Skip to main content

It all started at Warwick

Chris Kay Banner

The Alumni team is working with Warwick Ventures, the University’s dedicated technology transfer and knowledge exchange office, to help it expand its pool of external advisers, investors, business mentors and managers who can work with Warwick’s early career researchers and entrepreneurial students on a growing portfolio of spinout and start-up companies.

With uncertainty continuing over Brexit, the Government’s Industrial Strategy is calling on universities to accelerate the transfer of their knowledge to industry, building richer networks or collaborations with businesses, within regions and between universities. One such avenue for universities to help their research to get into the public domain is through the commercialisation of academic ideas. Warwick Ventures works to support academics through this process, and has created over 100 spinout companies from Warwick innovations to date.

Our spinouts have achieved societal and economic impact through developing products and services that are used by both other businesses and the public. Some have gone on to be acquired and grown further by other businesses, such as Allinea Software, bought by ARM Holdings in 2016 for £18m, producing a 26-times return for investors. Any money Warwick receives from the proceeds of selling its spinouts is put back into research and teaching. And with many of these spinouts in the health sector, the potential for Warwick’s research to change lives through innovation is clear – which helps to make the mentoring roles even more worthwhile for alumni.

One such spinout is Medherant, which began with a research collaboration between Professor David Haddleton in the Department of Chemistry, and Bostik, an adhesives manufacturer which was looking for applications for its new medical grade adhesive. Warwick Ventures helped the department to develop a new type of pain-relief skin patch using the Bostik material and over-the-counter drugs, such as ibuprofen, and provided funding to set up experiments in Chemistry. When the results of the initial tests were encouraging, Warwick Ventures was able to engage specialist consultants to evaluate the marketplace and produce a business plan for a spinout, licensing in the adhesive from Bostik and securing the first investment from Mercia Fund Management. And so Medherant was born, with Professor Haddleton as founder and Chief Scientific Officer.

Four years later, Medherant is thriving metres away from the world-class Chemistry department in the University of Warwick Science Park. It employs 17 people locally, including Gabit Nurumbetov, an alumnus who was the PhD student who worked on the original experiments, and is now Medherant’s Principal Scientist. And this Warwick innovation has its sights set on globalisation – it’s taking its ibuprofen patch into clinical trials in Europe, and developing a second product for the US market. Quite an achievement for a product that was first tested on a pork joint bought from Tesco in Canley.

Interface Polymers is another standout example of where Warwick Ventures has propelled Chemistry’s research out of the lab and into the commercial world. A breakthrough by Chris Kay, PhD student of Professor Peter Scott, led to the invention of a new class of polymer additive that has the potential to revolutionise the polyolefin industry. It’s also an example of Ventures helping to accelerate a researcher’s career path. Ventures provides its own training programme, Warwick i2i (Innovation to Impact), which gives early career researchers the opportunity to test their ideas in the market. It feeds into and complements the Government’s own ICURe scheme (Innovation to Commercialisation of University Research), which Chris successfully applied to. Embedded within the Ventures team, ICURe funded Chris through the testing of the Interface Polymer concept with over a hundred organisations worldwide, leading to the launch of the company. And Chris was so enthused by his interactions with business, he joined Interface Polymers as Chief Scientific Officer, maintaining a collaborative research relationship with the Department of Chemistry through his connection with Professor Scott.

It’s not just chemistry spinouts that have made a splash in the commercial world. Warwick’s spinout and licence portfolio is incredibly diverse, covering electronics and sensors, advanced materials and engineering, biotechnology and healthcare, artificial intelligence, software and data analytics. There are also innovations that have arisen from arts and social sciences faculties, including recent spinout Santé Theatre and Media Productions (STAMP), which works with scientists and artists to create new theatre and digital content around medical topics to share insights, engage new audiences and stimulate debate. Based in Coventry, STAMP is another outstanding example of where Warwick Ventures has helped academics develop and incubate their ideas locally, resulting in impact around the globe.

This has been the most successful year for Warwick’s spinout portfolio in terms of raising new investment. So far, over £30m has been raised to fund product development and growth. Outstanding amongst these was a new spinout, VirionHealth, which has a novel platform technology for treating respiratory viral infections including flu. It raised a first round of £13m from venture capital firm Abingworth and up to $4.2m in grant funding from the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). The award will support the development of VirionHealth’s new class of biological antivirals, in particular both preclinical and Phase 1 clinical studies.

Warwick Ventures itself has built on the achievements of many Warwick researchers with the Government’s ICURe (Innovation to Commercialisation of University Research) programme. This month, as part of a pilot programme to roll out ICURe nationally, it won the competition to deliver the programme to universities across the whole middle of the UK, from Wales to the Wash.

This growth in supporting academic entrepreneurs, whether home-grown or regional, means Warwick Ventures is now looking to expand its pool of external advisers, business mentors and managers who can share their expertise with early career researchers and Warwick’s entrepreneurial students. Alumni interested in adding to the development of early-stage enterprise ventures are particularly welcome to get in touch with our team on alumni@warwick.ac.uk.