A report by the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee, published on 13 March, warned that the lack of finance for commercialisation of technology was effectively forcing UK technology companies and entrepreneurs to seek private equity investment.
“British entrepreneurs are being badly let down by a lack of access to financial support and a system that often forces them to sell out to private equity investors or larger foreign companies to get ideas off the ground,” said committee chair and Labour MP, Andrew Miller.
MPs said they had been encouraged by the work of the Technology Strategy Board and its network of “catapult” centres, but said that they were concerned about the access of small firms to facilities, and that government grant funding was often highly bureaucratic to apply for and only enough to “get an idea off the ground”.
The report, Bridging the Valley of Death: Improving the Commercialisation of Research, adds that while academic research is the “jewel in the crown of UK innovation activity”, the committee had concerns about how universities interact with the commercialisation of research.
It questions whether changes to the Higher Education Innovation Fund, which reward institutions that have already benefited from successfully commercialising their intellectual property, might further decrease the success of already struggling institutions.
“We would like to see how well changes to the Higher Education Innovation Fund improve commercialisation activity; whether there is a need for greater amounts of proof of concept funding in the sector; and challenge the institutions to become more accommodating to non-traditional backgrounds among their academic staff,” it reads.
“We have concerns that driving an innovation agenda too aggressively through universities may have diminishing returns with regard to commercialisation and risk damaging the academic research that is working well,” it adds.
A spokeswoman for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills said the government had set out “a clear approach” for making the most of the UK’s world-class science and research base, including a range of initiatives to help innovative small- and medium-sized businesses access funding.
“Despite enormous economic pressure we have protected the £4.6 billion annual budget for science and research. Over £1.2 billion is being invested over three years through the Technology Strategy Board to support business-led innovation, of which £250 million is being spent establishing a network of Catapult Centres to bring new technologies to market,” she said.
“This week we announced around £50 million of projects supported by the Biomedical Catalyst, a £180 million programme to bridge the ‘valley of death’ in biomedical sciences,” the spokeswoman added.
Wendy Piatt, director general of the Russell Group of research-intensive universities, said that government initiatives should aim to address the issues in the funding pipeline in order to increase the commercialisation of research without diverting funds from basic research.