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8 June 2018

Editorial: Making tech transfer formulaic

While the ideas are plentiful and capital bountiful, Hermann Hauser has his questions about tech transfer impacting society, calling the state of affairs “terrible” in Europe.

Author: James Mawson, editor-in-chief

Hermann Hauser, partner at Amadeus Capital Partners and a backer of six unicorns – companies worth at least $1bn – in the Cambridge, UK, ecosystem, at a Science Business webcast this month said we were finally seeing the fruits of the “remarkable cultural shift” at universities to encourage entrepreneurship among students and faculty.

This was “not to be underestimated”, especially alongside the growth of serial and experienced management for startups, according to Hauser.

Global University Venturing has tracked more than 50 fund launches targeting the sector over the past year and more than 2,000 deals in spinouts globally over its first five years of publication.

There is no apparent constraint on the number of ideas or startups – Hauser said in his speech  Europe now had more than the US – or on capital, as governments, corporations and others finally start turning serious attention to innovation finance.

But while the ideas are plentiful and capital bountiful Hauser has his questions about the technology transfer from academia and its impact on society, which he said was “terrible” in Europe. The matter will also be up for debate at our Venture Houston conference on November 8 and 9.

Giving context, Hauser is preparing the pilot project for the European Commission on its European Innovation Council (EIC) to support its successful European Research Council and a paper on best practice in tech transfer for the UK government.

The paper, expected later this year, is starting from two principles – there is a problem in intellectual property (IP), and the package of services offered by universities to startups needs to be unbundled to allow markets to set values through competition.

On IP, Hauser is recommending a model similar to that of top US universities, which use a formula rather than a negotiation with the entrepreneurs to decide on the value or equity to be taken by the institution. At about 5% of equity for university IP in a company worth up to £2m ($2.5m) it would be quicker than the current system, Hauser said.

Hauser added that universities often regard the work they do for startups beyond the IP as also being valuable, but his recommendation is equally pugnacious. He said if universities worked so hard for spinouts, then the institutions should be in competition with others, such as VCs and angels, so the extra percentage of equity could be negotiated.

Overall, Hauser said tech transfer offices were doing a “respectable job” but had no best practice, with perhaps an eye on the €700m ($825m) pilot rollout of the EIC to translate EU research.

The plan is for the EIC to be a core part of the innovation program for the EU’s next budgetary period from 2021 to 2027, called Horizon Europe. Hauser’s 14 recommendations for the EIC were made earlier this year as a simple stop for entrepreneurs to find the right blend of equity, loans and grants with decisions made with a focus on excellence and by leaders in the field.

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