UCL News


UCL in the News: How more and more postgraduates are starting up hi-tech businesses

14 June 2007

Starting a hi-tech company from a university lab has never been easier, but it remains a school of hard knocks for the unprepared.

Raising money to start a technology company is easier and less risky than in the bad old days when you were expected to put your own house on the line. But even now, fundraising is best approached cautiously.

"By the time you have raised enough money, your share in the company will be small and others will be telling you which way to go," says Nat Milton, 42, winner of the 2003 Entrepreneur's Challenge competition run by UCL.

With the help of a government research grant, Milton set up NeuroDelta, a biotechnology firm specialising in diagnosing Alzheimer's disease, but has since raised more money from venture capital funds. It is difficult to persuade investors to back biotechnology ventures, he says, because research can take years of hard graft before there's any hope of seeing a profit, and needs millions of pounds invested in specialised laboratories. …

Professor Steve Currall [UCL Centre for Enterprise & the Management of Innovation] is an American academic who helped launch 160 new technology start-up companies in the US, and now heads the Centre for Scientific Enterprise, run jointly by UCL and the London Business School.

He says that the key difference between the UK and the US is the perception of risk and failure. In the US you are celebrated for trying, and it is understood that virtually everyone will have some failures. "Here people are afraid that they'll be stigmatised if they fail," he says.

"A savvy investor would much rather invest in people who have stubbed their toe once or twice." …

Tristan Farrow, 'The independent'