Dr Celia Caulcott pays tribute to UCL’s enterprising community and growing body of external partners
27 January 2021
As she steps down as Vice-Provost (Enterprise), Dr Celia Caulcott is confident that UCL’s diverse enterprising community can help re-build a stronger, fairer society amidst the ongoing pandemic.
Reflecting on a time before COVID-19 is a strange and out of place exercise for anyone at the moment as the pandemic continues apace. It’s perhaps better to look forward, to how we rebuild society and the economy, and I believe there is reason to be hopeful here, in part thanks to our own enterprising community at UCL.
Over the past five and a half years in which I’ve had the privilege of serving as Vice-Provost (Enterprise), we’ve seen more individuals from UCL inspired to engage in innovation and enterprise, many of whom are forging exciting partnerships with business, influential innovative organisations, government and the third sector. All these partnerships help to translate ideas and knowledge from UCL into action externally: indeed, our success is reflected in UCL becoming one of the top three universities in the UK at doing this. And crucially this has involved both staff and students from all areas of UCL.
By embedding innovation and enterprise across the entire university and bringing together the key pathways of innovation under UCL Innovation & Enterprise, we’ve sought to make it easier for everyone at UCL to engage. As a result of this approach and commitment, we’ve seen some remarkable achievements across UCL. For example, in areas of established innovation strength such as biomedical sciences, UCL’s advanced therapy spinouts have collectively raised over £450 million in investment in major stock market listings in 2018 and in 2020. Meanwhile our innovative engineers are pushing the boundaries of technology in areas such as renewable energy, quantum computing and artificial intelligence (AI).
It’s also hugely inspiring to see innovation activity from diverse areas of UCL such as the Slade School of Fine Art, Institute of Education, Laws, Earth Sciences, The Bartlett, English Language and Literature, Archaeology, History, and UCL Estates among many more. The key point is that we absolutely need ideas and input from across the entire academic spectrum if we are going to rebuild our society and economy in a more representative and equitable way. That’s why we have just launched comprehensive training in innovation and enterprise at UCL to ensure the potential of your ideas are fully realised, whether through an external partnership, consultancy project or other suitable pathway.
The importance of partnerships in solving challenges
The pandemic has brought into focus, and given an added urgency to many themes we were already trying to address at UCL, such as rising inequalities, the digital divide and the importance of sustainable growth.
We’ve seen how vital it is for universities, business and government to work together to address very immediate challenges. Prominent examples of this collaborative work include public health modelling from numerous university groups including UCL; vaccine manufacture (notably Oxford-AstraZeneca); and development of the UCL-Ventura breathing aid.
The brilliant UCL-Ventura team, led by Professors Becky Shipley (UCL Healthcare Engineering) and Tim Baker (UCL Mechanical Engineering), was able to move rapidly from the first meeting to device approval in just ten days. That was in part testament to the long-standing relationship the team had in place with Mercedes AMG HPP, and the relationships between clinical staff at UCLH and colleagues in UCL.
That’s a key point about partnerships and something we’ve been actively working on over the past few years at UCL Innovation & Enterprise, with some notable successes. Our dedicated teams have put in place the foundations for long-term relationships that help both the external partners and ourselves to think differently about problems and understand how best to work together to solve them.
We’ve recently worked with partners as varied as Camden Council, Tend VR, Heathrow, Inner Temple, the East London Innovation Zone (ELIEZ), the National Physical Laboratory, Servier and AstraZeneca, and in every case our collaboration is enabling UCL to make a real impact.
Helping entrepreneurs and SMEs drive a sustainable recovery
UCL has a leadership role in creating and supporting new and growing companies. UCL Innovation & Enterprise plays a major part in this, and we have been working closely with, and actively supporting, a multitude of small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) at a particularly challenging time for the sector. With £1.4m additional funding from Innovate UK, we’ve doubled our support to London SMEs, and will be advising 360 companies on how to survive and grow over a two year period. It’s also extremely encouraging to see UCL spinouts and graduate startups pivot to help in the fight against COVID-19. For example, UCL startup Neucruit helps streamline clinical trial recruitment and recently secured a £300,000 grant from Innovate UK to aid with COVID-19 clinical research.
In the long term, by nurturing innovative companies, we contribute to the economy through job creation and attracting inward investment. The most recent HEBCI data shows UCL’s graduate startup companies attracted more external investment than ever before (£60m in 2018/19), and together UCL’s spinout and startup companies collectively employed almost 3,000 people.
Towards new ways of working with partners
During the coronavirus pandemic, UCL Innovation & Enterprise adapted to new ways of working with partners rapidly to address pressing economic and societal challenges. Our teams reached out to existing and potential partners, meeting virtually, and asking what challenges COVID-19 was posing to their operations, how they might need to adapt in the coming months and how UCL might support them in this. This approach led us to conceive of support such as a Rapid Evaluation and Learning (REAL) Service which recruits volunteer evaluators from across UCL to provide pro-bono expertise to Camden Council on areas such as service design in finance, community safety, family services and environmental impact.
Those virtual meetings with partners led UCL Innovation & Enterprise to establish a Challenge-Orientated Innovation Network (COIN), taking the same approach to address urgent and important issues that partners have. For example, COIN has worked with the creative industries around how to monetise online performances and is helping UCL academics engage with developers and facility management firms to explore what the post-COVID world of work will look like.
A welcoming gateway for innovation and enterprise
While I take great inspiration, and not a small amount of pride, in seeing increasing numbers of people across UCL engaging in innovation and enterprise, I know there still is enormous untapped potential out there in the wider UCL community. Fortunately, with the talented and knowledgeable team at UCL Innovation & Enterprise, to be led in the interim by Dr Kathryn Walsh, I’m more confident than ever that you will find the right pathway for your ideas. And to be sure, we really need those ideas, from all of you, if we’re going to come out of this together stronger.
For more information about making your way in innovation and enterprise at UCL, visit our webpage.