https://innovateuk.blog.gov.uk/2016/04/19/connecting-university-academics-with-private-investors/

Connecting university academics with private investors

One moment from my PhD has stuck with me for many years. It was a moment, in the lab one afternoon where my colleagues and I hit on a pretty good idea for a new product and developed a working prototype which, looking back, we could have used to start a company.

The product was a diode laser amplifier, which had a small but rapidly growing market, and we calculated that by buying-in the most difficult components, and using the university machining shop to make the housing and mounts we could easily assemble these bits together and make a product for a fraction of the price that it was being sold at the time.

So what’s the point of this story?

If you don’t try, you’ll never know.

I’m not saying that we could have sold thousands of these devices, or that we could have easily started a profitable company, the point is that we didn’t even try.

After making two devices (one for us, one for the lab next to ours), we considered our work done, and stopped, for no good reason other than that we didn’t fully realise the full potential of what we had done.

Innovate UK guides government investments in emerging technologies

Fast forward to the present day and I now work for the government’s innovation agency, Innovate UK. My role is to help guide government investments in emerging technologies, such as quantum technologies.

We analyse lots of new technologies that are being researched within universities, and when the time is right invest government money that will help them to transition into a future industry for the UK.

We also connect the right people and companies

Our work is not just about funding, it also helps to connect the right people and companies as well. To achieve this, it’s important that we work with existing companies, to help them learn how to adopt these new technologies, but especially for the really groundbreaking technologies, it is vital that we help and encourage academics to use good ideas to form new spinout companies.

Spinout companies are a vital ingredient to any new industry

These spinout companies are a vital ingredient to any new industry. Spinouts may either grow into large companies for themselves or, more usually, they may be acquired by large companies, helping those companies to grow, and become more innovative.

The world’s first quantum technologies ‘entrepreneur forum’

To help with this task, Innovate UK is working with the science journal Nature, and the company Entrepreneur First to hold the world’s first quantum technologies ‘entrepreneur forum’.

Connecting university academics with private investors, meeting room

This will give inspired academics the chance to win places on Entrepreneur First’s boot camp for new companies. The boot camp is essential to give these spinouts every chance of success.

It gives them the mentoring and support that they need to start thinking in pounds sterling, as well as pi, x, y and z. And, most importantly, if all goes well, Entrepreneur First invests in the company, and introduces them to like-minded investors to really get them started.

Is this attractive to academics?

Well, yes: the first application round received 47 high quality applications for just 5 places. So successful that we are already looking to think about what round 2 looks like.

If you’re interested to see how these 5 applicants hold up in front of a panel of ‘dragons’ consisting of:

  • Hartmut Neven, director of engineering at Google quantum AI labs,
  • Gregoire Ribbordy, founder and CEO of the quantum cryptography company ID Quantique
  • and others, including myself

make sure you come along to our event on the 6th May.

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2 comments

  1. Michael Kenward

    Media welcome on 6th May? (Peter Knight can vouch for me.)

    Any venture like this depends not just on mentoring for the usual business challenges, but on how to communicate. Add that to the portfolio.

    My feeling about quantum technologies is that there is a lot more there than there is in graphene which is too vague and squidgy. (I have survived both high temperature superconductors and C60, among other salvation technologies.) But it will take more to sell the story.

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    • Richard Murray

      I completely agree that teaching an academics or students how to start a successful company requires a complex, and often hard transition between different cultures, and different ways of communication. I often repeat the saying - 'sell the benefits, not the features', but, unfortunately I don't think there's an easy way to learn this (though some just have it!).

      Media are more than welcome to come along on the 6th May. We'll send you an email invitation.

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