One of the more horrifying of medical horror stories is of a patient waking up during surgery and feeling pain but being unable to alert anyone. Audiomedix Ltd, a Glasgow University spin-off company, aims to prevent this with technology that allows anaesthetists to monitor a patient's level of consciousness.
It is one of eight Scottish university spin-offs that have been pitching for more than £36 million at the fourth annual Connect investment conference in Edinburgh. Connect, housed in Edinburgh University's management school, allows emerging technology companies to present their ideas and business plans directly to investors, business angels and bankers from around the world.
Connect, launched in 1996, is sponsored by 13 Scottish higher education institutions and the Scottish Higher Education Funding Council as well as a broad range of private companies and local enterprise companies.
About 250 investors, venture capitalists and advisers from Scotland, London, mainland Europe and the United States flocked to hear presentations from the fledgling companies. Audiomedix is seeking the largest amount of venture capital, £12 million, but chief executive officer Kenneth Allan said it would be "a £300 million company in three to four years".
Its medical technology was developed by Gavin Kenny, head of Glasgow's department of anaesthesia, and colleague Harris Mantzaridis. It generates a series of clicks into the patient's ears, sparking electrical signals in the brain. The system reads these signals and logs them on a scale of 1 to 100, ranging from deeply asleep to wide awake.
Other spin-offs include creating 3D images of real people for the interactive entertainment market, software to support e-learning, and optical coatings for telecommunications equipment.
Connect's director, Ian McDonald, says Scotland is leading the United Kingdom in commercialising academic research, with the exception of Cambridge University. "It is a combination of factors. We were two to three years ahead in thinking about it. We are smaller, with a more manageable economy, so it is easier in relative terms to create a structure and focus. There is a stronger commitment by the business community, a recognition that they have to help companies if they want to keep them up here."
The Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals last year published a report that concluded that British universities' expertise in research and technology transfer was equivalent to that in the United States, Mr McDonald said. What was missing, however, was a body that could involve the local business community. This was what Connect did - it brought together all of the necessary resources.
"This conference is helping fund businesses to the growth stage. It's giving university spin-offs a marketplace to raise funding and get a profile for themselves with the Scottish business community," he said.
"If it wasn't for Connect, it would be very difficult for them to do. We've got 35 venture capital funds and 20 business angels at the conference, as well as all the banks. For an individual to identify these people and then see them would take months, whereas here they can do it in ten minutes."