University of Nottingham investments spur growth in spin-out companies

THE UNIVERSITY of Nottingham has helped its spin-out companies to secure millions of pounds in funding to develop technologies in fields which range from manufacturing to mental health.

It has invested nearly £900,000 during the past year in nine businesses which began life as university research projects.

The investments have helped the University’s spin-out portfolio secure further funding packages totalling around £14 million – money which will help them to either commercialise their ideas and bring them to market as viable products, or build on an existing market presence.

The financial backing also forms a key part of the University’s wider long-term strategy of supporting the development of technologies that have the capacity to improve the world around us.

They include support for businesses active in fields such as the use of artificial intelligence (AI) to diagnose mental health conditions, and the manufacture of nanoparticles – which change the way surfaces behave.

The investments have been led by Nottingham Technology Ventures, which manages the University’s portfolio of 20 spin-out companies, working in partnership with specialist investment funds such as Mercia Technologies and Foresight Group. They include:

  • Promethean Particles, which has received £250,000 from the University as part of a £1.24m funding round led by Foresight Group, which manages the government-backed Midlands Engine Investment Fund. Promethean has set up the world’s largest nanoparticle manufacturing plant in Nottingham, able to produce materials at a microscopic scale which can then be used to improve the performance of products which range from printed electronic circuits to medical implants. Its success stems from specialist expertise in nanoparticle manufacturing, where it has developed a patented reactor which enables continuous production of particles.
  • Blueskeye AI, which is developing technology that uses cameras with embedded AI software to spot the changes in physical behaviour caused by conditions ranging from stress to depression. It receives £100,000 from the University as it continues work on a process which could speed up the diagnosis, treatment and management of a range of mental health conditions affecting a quarter of the UK population.
  • TextureJet, which receives £60,00 from the University alongside £250,000 from Innovate UK, to develop a new manufacturing technology which leads to more efficient and environmentally-friendly surface treatments.

Early-stage technology companies can find it difficult to secure funding, but the University uses its long-established expertise in research commercialisation to identify strong teams whose inventions have clear market potential based on broad societal benefit.

Dr Andy Naylor, CEO of NTV, says that the University’s support for spin-out businesses also helps give other funders the confidence to come on board.

He explained: “Technology companies can find it extremely difficult to access the funding needed to develop their products when they are at an early stage in their life. Their technology can be seen as unproven and it may take time for them to develop it to the point where it’s commercially viable.

“The University’s investment not only comes with the support of an experienced team to help companies achieve their goals, it can also reassure other potential investors that the ideas are have serious commercial potential.

“Supporting technologies that can have an impact at scale is central to the University’s core mission and doing so in partnership with other funding organisations demonstrates real strength in the numbers of opportunities for investment in innovation across the Midlands.”

NTV has channelled the University’s financial support through two specific funds – the Pathfinder Fund, which helps spin-outs with their initial set-up costs, and the Invention Fund, which provides more substantial backing as these spin-outs seek to develop and grow.

Between them, the two funds invested a total of £881,000 during the year. Besides these current investments, the University has a pipeline of new spin-out businesses which it is also likely to support.

Dr Naylor added: “The last year has been extremely successful, with a series of new investments in spin-outs which are developing some incredibly exciting new technologies.

“This builds on the University of Nottingham’s long track record of research commercialisation and it’s one of the key reasons why we have such a strong pipeline of new opportunities for investment.”

University of Nottingham ranked among UK’s best for using knowledge to benefit the wider world

Oncimmune

A NATIONAL survey of the ways in which universities use their knowledge to benefit the world around them has ranked the University of Nottingham among the best in the UK.

The Higher Education Business and Community Interaction Survey (HE-BCI) is an in-depth study carried out by Research England, part of UK Research and Innovation, which helps drive the development of knowledge and ideas across universities, businesses, charities and government.

HE-BCI examines the commercial activities of universities, ranging from the use of knowledge to help companies solve problems and investment in promising research projects to supporting the formation of spin-out businesses.

In the latest HE-BCI survey, the University of Nottingham is ranked second in the UK for the amount of money it raised from the sale of shares in its spin-outs, with more than £11.5m returned to the University in 2017-18 for further investment.

Spin-out successes included early-stage cancer detection company Oncimmune plc, where £5m was raised through the sale of shares, and drug screening services provider CrownBioInc., where the sale of the University’s stake raised £3.6m.

Both companies follow in the footsteps of University spin-out Monica Healthcare, which developed a lifesaving foetal heart monitor that was acquired by industry giant GE Healthcare.

The University was also ranked seventh in the country for the amount of external investment received by its spin-out businesses, with £34m of funding secured to support their growth.

Making a difference

Professor Dame Jessica Corner, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research and Knowledge Exchange at the University, said: “The HE-BCI survey is an important measure of the way that universities contribute to the world around them and we’re thrilled to have been ranked so highly.

“For us, this activity is about supporting and investing in businesses that can make a difference to people’s lives and, in doing so, secure a return that can provide continuing support for our core missions of teaching, learning and research.

“That is reflected in the nature of our portfolio of spin-out businesses, whose ideas and technologies address some of the key challenges we face both as healthy individuals and a healthy society.”

The success in the HE-BCI survey came during a year in which the University further bolstered its credentials as a key centre for research commercialisation in the Midlands through Nottingham Technology Ventures Ltd – set up by the University to further professionalise the management of its spin-out portfolio.

It also set up its own £5m Invention Fund to provide targeted backing to spin-outs as they develop. Its support also helps them as they seek co-investment.

The University’s spin-out portfolio includes businesses developing new technologies and solutions for agriculture and the environment, energy sustainability, healthcare, manufacturing and materials.

Culture of enterprise

Dr Susan Huxtable, Director of Intellectual Property Commercialisation, added: “As a University, we strongly encourage a culture of enterprise and innovation across our academic community.

“This underpins all successful knowledge exchange and reflects the University’s long-term commitment to developing research potential into outcomes which benefit society and the economy.”

The University provides a wide-ranging portfolio of services aimed at supporting businesses. It includes student placements, collaboration projects with businesses, research institutes dedicated to developing new technologies, and working with key sectors of the regional and national economy.

Spin-out success celebrated at University of Nottingham Enterprise Dinner

SPIN-OUT success, new ventures and the key role universities play in nurturing enterprise came under the spotlight at the University of Nottingham Enterprise Dinner 2019.

More than 80 guests attended the celebration of the University’s commitment to the commercialisation of ground-breaking ideas, with millions of pounds invested in the growth of businesses developing products and services which benefit the world at large whilst delivering a financial return which can be reinvested in the core mission of learning, research and impact.

The dinner saw the latest additions to the University’s 18-strong spin-out portfolio introduced by Dr Susan Huxtable, Director of Intellectual Property Management and Commercialisation. They are Blueskeye AI, which uses Artificial Intelligence to help diagnose mental health problems; Texture Jet, which is developing innovative surfacing solutions for manufacturing; and Taraz Metrology, a specialist in optical metrology for additive manufacturing.

Keynote speaker Dr Mark Payton, CEO of the leading technology investor Mercia Technologies, used his speech to call for a significant change in the geographical distribution of investment funding, which is currently dominated by London.

He told the dinner: “There is a two-and-a-half-times over supply of capital in London, which I find truly remarkable. We always say that we are in the regions, from the regions and to the regions because we believe there are great investment opportunities across the Midlands and the North and we regard it as our job to get out there and support high growth firms at an early stage.”

Outlining his key criteria for investment success, Dr Payton said he looked for “leaders and feeders” – key people in and around a business, and investors and institutions with the capacity to provide support, including universities.

He explained: “Leaders are entrepreneurs, and we see two generations – the first has a business background, the second are graduates coming through universities and willing to take a risk in business.

“Leaders are also senior managers in coachable teams willing to listen, with a strong chair and a driven CEO. A strong dynamic between them is a common feature of success in our portfolio.

“The number one feeder is the provider of capital. You need full alignment with whoever is providing it because if that breaks down you will fail. A second feeder is universities and Mercia’s offices are in university cities like Nottingham because these are places where we can build, where we see SMEs come through, often in university science parks.

“The final feeder is mentoring networks and support. It is critical for businesses to be able to talk to people who are not in their teams about issues that matter, whether that is through mentors or meet-ups.”

Earlier, the dinner heard from Professor Dame Jessica Corner, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research and Knowledge Exchange at the University, and Dr Andy Naylor, CEO of Nottingham Technology Ventures, which manages the University’s spin-out activity.

Dame Jessica has recently examined the Silicon Valley ecosystem connected to UC Berkley and Stanford University. She said: “We can’t replicate that here in Nottinghamshire but we can certainly do more. What struck me during the visit is that people are becoming leaders earlier during their lives and careers, and how we can make that more usual than exceptional is something we need to consider.”

Dr Naylor used the dinner to formally announce the launch of the University of Nottingham Invention Fund, a £5m support fund that has already made its first five investments.

He said: “We’re aiming to deliver a step-change in the University’s spin-out portfolio, and we’re doing this through three primary activities – creating new companies, managing the University’s investment funds, and supporting our companies as they develop and grow, including helping them to exit.

“This has resulted in £15m cash returns to the university since our last Enterprise dinner. The financial returns from these exits are used to support the University’s core mission of being an inspiring place to learn and conduct world-class research.

“But beyond this, our spin-out companies are changing the world to become a better place and help improve people’s lives – from NuVision and Exonate, which are helping people to see, to Surepulse, which is saving babies’ lives, and Promethean Particles, which is delivering new ways of manufacturing materials.”