SCOTTISH higher education institutions have won a Pounds 2 million boost for commercialising their research in science and technology.
Scottish education minister Brian Wilson this week launched the Scottish Technology Fund, a partnership between the national development agency Scottish Enterprise and 3i, a firm which is the largest provider of venture capital in the United Kingdom.
The fund is a first between the public and private sector and will provide capital funding for start-up companies dealing with subjects such as biotechnology, software and electronics.
Mr Wilson said the fund would take a new venture, which was still at the research and development stage, to the point where it could ultimately go on to achieve significant commercial success.
"In simple terms, the Scottish Technology Fund will allow high growth-potential businesses, particularly in the science and technology field, to get their foot on the first rung of the ladder to success."
The fund supports Technology Ventures, the ten-year strategy recently launched by Scottish Enterprise and the Royal Society of Edinburgh, which aims to bridge the gap between academics and industrialists, giving researchers a greater understanding of how their work can be exploited commercially.
Studies by Scottish Enterprise and the Royal Society of Edinburgh revealed that a major barrier was the lack of "pre-start" money for research and development. The new fund hopes to finance up to 30 pre-start ventures over the next three years. Successful schemes will be able to attract additional venture capital from either Scottish Enterprise or 3i, which says academic and research institutions are a major source of investment opportunities.
Willie Watt, director of 3i in Scotland, said venture capital strategies had tended to focus on single universities in the past.
"I don't think there's anything that has quite the breadth we have here. If this works in Scotland, we would think of rolling it out in other parts of the UK," he said.
Sir Graeme Davies, principal of Glasgow University and a member of the Technology Ventures leadership group, said: "You need to buy the time to work up a research idea until it develops a momentum of its own. If ideas are worked through, you can raise the venture capital to allow it to take off. Quite a lot of bright ideas start to grow and then die off because they don't have access to encouragement."
The fund will have an advisory committee chaired by Neil Hood, director of marketing at Strathclyde University's business school.