December 4, 2019
Known as ‘spin-outs’, companies created by universities are one of the ways that intellectual property emerging from research can be translated into commercial opportunities.
Until recently, Newcastle University was creating one, maybe two spin-outs each year. Last year, however, seven new companies were created. The key to growth in company creation is the package of support and guidance now wrapped around them.
This support comes principally through the Northern Accelerator scheme that Newcastle University is part of along with Northumbria, Durham and Sunderland universities. The scheme works both pre- and post-incorporation. An Ideas Impact Hub encourages academics to embrace opportunities for enterprise, providing training to help recognise and exploit intellectual property. Pre-incorporation funds are also available to help move research closer to commercialisation.
The Executives into Business component connects academics with business leaders experienced and skilled in providing support and sourcing funding in the early years. Increasing the access embryonic companies have to experienced management is improving investment readiness. Northern Accelerator also offers a detailed business-readiness assessment, providing robust external due-diligence. And a seed fund can help spin-outs validate business models and demonstrate value to investors.
It all goes towards creating a sustainable, growth-driven business. In the last five years, Newcastle University spin-outs have raised more than £10.8 million of investment. One investment success story is that of Atelerix.
Based in The Biosphere at Newcastle Helix, Atelerix is developing patent-protected methods to shield biological products from biochemical and physical damage during storage and transportation. This is extending the shelf life of some cell therapies and reducing the reliance on freezing cells and tissues. Atelerix has attracted more than £1 million of investment so far, as it seeks to expand its international customer base in a £2 billion market. But investment isn’t the only measure of success. Advanced Electric Machines is developing a new generation of lightweight, energy-efficient motors. Based in Washington, the company has already grown to ten employees and last month won two prizes at The Engineer Collaborate to Innovate Awards, taking home the Grand Prix alongside the Automotive Category win. The growth and success of Advanced Electric Machines is now being used to lever more funding and investment into the region with the aim of anchoring the North East as the UK’s leading centre of electric drivetrain research and manufacturing.
Another recent prize winner was Changing Health. Their highly-personalised digital programmes are designed to equip people with, or at risk of Type 2 diabetes, with the psychological tools and information they need to make lifestyle changes that last a lifetime. NHS England has appointed the company to address Type 2 diabetes on a large scale. The partnership will see the biggest roll-out of free digital support for people diagnosed with the condition, which currently costs the NHS approximately £8.8 billion every year.
Spin-outs rarely grab the headlines. But they are a key ingredient in our region’s pursuit of more and better jobs, in retaining and attracting talent, and in growing our competitive edge.