£100m deal to fund spin-offs

February 23, 2001

Four universities have struck a deal with a £100 million investment fund that will help them to spin off technology companies.

Bristol and Southampton universities, together with University College London and Imperial College, will each have a 1 per cent share in the profits from the Venture Technologies University Partners fund.

They will put their ideas to the fund in return for funding and management skills to get the companies off the ground. There is no exclusivity in the deal: the universities can look for other funding sources, while the fund can invest in other universities' ideas.

The fund was the brainchild of Sir Roger Ashby, the former chief of Southampton Innovations, where he masterminded several successful spin-offs.

"The problem with working in a university is that you get the academic community making business decisions, which they are not skilled at," he said.

"In a single university, there is not sufficient intellectual property to build a multi-million dollar company. These are all world-leading universities in their own right. The idea is to get a fund, look at the technology in each university and combine them into a company."

The fund will concentrate on spin-offs outside the life sciences such as IT, semiconductors and telecommunications.

The universities have all spun off companies and all worked together before. They were chosen for geographical proximity and complimentary research areas.

Sir Roger plans to set up other funds in the future in other regions. "Oxford and Cambridge already have large funds, with good brand names and they find it easier to attract money," he said.

"The red bricks don't have this old money."

Susan Searle, director of science and engineering at Imperial College Innovations, said the profit share would not be significant.

"The motivation is about having a funding source for new opportunities and to work with people who can help move the companies forwards faster," she said.

Jeffrey Skinner, director of UCL ventures, said: "It is clearly great for us if there is a venture capitalist on our doorstep, hungry to fund early stage ventures."

The fund has a £60 million target for the end of March, and is aiming for £100 million in total.

Spin-off companies must have a projected growth rate of ten to 100 times within their first two years.

As well as capital, the fund will help to write business plans and will provide management expertise.

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