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8 February 2016

Editorial: UK venturing temperature rises

Simon Bond, innovation director at SetSquared, said: "It’s important for SetSquared, as the world’s leading university business incubator, to show the vital work that’s going on to help place the UK at the forefront of innovation and entrepreneurship.”

Author: James Mawson, editor-in-chief

It has been quite a few weeks for the UK university venturing ecosystem and the mood at SetSquared’s reception at the House of Commons, part of the UK parliament, for becoming the top-ranked university business incubator globally was suitably ebullient.

The sense of confidence in the so-called Golden Triangle between Oxford, Cambridge and London’s three main universities of King’s, Imperial (ICL) and University College (UCL) and their links to other parts of the academic research centres of excellence, including Edinburgh, Dublin (whose University College Dublin alumni attended an event at the House of Lords in the same week) and Boston, was palpable after several recent fund launches and large deals, particularly in healthcare.

SetSquared, a partnership between five universities – Bath, Bristol, Exeter, Southampton and Surrey, was ranked number one by UBI. Last year, its 260 member companies in aggregate raised more than £90m ($140m), which was the highest annual investment figure in its 14-year history and took its cumulative total to more than £1bn. Research commissioned by SetSquared found its companies had created over £3.8bn of gross value added (GVA) and 9,000 jobs in the south of England’s economy since 2004 and it expected this to rise to £8.6bn over the next 10 years.

Of course, this is a fraction of the millions of jobs and annual revenues of nearly $2 trillion generated by MIT — a figure greater than the gross domestic product (GDP) of the world's 10th-largest economy – but indicates the direction of travel is positive in the UK.

Jo Johnson, UK Minister of State for Universities and Science, at SetSquared’s reception “rammed home” that collaboration between SetSquared’s “five leading universities” had been part of its success and that government had “played a part” in this catalyst along with the private sector.

Johnson said the UK had 1% of the world’s population but its universities produced 16% of the top quality research papers and was increasingly focused on taking these ideas out into the market.

Behind the scenes, the UK’s Department for Business, Innovation & Skills (BIS), which covers universities and science, said its policy of leaving universities to find their own way in delivering their own goals but setting incentives for further research and economic output had been a success over the past 10 or so years.

Malcolm Skingle, director of academic liaison at UK-listed drugs company GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), at the same SetSquared event said the funding was now coming into place to support the greater interest by universities in working with business and showing economic output.

Two weeks ago, GSK and UK healthcare peer Johnson & Johnson were among the founders of the UK-based Apollo Therapeutics Fund, and last week they teamed up again as limited partners (LPs) in the $230m first fund closed by Medicxis Ventures, a life sciences-focused firm spun out of venture firm Index Ventures. GSK and Johnson & Johnson were previously LPs in Medicxis' predecessor, the first dedicated life sciences fund raised by Index, in 2012.

Last week, Imperial Innovations, a UK-listed university technology commercialisation company itself spun out of ICL to back other universities’ research from the Golden Triangle, said it was raising £100m to increase investment in companies (nice interview of CEO Russ Cummings here) by selling about 23.5 million new shares at £4.25 each.

Last month, UCL finally closed a £50m Technology Fund to back its spin-outs with Imperial Innovations and the European Investment Fund (EIF) both providing £24.75m.

This follows on from a bumper 2015 when Oxford raised £320m for its Oxford Sciences Innovation (OSI) fund – for a great profile of Isis’ departing head, Tom Hockaday, see here – and 2014’s £50m close for Cambridge Innovation Capital (CIC), which has started preparing for its next round of fundraising after promoting Victor Christou to CEO in September.

Tony Raven, CEO of Cambridge Enterprise, the university’s commercialisation unit, at SetSquared’s event said these university venturing funds, along with public and private ones raised by Parkwalk, Woodford and others, was already flowing more money at UK-based startups.

Last month, CIC made a further commitment to one of its healthcare portfolio companies, Inivata, by participating in the £31.5m series A round together with existing investors Imperial Innovations, Johnson and Johnson Innovation and new investor Woodford Patient Capital Trust. And, this month, Cambridge spin-out Mission Therapeutics raised £60m in its C round from GSK, drugs peers Roche and Pfizer and Imperial Innovations and Woodford Patient Capital Trust.

And exits have also flowed, with Edinburgh-based Iomet, part-owned by government-funded Scottish Enterprise, being acquired by US-listed Merck for up to £276m last month, while earlier in February Microsoft bought artificial intelligence-focused tech company Swiftkey for £174m after cofounders Ben Medlock and Jon Reynolds had met in Cambridge.

This collaboration ecosystem relies on entrepreneurs coming through but they are now seeming to have the support infrastructure, funding and acquirers to showcase their talents.

As Simon Bond, innovation director at SetSquared, said: "It’s important for SetSquared, as the world’s leading university business incubator, to show the vital work that’s going on to help place the UK at the forefront of innovation and entrepreneurship.”

Six SetSquared-incubated businesses exhibited their technologies at the House of Commons event and a larger group will be presenting at the Global Corporate Venturing and GUV:Fusion Symposium in London on 24-25 May:

  • Sherlock – which has developed a GPS-based anti-theft device that allows cyclists to precisely locate their bicycle at any moment, as well as send a theft report to police
  • Green Running – which provides a range of products to help people monitor, analyse and manage energy consumption, enabling users to make savings, lower their carbon footprint and achieve sustainability targets
  • Pelipod – which has developed an intelligent parcel box that allows the use of unique codes for safe, audited and notified delivery of products and parts for field-based staff and home-based workers
  • BioSystems Technology – which provides low cost, ethical solutions for researchers who require alternatives to animal testing
  • Nquiringminds– which builds products, from software to hardware, that make cities better at capturing, securing and using data. It helps cities to run smarter.
  • Inova Design Solutions– which has created Bodytrak, a miniature wearable device that monitors a suite of health and performance indicators and sends accurate data to users in real-time, via a smartphone, smart watch or internet hub.

As one US investor who saw the SetSquared pitches last year said on the sidelines of our Global Corporate Venturing and Innovation Summit in Sonoma, California, last month: “I came over and expected the companies pitching to be bad. But the quality was good.”

Copyright Mawsonia Limited 2010. Please don´t cut articles from or the PDF and redistribute by email or post to the web without written permission.

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