Universities join forces in bid to boost spin-outs and research income

Derek Wadell: hoping for backing
Derek Wadell: hoping for backing
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SCOTLAND’S universities are joining forces to increase the number of spin-out companies they launch and the amount of their research being licensed out to industry.

Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Strathclyde universities have submitted plans to the Scottish Funding Council (SFC) for a “modular” system that could be used by institutes to boost business formation rates.

The eight modules will cover topics such as business planning, finance and mentoring.

Some universities will be able to deliver all of the modules using their own staff and resources but smaller bodies will be able to access help from Aberdeen, Edinburgh or Strathclyde, including their networks of mentors.

Derek Waddell, director of research and commercialisation at Edinburgh University, said he hoped to find out after the summer if the project will receive SFC support.

“Universities already work together a lot but this is a good way for bigger universities with more resources to support smaller universities,” Waddell said.

News of the tie-up comes as a report by Biggar Economics reveals that companies spun out from Edinburgh University and the licensing of the institute’s technology add £140.8 million a year to the Scottish economy, up from £94.7m in 2008, when the previous study was published.

The number of jobs created by the start-up companies also rose to 2,400 in 2011, compared with 1,900 in 2008.

“What really jumped out at us was the longevity of these companies,” noted Waddell. “Of all the businesses launched by the university over the past 40 years, 84 per cent of them are still operating.

“These are long-term jobs rather than just a flash in the pan.”

Wolfson Microelectronics – which was spun out from Edinburgh University in 1985 and floated on the London Stock Exchange in 2003 – accounted for about 23 per cent of the value added to the Scottish economy.

Waddell said Edinburgh’s total contribution could rise even higher thanks to an increasing amount of funding that is becoming available.

Last month, Scotland on Sunday revealed that London-based MTI Ventures was setting up a £150m investment fund to which spin-out companies from Edinburgh University will have access.

The Orion Fund will be the UK’s largest unlisted vehicle investing in university technology companies.

Old College Capital, the university’s own venture investment vehicle, also has a £2m pot of money and typically pumps between £50,000 and £100,000 into spin-outs. Its biggest investment to date has been £200,000 in wind turbine generator developer Ngentec, into which Jim McColl has also invested cash.

A report published in April by Young Company Finance found Edinburgh had spun out more companies between 2008 and 2010 than any other university in the UK. It has set up more firms than all other Scottish universities combined.