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.”