Newer universities lead on graduate start-ups

But the highest value UK spin-off companies mainly come from research-intensive universities, latest figures show

June 2, 2017

Companies that start life as spin-offs from university research by academics or ideas from graduates are linchpins of what is known as knowledge transfer activity in higher education. 

Many institutions pride themselves on having expertise in producing spin-off firms from academic research, a number of which can go on to bring in millions of pounds for universities if they are wholly or partly owned by an institution.

Likewise, some universities have a lot of success in helping graduates to establish start-up companies, which are distinct from spin-offs in that their main link to an institution is where the founders studied. 

So which UK universities were the most successful in helping to set up such firms during the 2015-16 academic year?

According to the latest Higher Education Business and Community Interaction survey released by the Higher Educations Statistics Agency earlier this year, many newer universities led the way when it came to fresh graduate start-ups being established in 2015-16.


Number of new graduate start-ups in 2015-16

Top of the list was the Royal College of Art, where 300 graduate start-up companies were formed last year. Like other art colleges where the future prospects of graduates depends a lot on fostering entrepreneurial skills, the RCA provides specific help to aid students in setting up businesses through its centre for enterprise, InnovationRCA.

Other institutions with high numbers of graduate start-up companies included similar art specialists such as Falmouth University but also more general institutions such as Southhampton Solent University, which has strong links with the creative industries.

Newer universities also dominate the list of institutions that had the highest overall number of active graduate start-ups in 2015-16 (including those set up previously). The University of Central Lancashire – which for three years running was shortlisted for Times Higher Education’s Entrepreneurial University of the Year – had the most, with 932, followed by Kingston University (878) and the University of Wales Trinity Saint David (567).


Number of active graduate start-ups in 2015-16

The picture turns towards older institutions when looking at university-owned spin-off firms that have the highest turnover, reflecting the fact that they are more likely to be high-value companies spun out from research-based discoveries.


Estimated current turnover of university-owned spin-offs in 2015-16

According to the statistics, the University of Edinburgh and the University of Oxford saw the highest estimated turnover from all the active spin-offs where they had some ownership, at just over £134 million each.

Edinburgh’s technology transfer activities are managed through a limited company, Edinburgh Research and Innovation, that has boasted a string of successes in recent years, while the city itself has grown a reputation as a hub for technology start-ups.

Meanwhile, Edinburgh also makes a list of universities with the most active staff start-up companies (24) in 2015-16. Staff start-ups are distinct from spin-off companies as they are not specifically based on intellectual property emerging from university research.


Number of active staff start-ups in 2015-16

At the top of this list, which contains a mix of older and newer institutions, is the University of Cambridge with 58 active staff start-ups last year.

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Reader's comments (3)

This analysis of the latest Higher Education Business and Community Interactive Survey (HESA) showcases the range of vibrant institutional activity that is now apparent within the “enterprise and entrepreneurship” agenda. Underpinning these results is a clear demonstration of how staff have been working to support this agenda by creating successful strategies that build upon existing institutional strengths. As the national network for enterprise educators, Enterprise Educators (EEUK) supports its members to share their best practice and learn about the differing approaches in support of ‘enterprise’ agenda. Our member’s experience clearly shows the need to create an institutional alignment in order to reap the benefits of the wide range of enterprise activities. We continue to support the development of member practice, which sees UK institutions working to support its students and staff to contribute nationally through their entrepreneurial activity Gurpreet Jagpal (Chair, EEUK)
Whilst my own Uni features well I know that EEUK has massive interactions with those on the list here. They are held up as world leaders by the United Nations and the European Commission. As a Fellow of this body I am proud to be involved with this impactful journey - one designed to help all of our young learners and beyond.
I agree with the previous two comments, but would like to mention that UK universities lead the world in offering undergraduate courses that enable students to start and run their own businesses as an integral part of their honours degrees. They are called Venture Creation Programmes (See ) and the first was launched in January 2006 at the independent University of Buckingham.

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