McGill forms venture company to fund spin-offs

April 19, 2002

McGill University has formed a private company with neighbouring universities and hospitals to get more discoveries out into the marketplace.

McGill, Universite de Sherbrooke, their research hospitals and Bishop's University have created a venture capital firm that will provide seed and early-stage funding for discoveries deemed to have commercial potential.

The C$26 million (£11.4 million) MSBI (McGill Sherbrooke Bishops Innovations) will act as a fund manager, choosing ten discoveries in which to invest each year. Projects in biotechnology, pharmaceuticals, bioinformatics, software and communications will be eligible for funds of between C$250,000 and C$500,000 but exceptional projects could receive up to C$1 million. They will have five years to recoup the money.

McGill has the highest research funding in Canada per researcher (about C$177,000 for a total of C$234 million) while Sherbrooke earns ten times more in licensing royalties than any other Canadian university (C$15.8 million).

Pierre Belanger, McGill's vice-principal for research, said there was a need to build something outside the institution and closer to commercial realisation to attract risk-averse investors.

"Universities do not really have the ethos for a truly commercial operation. You want to reduce the risk by going higher up the chain."

MSBI was created with C$15 million from the province of Quebec, and may reach a value of C$50 million in the next few months. It will have a renewable lifespan of ten years and, if successful, plans to launch a second venture capital fund.

Peter Munsche, assistant vice-president for technology transfer at the University of Toronto in neighbouring Ontario, envied the boost the Quebec universities were receiving from their provincial government. But he suggested the goal for the spin-off companies and commercial products to make money in five years might be too ambitious.

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