Warwick Ventures’ core activities surround the protection and commercialisation of the University’s intellectual property. We no longer consider ourselves simply a University technology transfer office. Since its inception Warwick Ventures has developed quickly into a regional resource for technology transfer best practice; an incubator to help student and graduate entrepreneurs; and a gateway to venture capital for technology companies in the British Midlands.
As recently as 2003 the UK government revised its policy on innovation and industrial competitiveness. The findings of two reports from that year, the Lambert Review and the Innovation Report, contributed to the government’s Science & Innovation Investment Strategy (2004). This report identified six key areas where the government, industry and, notably, academia, would focus their efforts over the next decade:
- Maintaining and encouraging further world class research at UK universities.
- Greater responsiveness of publicly funded research to the needs of the economy.
- Increased investment by business into R&D.
- A stronger supply of scientists, engineers and technologists.
- Sustainable and financially robust universities and public research laboratories.
- Confidence and increased awareness across the UK in science and innovation.
To maintain its reputation for scientific excellence, the UK government has looked to balance the supply of academic invention with businesses’ global demand for innovative products. Three of the ways in which the UK Government aims to support academic research and innovation, in particular, is through:
- The Public Sector Research Exploitation Funds (PSRE): which enables public sector research establishments to develop their R&D capacity, through application to a £45m fund.
- Higher Education Investment Fund (HEIF) 2: provides ongoing funds for Technology Transfer operations in UK Universities totalling some £200m.
- Knowledge Transfer Programs (KTP’s) : Programs which enables young graduates to carry out a knowledge transfer project in a business.
The University of Warwick shares the UK government’s vision and is committed to maximising the commercial application of its research to the benefit of its own future prosperity but also that of the regional and national economies. Warwick is proud to have been involved in commerical initiatives for several years. In 2000 the university established its own technology transfer office, Warwick Ventures, which spearheads the University’s commercialisation program through patenting, licensing and the creation of spin-off companies based on selected research innovations. To date we have assisted 27 companies to begin trading, (with another 7 in the pipeline), employing over 140 staff.
The level of appreciation of commercial issues within the University environment has been increasing in recent years and programmes like Midlands Medici, the technology transfer training programme funded by HEFCE, have accelerated this rate of change. Midlands Medici has been operating at Warwick since 2002 and has encouraged the commercial exploitation of ideas by the provision of training in business, entrepreneurship and technology transfer. Medici Fellows are not only a knowledge source but also champion a culture change in the academic departments in which they are embedded. This helps create a more business-focused environment which, it is hoped, will attract the local business community and thus help play a more active role in the economic development of the region.
One of Warwick’s other notable success stories is that of having a lead role in the Spinner Programme which has sought to encourage best practice around the technology transfer community within 8 Midlands universities: Aston, Birmingham, Coventry, Keele, Staffordshire, UCE, Warwick, and Wolverhampton. Funded by the RDA, Advantage West Midlands, it was cited in the Lambert Review as a collaboration that in particular adds real value to the new universities’ operations. The main objective of Spinner is to create 40 regional spin-off companies by 2010 and to help address the “spin-out gap” - the lack of resources within the universities to pursue “pre-seedcorn” activities, such as the identification of intellectual property (IP); market research; the production of prototypes, feasibility studies; the production of business plans to a professional standard; the presentation of plans to investors; the formation and associated legal and administrative activities; and the support for mentoring and interim management.
Warwick’s longest running project has been Connect Midlands; a programme designed to to ease the flow of venture capital to technology companies, and generate a network of professionals to help high technology companies in the Midlands find venture capital and other facilities they require. Almost 300 companies, mostly created from outside the university sector, have presented their investment propositions at special Connect events, which has led directly and indirectly to in excess of £52 million of venture capital being raised within the region.
By its very nature funding for these multi-million pound projects is never secure. Some will come to an end but other projects – maybe from different funding sources will take their place. What will always remains constant is The University of Warwick’s commitment to its responsibilities as a source of novel and innovative technologies and as a seat of best practice for the commercialisation of these new technologies. We will continue to attract investment from industrial partners and venture capitalists and commercialise the technologies bringing employment and prosperity to the region.