Imperial spawns one a month

June 2, 2000

Imperial College, London, is establishing new companies at the rate of about one a month, a move encouraged by the government's backing of enterprise and innovation in institutions, writes Kam Patel.

Speaking last week at the graduate degree ceremony, the college's rector, Lord Oxburgh, said that the speciality of Imperial's new firms is equally divided between the biomedical sciences and the physical sciences with engineering.

Lord Oxburgh said: "Some of them will certainly go to the wall within the first five years, but if this were not to happen it would probably mean that we were being too cautious."

Lord Oxburgh said the firms offer the prospect of new streams of income for the college and are Imperial's contribution to the national drive for greater entrepreneurship.

But he added: "Our main motivation for launching these companies is to offer our staff the satisfaction of seeing whether they can exploit the market potential of their own discoveries."

Lord Oxburgh said the ramping up of Imperial's entrepreneurial efforts reflected a broader shift in national attitudes from the late 1980s, when it was generally held that the future of the UK lay with the service industries and that investment in research was a waste of money. He said:

"Now research is seen as an essential investment for a diverse economy."

Lord Oxburgh welcomed the "modest" increase in government spending on university research. But he said: "There is increased emphasis on the application of research in industry, which could lead to too short-term a view of what is worth doing.

"Nonetheless, it is welcome, and it is no exaggeration to say that government policy now aligns rather well to what has been college policy for many years," he said.

The creation of an "exciting new interdisciplinary climate" at Imperial would provide more support for enterprise and innovation at the college, said Lord Oxburgh.

A critical first step is the formation of the graduate school of life sciences and medicine at the college. Postgraduate students registered within the school of medicine or departments of biology or biochemistry will be able to attend relevant courses provided in any part of the new school.

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