Happy returns for floated spin-off firms

February 4, 2005

The value of university spin-off companies floated on the stock market has outstripped, in just one year, the Government's entire spend on "knowledge transfer" activities.

Companies based on the ideas of academics have been particularly successful in raising private money from investors. Ten spin-offs obtaining public listings over the past 12 months had a total market value of £604 million on flotation.

This already exceeds government spending to date - approximately £500 million - on various initiatives promoting the commercial exploitation of research, including the two Higher Education Innovation Funds and the University Challenge Fund.

Tony Raven, speaking for the University Companies Association, said: "The big problem for the Government putting in money to professionalise technology transfer is, what is the economic benefit? These figures demonstrate real economic payback."

Since the dotcom bubble burst in 2000, investors have shown little interest in technology and science-based companies, leaving many struggling to raise private investment. But Dr Raven believes the activity seen in 2004 heralds a return of interest in university spin-offs.

"Some are quite early stage companies," he said. "There does seem to be an appetite for (them), but by going through the public markets rather than venture capitalists."

Since floating, all eight of the companies listed on the Alternative Investment Market have risen in value, gaining a total of £56 million.

But ARK Therapeutics, which floated on the main London Stock Exchange, performed less well, losing £61 million since it floated in March 2004. And Cambridge Display Technology - Cambridge University's first official spin-off company to float - lost almost half its initial market value in its first two months of trading.

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