Leader: Capitalised ideas

June 30, 2006

The arrival of Technikos as a serious investor in university spin-offs is a small straw in the wind.

That partners in a successful hedge fund have moved into the sector points to a growing recognition that universities' technology transfer operations are serious commercial propositions. Traditionally, entrepreneurial academics in this country have found themselves up against risk-averse venture capitalists throughout the spin-off process.

But optimists can now point to a number of home-grown models for raising capital. The Oxford/Technikos deal is one such. If it is as successful as an earlier deal between the IP Group, formerly Beeson Gregory, and Oxford's chemistry department, then it could see significant sums raised for the university, the academics and the investors.

Sheffield University's Biofusion offers a second approach. The company, which is essentially dedicated to raising money for this sort of business venture, has exclusive rights to intellectual property in the university's medical sciences, and its flotation earlier this year raised £8.2 million. Venture capitalists are also keen to work through groups of universities, such as N8, whose relationship was formulated to boost research and technology transfer strengths. What these models indicate is a welcome culture change, and one that is crucial if the rich vein of ideas in university labs are to benefit us all.

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