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4 June 2018

A look back on GUV: Fusion 2018

Global University Venturing rounds up some of the highlights from its London conference last month, which also featured the GUV Awards.

Author: Thierry Heles, editor

GUV: Fusion, Global University Venturing’s annual conference, took place on May 22 and 23 alongside its sister event, GCV Symposium, and while many good aspects remained, others have been updated and refreshed.

The first change was perhaps the most obvious. After three years of holding the event near St Paul’s Cathedral, the conference was moved to County Hall with the networking area boasting stunning views of the Palace of Westminster across the Thames.

The second change was the more profound one – a closer integration between GUV: Fusion and GCV Symposium, with countless panels featuring a mix of tech transfer and university venture fund leaders as well as corporate venturers.

The move came out of an organic and logical evolution over the past several years. The two conferences started out as separate entities – GUV: Fusion used to be known as GUV Summit – but they took place alongside each other for the past three years, with networking and joined discussions encouraged primarily in the networking breaks and the gala dinner.

Feedback called for further integration – something several audience questions at this year’s conference also illustrated. Despite years of working closely beside each other, there remains a lack of understanding of the other side of the coin, and Global University Venturing is keen to help bridge that gap.

The invitation-only GUV Leadership Society meeting, where tech transfer leaders and selected other actors from the innovation ecosystem discussed best practices, kicked off GUV: Fusion with a two-hour roundtable on the Tuesday morning.

Details of that meeting will not be shared publicly to respect several confidential statements made, but the themes included early-stage support for spinouts and different international approaches to funding companies. If you would like to be part of next year’s roundtable, reach out to theles@globaluniversityventuring.com.

The first university session occurred shortly after the Leadership Society meeting, when Kotaro Yamagishi, CEO of Keio University’s venture capital arm, Keio Innovation Initiative (KII), joined editor-in-chief James Mawson on stage for a fireside chat.

Yamagishi co-founded digital media company Gree and is still a board member, but told Mawson that he had needed a new challenge.

KII, which was founded in 2015, fitted Yamagishi’s personal interests, and he spoke about how his experience led to certain decisions with KII, where deals are split roughly evenly into two broad sectors – internet-of-things, artificial intelligence and IT-related technologies, and biotechnology and pharmaceutical-related investments.

Working at Gree often meant leading and growing subsidiary businesses before a specialist could be hired, something Yamagishi did for both Gree’s advertising and mobile gaming businesses.

That, and Yamagishi’s co-founder position at Gree, gave him the leadership and startup experience he is now utilising at KII. He also requires independence from the university’s establishment when it comes to investment decisions, and a different pay-scale to ensure the right staff are recruited.

Future Planet Capital, the innovation-focused investment platform, then held its second awards ceremony, with six startups pitching in front of a jury that included renowned architect Lord Norman Foster.

First to pitch was Jonathan Carling, chief executive of Tokamak Energy, which has figured out a way to make fusion technology viable while using smaller more efficient devices that use high-temperature superconductors. The company is expecting to demonstrate positive energy generation within two to three years, with plans to feed energy into the grid by 2030.

The second person to pitch was Sophia Yen of women’s healthcare and telemedicine company Pandia Health. Yen previously won a pitching session at the GCVI Summit in California, which led to Future Planet Capital inviting her to the London event.

Lord Douglas Dundonald took the stage to talk about his startup, Radio Physics. The company is working on a technology that uses artificial intelligence to detect terrorist threats by identifying people carrying weapons in public or private spaces. The technology can spot some 90% of large guns and bombs and generates low false positives.

David Atkins, chief executive of Congenica, followed by speaking about how his startup is working to develop personalised medicine. Sequencing the human genome can now be done for under $1,000 but generates 100GB of data – it is difficult to find a single error in 3 billion genetic bases. Congenica compares a child’s DNA with a parent’s genetic code and identifies mutations in well-characterised genes. The results help generate treatment options.

Sandra Sobanska and her startup Oya Labs are working on helping children develop their IQ and emotional intelligence by using a platform called Oto to monitor and improve cognitive development. The platform detects abnormal behaviour to enable early intervention. It also incorporates artificial intelligence to improve decision-making.

Finally, Peter Bance, chief executive and founder of Origami Energy discussed how the company’s energy distribution management software helped utilities monitor and control energy flow. The company raised $26.8m from investors, including Cambridge Innovation Capital, the patient capital fund affiliated with University of Cambridge, in April this year.

The winner of the pitching session was announced by Lord Foster, who revealed Origami Energy was the company that had convinced the jury across the key factors of immediacy, magnitude of attitude, conviction of entrepreneur, economics and disruptive potential.

Left to right: Tal Badt, Tsinghua University; Patrick Chung, X Fund; Lord Foster; Peter Bance; Douglas Hansen-Luke, Future Planet Capital; and Lilly Bussmann, Oxford Sciences Innovation

The evening on the first day continued with more celebrations as it included not only the gala dinner but also the GUV Awards, with recipients including Indiana University Research and Technology Corp for Tech Transfer Unit of the Year, collected by chief executive Tony Armstrong, and Orchard Therapeutics, a UK-based genetics spinout from University College London, for Deal of the Year, collected by Chris Baker, who led the deal on behalf of tech transfer office UCL Business.

It was a particular honour for Global University Venturing to welcome Alison Campbell on stage, to receive the Lifetime Achievement Award. You can find our in-depth interview with Campbell, chairwoman of professional organisation the Association of University Technology Managers and director of Knowledge Transfer Ireland, the national office responsible for policy, practice and the performance of the domestic tech transfer system, about her career here.

Alison Campbell gives her acceptance speech after receiving the GUV Lifetime Achievement Award

The second day started with a university venturing panel moderated by editor Thierry Heles discussing how to build and develop a startup, from idea to scale-up.

The panel featured Jim Wilkinson, chief financial officer of Oxford Sciences Innovation (OSI), the university venture fund of University of Oxford; Paolo Bavaj, head of corporate venturing at adhesive product maker Henkel Adhesive Technologies; Mark Brooks, associate director of innovation and strategic partnerships at the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants (AICPA); and Ilonka Jankovich, venture partner at Randstad Innovation Fund, a subsidiary of recruitment firm Randstad.

Wilkinson said: “The problem was that we had great innovation coming out of the university but had no way to fund it. With OSI, our aim is to bring in shareholders to help us scale up, and get industry contacts and management teams in, which we could not do otherwise.”

Aiming to exploit and commercialise research from academic departments across the university, OSI has about 70 shareholders who come regularly to its offices to review innovative ideas. “Once we have spun out a company we try to make sure that it goes on to work with industry leaders,” Wilkinson said.

AICPA launched a startup accelerator last year to fuel disruptive technology in the accounting industry, partially through automation, and has provided an inaugural group of four startups with seed money and access to market expertise and leaders.

Brooks said: “The accounting profession is going to change profoundly over the course of our lifetime, mainly because of automation processes with artificial intelligence and blockchain, and also because the way people are learning is changing. These changes are the reason we started looking at startups, because we know that the most provocative and coolest innovation emerges from them.”

Jankovich emphasised the importance of putting certain systems in place and standardising processes, saying: “It is really about putting some very simple metrics in place. We collect data on usage and we really want to track value. Once we have a clear business case we can start scaling up.

“You really need to introduce and drive these processes into your internal business,” she added, “or else people just go home and forget about it.”

Another common practice at Randstad, Jankovich explained, was to organise client days during which investors could come in and meet the entrepreneurs, which allowed interactions between both sides.

“We also talk to our board of directors every few months to let them know about the progress of invested companies, so that they are on top of everything,” Jankovich added, though the greater challenge was to reach out to the entire organisation.

Tony Stanco, executive director of the National Council of Entrepreneurial Tech Transfer (NCET2) invited Matt Perkins, chief executive of University of Oxford’s tech transfer office Oxford University Innovation (OUI), and David Richardson, head of partnerships, informatics, at University of Edinburgh on stage, along with Shiva Dustdar, head of division, innovation finance advisory, at EU-owned financial institution European Investment Bank, and Trond Undheim, chief executive and founder of data platform Yegii and former director of Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Startup Exchange program.

The panel discussed how best to nurture and manage the innovation ecosystem.

Dustdar noted that EIB had invested €750m ($880m) in research technology innovations to date, with a concentration in northern Europe, although the southern countries had started catching up. She worked closely with the corporate venture capital community, she said, and insisted that it was important that investors go the extra mile as more patient capital was needed in the ecosystem.

Dustdar explained that, although the EIB was keen to back the ecosystem, someone else would need to be incentivised to set up an effective funding mechanism so that the continent could bring in more large sums of money.

Perkins, whose team is responsible for handling tech transfer activities at Oxford, described his office as a gateway into the university’s community of researchers, urging corporates to reach out to him and his staff for opportunities.

He acknowledged that it had been traditionally hard to interact with the institution, but OUI was working to change that. OUI currently generates more than 20 spinouts a year, with countless more licensing opportunities available to corporates, according to Perkins.

OUI was also becoming more involved in social enterprise, with economic impact becoming a secondary requirement to social impact. The office had already gained approval from the board to invest in social enterprise and had a current pipeline of 15 deals.

Richardson meanwhile explained how artificial intelligence was a focus for Edinburgh. He works closely with Edinburgh Innovations, the institution’s tech transfer office, and Old College Capital, the university’s investment fund.

He noted that, particularly in data science, robotics and the internet of things, there had been an increasing level of interest from corporates. His work also involved helping corporates understand the pipeline, as some opportunities may not be ready for investment, but would be in 12 to 14 months.

Undheim, whose company Yegii has created a search engine to track innovation and technology, previously worked at Massachusetts Institute of Technology until December last year and noted how the university’s entrepreneurs cared first and foremost about changing the world – a key point that corporates needed to understand when trying to engage with the institution’s faculty and students.

Following this panel, Ali Amin, chief executive and co-founder of incubator benchmarking and research services provider UBI Global, led a discussion on corporate-university innovation.

The panel included Tony Armstrong, introduced by Amin as the biggest star, having taken home a GUV award the previous night, as well as Tal Badt, director of business development at Tsinghua University X-lab; Karen Brooks, program director at enterprise partnership SetSquared; and Christine Gulbranson, senior vice-president of innovation and entrepreneurship at University of California.

Amin gave his personal background – he was born in Iraq and now lives in Sweden, where he works with colleagues from all over the world – as a key example of why the innovation ecosystem was so strong today.

Brooks said SetSquared’s portfolio companies had created 20,000 jobs to date, with part of her job involving corporate engagement for a scale-up program and an initiative to get research into the world. The success for universities, she said, came primarily from the political impact as SetSquared was demonstrating that institutions were good at commercialising research, which in turn helped them secure public funding.

Gulbranson, who sat down with Global University Venturing for an in-depth interview about her work earlier this year, noted that despite her particular challenge of overseeing 10 university campuses and reconnecting with 1.8 million alumni, her mandate was clear – to make sure innovation gets out into the world.

University of California received significant amounts of funding, Gulbranson said, so it was the institution’s responsibility to ensure its research made it into the marketplace. When it comes to connecting corporates to opportunities across the system, Gulbranson said the best way forward was to contact her office in the first instance, mirroring statements of several delegates before her.

The situation in China, meanwhile, was different again, as startups were a fairly new phenomenon, Badt explained. Startups had really started making their mark only after the central government decided in 2014 that the country needed to be an innovation economy.

X-lab was responsible for incubating early-stage startups, Badt said, and had been operational for five years. Her job was to secure corporate investments, while the incubator itself did not take equity stakes in its portfolio companies.

Finally, Armstrong discussed his office’s $15m Philanthropic Fund, launched in February 2018 to attract donations from alumni and invest in spinouts. Armstrong said he saw the fund as an alternative, but not necessarily competition, to alumni who wanted to give back to the university in a way other than funding scholarships.

Armstrong expected the fund would have the long-term benefit of re-engaging with graduates and noted that, unfortunately, few universities had yet asked their alumni for support in mentoring students, vetting technology or serving on boards. The university was also hoping the fund would attract large companies back to Indiana, where the capital city Indianapolis was also in the running for the second headquarters of e-commerce and internet company Amazon.

The panel brought the day’s proceedings for Global University Venturing to an end, though some more corporate-focused talks followed late in the afternoon. For a full summary of the GCV Symposium, you can read the reports on our sister site Global Corporate Venturing.

If you missed the conference, Global University Venturing is proud to be launching a flagship US conference on November 8 and 9 in Houston, Texas. At that conference, GUV will introduce its inaugural Powerlist, which will rank the top 100 most influential leaders in tech transfer and university venture funds. Registration for the conference, which GUV is organising with NCET2, is open now.

– Additional reporting by Alice Tchernookova, Global Corporate Venturing features editor, and Robin Brinkworth, reporter

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

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