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20 June 2016

Big deal: UCD and Trinity initiate $68m fund

The two universities have joined forces with Atlantic Bridge and attracted the European Investment Fund, Enterprise Ireland, AIB and Bank of Ireland as investors.

Author: Thierry Heles, editor

University College Dublin (UCD) and Trinity College Dublin partnered growth equity fund Atlantic Bridge on Friday to launch a €60m ($68m) investment vehicle targeting domestic spinouts.

The University Bridge Fund has also been backed by the European Investment Fund (EIF), the investment arm of the European Investment Bank, as well as Enterprise Ireland, the country’s development agency responsible for helping Irish businesses grow in international markets, and financial services firms AIB and Bank of Ireland.

Intriguingly, the fund will not only back spinouts of UCD and Trinity but support the commercialisation of research across all universities in the country, though the two partners anticipate that approximately half the portfolio companies will come out of their respective pipelines.

The approach is a model that has worked well for others, such as Imperial Innovations, the erstwhile tech transfer office of Imperial College London that now supports companies across the so-called golden triangle of London, Cambridge and Oxford.

Ireland itself is also no stranger to choosing a more centralised road to technology transfer – the government launched Knowledge Transfer Ireland (KTI), a program to boost commercialisation efforts at all public higher education institutions in the country, in 2014. That model is similar to France’s regional TTOs.

KTI, perhaps unsurprisingly, was set up within Enterprise Ireland, enabling it to tap easily into the expertise of the latter.

Pictured (l-r) are Walter Hobbs, executive director, investment and finance, Enterprise Ireland; Gerry Maguire, partner, Atlantic Bridge; Mary Mitchell O’Connor, minister for jobs, enterprise and innovation; Prof Patrick Prendergast, provost, Trinity; ‌‌Prof Andrew Deeks, president, UCD, and Mark Horgan, partner, Atlantic Bridge. (Maxwell Photography)

The new fund will focus particularly on the areas of software and hardware, engineering, physical sciences, life sciences and agri-food, offering both capital and expertise with a specific view of helping spinouts scale into the US, Chinese and other international markets.

The deal marks the first time that the EIF has made a cornerstone investment in such a fund in Ireland, though it has made similar commitments to other funds in Europe – most recently providing close to half for University College London’s £50m ($73m) technology fund in January 2016.

That was by no means the first time for the EIF. Following a European Commission-funded report into tech transfer activity in the EU in 2005, dubbed Technology Translator Accelerator, the EIF signed its first agreement for a spinout-focused fund with UK-based commercialisation firm IP Group the following year. The IP Venture Fund held a final close in 2007 at £31m.

The EIF was not the only public backer of that fund – investors included the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts, then a UK government agency that became independent charity Nesta in 2012.

Trinity and UCD both expect the University Bridge Fund to help them fortify their positions in the top 1% of universities in the world for generating spinouts and startups. in the past decade the two institutions have between them spun out more than 60 businesses, which have attracted more than €200m in combined investment.

Trinity actually holds a higher percentage of cited patents than any other top-100 European university, according to a report published by news agency Reuters last week. The university’s research portfolio currently has a value of more than €520m.

Piyush Unalkat, head of technology transfer and intellectual property investments at the EIF, said: “Ireland is privileged to have more top-100 innovative universities per capita than any other country in Europe, with both Trinity and UCD forming part of this elite pool.

“It is my strong belief that Irish research organisations have the potential to generate significant global impact with this fund acting as a catalyst for the commercialisation of their research.”

Prof Andrew Deeks, president of University College Dublin, added: “The strong track record, scale and professional supports of UCD and Trinity prompted us to seek out the creation of this fund in the first place.

“We expect the pipeline of UCD and Trinity companies to account for at least 50% of the investment fund. We are both ambitious and confident that the University Bridge Fund will generate excellent commercial outcomes that will encourage more researchers to become entrepreneurs.”

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