14 Exciting Local Oxford Companies Started By the University’s Graduates

Image shows the High Street in Oxford, looking towards the city centre.

Have you ever wondered what Oxford graduates get up to after they leave university?

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Many of them never leave the city. As a hotbed of bright young talent, it’s no surprise that Oxford is teaming with exciting start-up companies founded by the University’s highly driven graduates and academics. In this article, we look at some of these cutting-edge companies and hopefully inspire you as you start your journey towards becoming an undergraduate. Who knows, perhaps you’ll even set up a company of your own one day.

1. NaturalMotion

NaturalMotion is a cutting-edge games and technology company founded by an Oxford University biology graduate. It was started in Oxford and is still based here, but it’s been so successful that it now also has offices Brighton, London and San Francisco; its Oxford office serves as its headquarters and is situated on St Ebbe’s Street, right in the city centre. NaturalMotion has developed some genuinely innovative animation techniques, and it’s leading the way in next-generation mobile games and animation technology. The founder’s own words give you a sense of the dynamism that characterises this successful start-up: “Our goal is to wow people with creativity and technology. We like making stuff that seems impossible. The thrill of achieving this together in a team – and seeing the result played by millions – creates an incredibly powerful sense of purpose.” It’s clear that the founder’s creative vision has been a major factor in the company’s success, and it just goes to show that if you want to start a business, it doesn’t have to be related to what you studied at university!

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2. Prizeo

Image shows the members of the boyband JLS.
The boyband JLS worked with Prizeo.

The founders of Prizeo met when they were at Oxford, where they co-founded the social philanthropy society that would give them the idea for the venture they would later embark on together. Prizeo is designed to utilise the fundraising potential of celebrities’ social media influence. It works by partnering with celebrities, who ask their fans to donate to their chosen charity in return for the possibility of winning a prize from them (also of their choosing). Despite only launching last year, they’ve already worked with the likes of Jamie Oliver, JLS and Stephen Fry, and they’ve secured funding from high-profile angel investors including the former CEO of Warner Music Group. With some celebrity Twitter accounts gaining millions of followers, and fans eager to do whatever their idols tell them, it’s easy to see the huge fundraising potential of a platform like Prizeo.

3. Oxford BioLabs

Based on the Oxford Science Park, but also running offices in Germany and Ukraine, Oxford BioLabs was founded by University of Oxford scientists and describes its mission as being “to develop novel health and beauty therapies to help people stay young and fit longer and to extend their quality of life”. They specialise in three areas: hair loss, specifically Androgenetic Alopecia; hair pigmentation, and the delaying of the process of hair turning grey with age; and “Rejuvenation”: looking at natural anti-ageing methods, keeping people fitter for longer, boosting brain power in older age and preventing dementia and other debilitating age-related diseases. Oxford BioLabs developed TRX2, a leading hair loss treatment that was released onto the market in 2011. Oxford BioLabs is just one of many Oxford-based companies at the forefront of medical research.

4. GroupSpaces

Image shows three people scuba diving.
GroupSpaces helps people with shared hobbies organise societies.

Though the online venture GroupSpaces is now based in London, its founders conceived the idea in 2007 whilst they were at Oxford, as they were running societies of their own and were frustrated by the lack of options they had for organising their groups. They created a free group website that allowed clubs, societies and other groups to operate smoothly, giving them functions including a database for members, a mailing list allowing them to communicate with their members, and the means to promote events. It’s now used in over 90 countries and has attracted over 70 blue-chip advertisers. What’s more, just a year after it was founded, it secured six-figure investment, which has since been followed up by other investment, including $1.3 million from Index Vultures’ seed fund and leading Silicon Valley angel investors.

5. Holiday Lettings Ltd

Founded by a graduate of Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford, holiday home advertising company Holiday Lettings has been going since 1999 and has seen phenomenal growth since then thanks to the boom in self-catered holidays. What started as a simple idea – selling advertising space allowing private holiday home owners to rent directly to holidaymakers – turned into a website so successful that two-thirds of the company was acquired some years later by property giant Rightmove, and it is now wholly owned by the travel review site TripAdvisor. Advertising in excess of 220,000 holiday homes in over 150 countries, the company is now based on the Oxford Science Park, having previously been located in Summertown and Cowley.

6. Trade Chase

Image shows a man in a stock exchange, with money falling all around him.
Trade Chase allows people to play at being stock traders.

Those with an interest in the stock market (or who have their eye on a career as a stock trader) will love this next Oxford-based company; Trade Chase comes from the brain of another bright young Oxford graduate and it’s a fantasy online stock trading game. It’s free to play, and players don’t win real money, but they can boost their virtual earnings by purchasing in-game cash with real money (which is how the company earns its keep). Players move up through many levels as they increase their virtual earnings, but the innovative thing about the game is that it’s based on real-world prices and real companies, and it operates in real time.

7. YASA Motors

They’re electric cars, but not as you know them. The founder of YASA Motors was studying for his DPhil at Oxford University when the inspiration struck him for a unique motor technology that would pioneer lightweight electric motors. In 2009 YASA Motors was formed, and its work has far-reaching benefits. YASA Motors has transformed previous heavy electric motors and developed motors that are small enough and light enough to be used in high-speed racing, but also in everyday vehicles such as cars, boats and planes. As well as developing a Formula 1-speed electric car – the Lola-Drayson B12/69EV, which can reach speeds of up to 320km per hour – the company’s work also has implications for the future of energy-efficient cars that meet the strict global emissions targets. The company has its headquarters in Abingdon, near Oxford.

8. Oxford Ancestors

Image shows a cave painting.
Oxford Ancestors allows people to trace their distant ancestry as well as researching more recent ancestors.

Those with an interest in tracing their family tree will be intrigued by the premise of Oxford Ancestors. It’s a genealogy company that uses DNA to track ancestry and surname links, and it was founded by Professor Bryan Sykes, the chap who discovered how to extract DNA from ancient human bones. His research into mitochondrial DNA found that virtually all Europeans are descended from just seven women, who lived sometime between 45,000 and 10,000 years ago. Sykes and his team have now harnessed this knowledge for commercial gain, offering a range of products aimed at those who want to learn more about their family’s history. They can establish whether or not two families with the same surname are related or not, and they can even find out which of those seven women you’re descended from (if you feel a compelling need to find out that kind of thing).

9. Rebellion

The founder of games developer Rebellion studied zoology at St John’s College, Oxford, but later abandoned his PhD in wildlife conservation. However, two years after doing so, he and his brother (who studied chemistry at Wadham College, Oxford) founded Rebellion, which would grow to 200 staff, with revenues expected to hit £15 million this year. They’re developing mobile, PC and online games from their offices in Oxford’s Osney Mead, with some of their most popular games being Sniper Elite, Aliens vs. Predator and Star Wars Battlefront: Renegade Squadron. In a recent interview with The Sunday Times, its founder revealed how an unusual hobby of his own inspired one of Rebellion’s newest free iOS games, Joust Legend: “I dress in medieval armour and joust at English Heritage events around the country. One of the creative team suggested I use my expertise to make a game.”

10. FoetoH

Image shows a pregnant woman in silhouette in front of a window.
FoetoH helps pregnant women monitor the health of their unborn babies.

Oxford graduates are saving lives – fact! FoetoH was founded by an Oxford medicine graduate and has developed a prototype portable heart monitor for mothers to monitor their unborn babies’ heart rates from the comfort of their own home. The technology, intended for anxious mothers or those who’ve had difficulties with previous pregnancies, is aimed at saving babies’ lives and preventing stillbirths. The cardiac monitor, which allows mothers to keep a check on their babies’ health without the need for regular, resource-intensive hospital appointments, has won its inventors several awards.

11. Run3D

If you’re a keen runner, you’ll be all too aware of the fact that overuse injuries can cause permanent damage – damage that could put a stop to your running altogether. Indeed, 50% of runners are afflicted by this kind of injury. That’s why a team from the University of Oxford founded Run3D to develop computerised 3D assessment technology that analyses a runner’s gait and detects any abnormal patterns that could be the underlying cause of a musculoskeletal running injury. Once identified, these inherent abnormalities can be treated to prevent the injury from recurring. It’s the first technology of its kind in Europe – not bad considering that it calls the tiny Oxfordshire village of Cassington its home.

12. Oxford Photovoltaics

Image shows a swathe of solar panels.
Oxford PV aims to make solar panels that are aesthetically pleasing.

With finite quantities of traditional fuels such as oil and gas, research is increasingly focusing on sustainable methods of powering the world. Solar power is one option with huge potential, but its application is currently limited by the fact that solar panel technology is very expensive, and sometimes difficult to find suitable locations for. That’s where the pioneering Oxford company Oxford Photovoltaics (Oxford PV) aims to make a difference. It’s developed astonishing new solar cell technology that significantly reduces the cost of solar power and makes it easier to install, as well as generating a lot more electricity than traditional methods. Using cheap, plentiful materials, Oxford PV has manufactured hugely scalable solar cells that are simply printed onto glass or other surfaces. They come in a number of colours, so they can be blended onto the walls and windows of new buildings with ease – so no more unsightly solar panels stuck gracelessly onto the roofs of houses. What’s more, they have a lifespan of 20 years. There will come a time when all new buildings integrate such technology so that they become self-sufficient, and this Begbroke Science Park-based company is paving the way for this to happen.

13. Fast Track

Based in Oxford’s St Clements, Fast Track is a leading networking events company set up by a graduate and associate fellow of Green Templeton College, Oxford. It was founded in 1997 with the help of financing from Sir Richard Branson, and it’s now well-known for its league tables of top-performing private companies and entrepreneurs, which are published in The Sunday Times. It cites the reasons for its success as being the high calibre of those who attend the invitation-only networking dinners it puts on, as well as the quality of its research. With a number of blue-chip sponsors and an impressive alumni network, Fast Track has secured a high-profile reputation of its own through helping over 3,500 private companies get to where they are today. The company employs 20 staff in addition to a network of freelance researchers, and visits over 300 companies each year in person.

14. Oxford Royale Summer Schools

Image shows an ORA sign in a college quad.
ORA is Oxford’s award-winning summer school.

Of course we’ve saved the best until last! Oxford Royale Summer Schools was co-founded by an Oxford graduate. With offices at St Catherine’s College, we take pride in being at the heart of Oxford and its thriving scene of intelligent, forward-thinking people. If you’d like to experience what it’s like to be a part of this dynamic community, check out our courses and apply today!






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Image credits: banner; JLS; scuba diving; trader; cave painting; pregnant woman; solar panels