However great your idea, it won't get far without capital: here, tech transfer leaders tell us how they secured various types of funding in 2022.
We asked a range of high-calibre investors and tech transfer leaders from around the world for their views on the past year and their predictions for the year ahead. The following insights are one segment of a multi-part series that also includes our annual data analysis, a look at initiatives launched by universities last year, thoughts on the importance of various types of financing and views on what 2023 may bring.
George Baxter, chief executive at Edinburgh Innovations, the tech transfer arm of University of Edinburgh, says: “2022 has been an extraordinary year for many reasons at Edinburgh Innovations. We successfully transitioned back into hybrid working, we had our first major exit (nine figures) and the university has agreed to create a new fund with some of its receipts, our activities now account for a record 24% of research funding (up from 8% five years ago) and we launched a UK-leading 105 new student companies. On a personal note, I spent six months off after surgery for advanced cancer and then chemotherapy but am now back fighting fit. The team stepped up magnificently in my absence and we once again set record numbers, despite a few economic and political blips! We also recruited new team members in the US and Singapore.”
Karin Immergluck, associate vice-provost, Office of Technology Licensing, at Stanford University, notes: “We, like so many of our colleagues, have been struggling to retain and especially recruit new staff. We continue to experiment and iterate on our remote and hybrid work arrangements to see what works best for maintaining not only productivity, but more importantly, close collaboration and better problem-solving. This year, we will spend some time experimenting with how office layouts and seating arrangements might help in building stronger working relationships and fostering closer collaboration during in-office days.”
Kelly Sexton, associate vice-president for research and Innovation Partnerships at University of Michigan, adds: “Our office started 2022 with a brand-new name and a modernised organisational framework. We launched our new Corporate Research Alliances unit in late 2021 and rebranded as Innovation Partnerships to reflect our office’s expanded mission and resources. So, for us, 2022 was a year of hiring new staff to join our Alliances team and working to fully leverage all of the synergies and power of this new organisational structure. In 2022 we onboarded 10 new hires across our office, and also took this opportunity to modernise the structure of our outstanding licensing team to create more capacity within the group for professional growth and industry sector specialisation.”
Yasser Biaz: “Investment in deeptech, despite available capital and investment willingness, has been relatively mute in Africa. On the one hand, the deeptech startup landscape is still nascent and often entangled with research institutions, not yet circulating in the programme acceleration ecosystems. So, sustainable investment strategies will have to co-opt an early deeptech ecosystem and gradually scale its capability and capacity. On the other hand, it is widely understood that investment capital structure in deeptech requires development funds, subsidies or other non-dilutive investment instruments to mitigate risk for LP investors. In our experience investing in the US or Israel, similar projects are de-risked financially, by way of considerable grants (e.g. NSF/SBIR or Israel Innovation Authority). While such explicit instruments of subsidy may not yet be available/accessible in Africa, we firmly believe in the competence of our underlying deeptech ecosystem as a de-risking agent.
“In the more involved use cases, UM6P Ventures undertakes — by request of an institution or a corporate partner — the complete equity and investment streamlining process and manages the technology maturation and issuance process. In more typical engagements, UM6P Ventures takes an active stake in the maturation of committed milestones: we will specifically source talent or a particular subject domain expertise, and acquire rights of access to specific equipment and infrastructure. Every investment we make in deeptech is met with a capability and capacity building program in support of the African deeptech ecosystem: we develop-and-scale talent and expertise forward, via our investment. In deeptech, we focus on themes in the domains of regional/continental development and security; namely: agriculture and food; water and energy; pharma and medical; and artificial intelligence and cybersecurity.”
Moray Wright, chief executive of Parkwalk Advisors, observes: “Our experience of 2022 tells a somewhat different tale for deeptech compared to ‘general’ tech. I do not think we saw ‘frothy’ valuations in the deep-tech sector before this selloff and so our sector was much less impacted by it than other sectors. Many of our portfolio companies are pre (meaningful) revenue so their ‘cash-out’ dates have not changed, they are still trying to solve complex issues in multiple sectors that will have huge impact and value when they solve whatever they are seeking to achieve. So, we have seen several highly successful fundraisings within the portfolio with over a dozen rounds closing at significant uplifts (up to four times), generally led by new investors as the companies achieve key performance indicators. We have also had three successful exits generating between three times and ten times. Of course, we have had a few companies unfortunately fail, but that is the nature of venture investing.”