a crucial role in all steps of the development of ichorcumab – from patenting to licensing to the final negotiation to get this taken over by a big pharma,” said University of Cambridge Professor Jim Huntington, Cambridge Institute for Medical Research, who appears in the opening frames of the film. “They played a critical role throughout and we couldn’t have done it without them.”

It took three weeks to build the machine. And on the day of the shoot, it took a team of 15 from Greenwich-based Contra to capture the continuous, unedited final take.  Things went right. Things went wrong (you can watch the ‘making of’ film here). Just resetting the machine after every failed take took half an hour (sweeping up flower seeds and sand, and rigging sparklers among other tasks).

“We felt a Rube Goldberg machine would be the perfect approach for Cambridge Enterprise,” said Contra Agency Director David Hayes. “We couldn’t be happier with the end result.”