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Multi-million pound fund to boost Southampton research and spin-outs

Published: 1 December 2014

Research from the University of Southampton and universities across the South and West of England could be commercialised and turned into successful businesses faster than ever before, thanks to a multi-million pound project announced by Minister of State for Universities, Science and Cities, Greg Clark MP.

Funded by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) and Innovate UK, the £3.2 million ICURe project aims to ‘bridge the valley of death’ identified by the House of Commons Science and Technology Select Committee. The Committee defined the ‘valley of death’ as the gap in progress of science from the laboratory to the point where it provides the basis of a commercially successful business or product.

ICURe – which stands for Innovation and Commercialisation of University Research - will help address issues raised in the Government’s response to the Committee’s inquiry last year, including the importance of innovation by universities in managing intellectual property and of attention to the availability of ‘proof of concept’ funding.

The project will see HEFCE, Innovate UK and university enterprise partnership SETsquared work together on a pilot to tackle these issues and help accelerate research being successfully commercialised and ‘spun out’ in new high-potential companies.

Under the programme, early-stage researchers at the five SETsquared universities (Bath, Bristol, Exeter, Southampton and Surrey) will be given tailored training, mentoring and funds to speed up the commercialisation of their ideas, technologies and products. The project was inspired by Innovate UK’s review of a similar programme operated by the US National Science Foundation, and is funded by a £2.8 million HEFCE cash injection and £400,000 from Innovate UK.

Universities, Science and Cities Minister Greg Clark MP said: “Collaboration is the key to turning the best research into new businesses. We are proud that SETsquared is already Europe’s best incubator, and second in the world, which is why we are supporting this pilot scheme. It will provide skills, support and mentoring to help the UK’s best researchers turn their ideas into commercial success. This strengthens the UK’s position as the best place for science and technology research, and drives forward our economic growth.”

Don Spalinger, Board member of SETsquared and Director of Research and Innovation Services at the University of Southampton, said that ICURe could see university research being commercialised faster than ever before, something that is vital for universities. He added:

“Particularly in the field of technology, where everything evolves so fast, getting a product to market quickly can make the difference between creating a successful business and falling behind. The flexibility of this programme and the way it is run will allow researchers to assess their markets much faster, meaning they can potentially seek investment or sell their ideas within just a few months.”

The programme will also benefit teams that do not move to spin-out. Don Spalinger adds: “We do not expect that every team going through the programme will result in a spin-out opportunity. The successful output for some teams will be the licensing of the technology or product idea to an existing company which will commercialise it through their existing channels. Other teams will gain invaluable knowledge of the marketplace, which will be taken back into the research lab to either refine the ideas and technologies, or take the research down another path that they have discovered from their interactions with the marketplace.”

David Sweeney, Director for Research Education and Knowledge Exchange, HEFCE, said: “The SETsquared partnership has an excellent record for knowledge exchange since it was formed with support from HEFCE over 10 years ago. It is important that the ICURe programme has been designed in partnership with the technology transfer staff of universities themselves, demonstrating that higher education takes innovation in intellectual property management very seriously. This addresses an important recommendation of the “valley of death” inquiry and the government response, which stressed the importance of autonomous universities playing a major part in the innovation ecosystem.”

Mark Glover, Director of Strategy at Innovate UK said: “The United Kingdom’s research is world-renowned, but we need to be fast if we're going to make the most of the business opportunities that research brings with it. Innovate UK helps bridge the gap between concept and commercialisation and this scheme, along with the additional funding we're making available to the spin-outs, will help some of our best universities move quickly to create successful, high-growth businesses.”

Innovate UK, which helps businesses bring new innovations to the market, is separately making £6 million available over the next two years to help university spin-out companies develop faster and be more attractive to private investors.

 

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