Boosting the UK’s science superpower status through university spinouts
24 April 2023
New guidance designed to accelerate and support a new generation of innovative spinouts and boost the UK’s potential as a science superpower has been launched by a leading group of universities, including UCL, with the advice and backing of major investors.
The University Spinout Investment Terms (USIT) Guide will simplify and shorten the process behind universities spinning out new companies, enabling the Higher Education sector to take real-time advantage of research breakthroughs.
It was conceived and started in January 2022, before the government launched a review into the UK spinout landscape in March this year. The authors say this guidance is an important first step in growing investment in the spinout ecosystem and will provide an excellent basis for the review.
Many of the UK’s most successful technology firms, including Solexa, Oxford Nanopore and ARM, started out as university spinouts, and USIT’s authors hope the guidance will encourage many more to follow suit, boosting the UK economy.
The UK already excels in its development of spinouts speeding up the pace of innovation and change within their sectors. London’s universities, including UCL, collectively produce a spinout company for every £35.5 million invested in research and development, comparable to the cities of Boston, Los Angeles or New York City – each with more and larger universities – at £60.42 million, £42.6 million and £54.5 million respectively.
The USIT Guide was co-created by universities including UCL, Imperial, Oxford and Cambridge, and venture capital firms including Abingworth, Cambridge Investment Capital and Sofinnova. Between them the authors of the guide have supported the development of 376 companies in the last five years, raising over £8.6 billion in investment.
In developing this new guide, the authors believe they can build on this success and allow both universities and venture capitalists to ramp up the whole process of setting up spinouts by providing direction and advice in such areas as equity share and IP. As it stands, many of these deals are created from scratch, which is both inefficient and sometimes fails to learn the lessons from previous success stories.
The USIT Guide is supported by TenU, a group of university technology transfer offices in the UK and USA, including MIT, Columbia and Stanford as well as UCL.
Anne Lane, CEO of UCLB, UCL’s commercialisation company, said: “Spinouts take forward the cutting-edge ideas generated by universities to change lives and benefit society, with real-world impact. In the process, they can transform our economy by boosting innovation, creating jobs, and improving productivity. Spinouts supported by UCLB in 2023 alone will help tackle climate change through better EV batteries, and cure previously life-limiting rare diseases, with the NHS using those new therapies. USIT’s guidance will ensure everyone across our entire sector, in every institution, can best deliver on the extraordinary potential of our universities.”
Professor Geraint Rees, Vice-Provost Research, Innovation and Global Engagement, said: “UCL, alongside leading investors and other UK universities, have come together to create the USIT Guide, demonstrating our shared commitment to growing the businesses of the future.
“We believe that if the guidance is adopted widely, the upsides could be huge, with a greater number of deals and greater investment in transformative spinouts, that have the ability and capital to tackle some of the great challenges of our time.
“UK universities have a strong track record in creating successful spinouts. For example the five UCL spinouts that listed on the NASDAQ between 2018 and 2021, collectively received almost £800 million of investment.
“We are determined to build on these successes and maximise the UK’s innovation potential, fulfilling the ambition for the country to become a ‘science superpower’.”
Professor Rees added: “This guidance is an important first step and could form an important part of the Government’s review of university spinouts, along with a commitment to invest in improving the whole spinout ecosystem to ensure capital is available to meet our ambitions.”
Professor Emma Morris, Founder of Quell Therapeutics, Professor of Clinical Cell and Gene Therapy and Director, UCL Division of Infection and Immunity, said: “It is essential spinouts, like Quell Therapeutics, have access to expertise and capital investment, in real time to ensure breakthroughs in research and innovation can be maximised for both society and the economy.
“The USIT guide builds on universities’, investors’ and founders’ experience, and sets out a framework that will allow many more scientists and researchers to turn their ideas into the technology and life sciences companies of the future.”
Diarmuid O’Brien, chief executive of Cambridge Enterprise and chair of the USIT Guide working group, said: “The USIT Guide can unlock the full potential from UK universities research, helping to create more spin-outs faster and attracting increased venture investment. USIT can support our universities create the companies that can contribute to solving the great challenges of our time, from climate to health and the digital revolution.”
Jessica Corner, the executive chair of Research England, which funded the initiative, said: “The USIT Guide has come out of the deep professionalism and commitment of UK tech transfer offices to collaboration: sharing approaches internationally, and working with others – particularly investors - to make our ecosystem more effective.”
Tim Haines, executive partner at Abingworth, added: “Universities are a key engine for innovation in the UK. The USIT guide will enable the investment community to work more closely with our universities to create high impact businesses that can drive UK economic growth.”
The USIT Guide was created over a 16-month period from January 2022, including a sector-wide consultation which was supported by BioIndustry Association (BIA), the British Private Equity & Venture Capital Association (BVCA) and PraxisAuril.
TenU members are the technology transfer offices of UCL, University of Cambridge, Columbia University, University of Edinburgh, Imperial College London, KU Leuven, University of Manchester, MIT, University of Oxford, and Stanford University. TenU members work together to increase the societal impact of research.
- Credit: UCL
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