Academics strike gold

January 20, 2006

A growing cadre of super-rich academics is joining the ranks of the wealthy after reaping the rewards of commercialising their ideas and inventions.

The first survey on the academic rich, compiled by The Times Higher , reveals dozens of multi-millionaire professors who have made fortunes through spin-off companies, entrepreneurial ventures and inventions.

Twelve academics identified as the biggest earners in the list have founded companies worth hundreds of millions of pounds.

The list is dominated by academics at Oxbridge and Russell Group institutions but also includes lecturers at Bradford, Dundee and Ulster universities.

It includes John King, an ex-lecturer at Queen's University Belfast, who has been valued at £160 million, and Brian Bellhouse, an Oxford engineering professor, whose personal wealth has been estimated at £40 million.

Multimillionaire Cambridge scientist Sir Greg Winter and Oxford chemists Steve Davies and Graham Richards also feature among the top 12 earners.

Professor Richards, an unabashed multimillionaire, said: "Academics are making money on an unprecedented scale. I can think of 20 millionaires in Oxford alone. It is catching. My young colleagues can see that I have made a lot and yet I do normal work and haven't sold my soul. This is also now accepted by academic peers."

Several on the list have made their millions in the past year, such as Stephen Jackson, a Cambridge biologist who founded KuDOS Pharmaceuticals.

The list was compiled from a survey of more than 100 experts. Most said that more academics were making millions from commercial ventures than ever before.

Entrepreneurs have benefited from the Alternative Investment Market, which opened in 1995 mainly to meet the needs of smaller new businesses.

Professor Winter, who founded Cambridge Antibody Technology, and Sir Tom Blundell, a Cambridge biochemist who set up Astex Therapeutics valued at Pounds 150 million, said there had been a culture change in univerities.

Professor Winter said: "Not so long ago, academics were told that if they wanted to get involved in commercial activities they should just leave academe."

Professor Blundell said: "I look back to, say, the 1970s when aspiring academics had two main objectives: to get into an academy such as the Royal Society and to do some good research. Now academics in their thirties are aspiring to start a company, as well as get into an academy and do excellent research."

In the past two years, UK universities have spun off 20 companies with a combined share value of more than £1 billion, according to the University Companies Association.

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