Five Scottish spin-out business success stories

UNIVERSITIES '˜spin-out' in-house technological innovations into new companies if staff believe its the best road to future success.

Scientist at Edinburgh Molecular Imaging.
Scientist at Edinburgh Molecular Imaging.

The number of Scottish spin-outs has fallen over the past 10 years, but there have been several high-profile success stories.


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Cascade Technologies began in the department of physics at the University of Strathclyde, through the work of the principal academics Professor Geoff Duxbury and Dr Nigel Langford and research student Erwan Normand.

Martin Tangney, left, of Celtic Renewables with transport minister Andrew Jones MP. The spin-out business converts by-products from the Scotch whisky industry into biofuel

It uses innovative Quantum Cascade Laser (QCL) technology capable of measuring multiple gases simultaneously – helping companies to improve industrial emissions monitoring, production efficiencies and environmental compliance.

The Stirling-based company was acquired by US-based firm Emerson in December 2014 - becoming Strathclyde’s biggest spin-out sale in the process.


The Edinburgh spin-out firm won an £11 million grant in 2015 to build the world’s first plant focused on generating advanced biofuels from whisky by-products.

Martin Tangney, left, of Celtic Renewables with transport minister Andrew Jones MP. The spin-out business converts by-products from the Scotch whisky industry into biofuel

Celtic Renewables, spun out from the Biofuel Research Centre at Napier University, will use the funding boost to build a facility that will be up and running by the end of 2018, producing at least one million litres of biofuel every year.

Professor Martin Tangney, the company’s founder and president, said the process will allows Celtic Renewables to turn the leftovers from the whisky industry into a fuel source “that contributes to the low-carbon future we all want”.

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£11m grant to turn whisky into biofuel


Glasgow-based MGB Biopharma developed a new class of anti-bacterial drugs through innovative pre-clinical research.

An initial discovery by Professor Colin Suckling of the University of Strathclyde led to the creation in 2010 of MGB Biopharma, the company formed to take the new technology onto the next stage.

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The new drug, now known as MGB-BP-3, has demonstrated “very significant in vitro and in vivo activity against Gram positive bacteria, including MRSA, VRE and Clostridium difficile.”


Spun-out in early 2014, EMI is based on the work of Dr Kev Dhaliwal and professors Mark Bradley and Christopher Haslell from the University of Edinburgh’s college of ­medicine.

The team created a process for “marking” specific diseases which can then be picked up by scanners and other imaging equipment.

EMI moved into new offices in and laboratory space in Edinburgh’s BioQuarter following a successful £4 million fundraising drive in August 2014.


Another succesful spin-out that began life at the University of Strathclyde. Silent Herdsman – formerly Embedded Technology Solutions – developed a behaviour-monitoring collar, worn by cattle, that can trigger alerts to a farmer’s mobile phone, tablet or laptop. Drew Sloan, chief executive of Silent Herdsman, told The Scotsman in 2015: “Strathclyde is central to our whole story. The original research was done by the university and three of the key people in the research project were involved in starting what is a classic spin-out company – the founders and the university are still involved today.”