That the innovation ecosystem in Scotland manages to punch well above its weight – not just in the UK but in Europe as a whole – is in no small part thanks to Edinburgh Innovations.
The unit is a wholly-owned subsidiary of University of Edinburgh, and was founded more than 50 years ago. Its track record over that period, and in the last decade in particular, is outstanding. More than 500 startups and spinouts have been launched since 1967 and of all the companies spun out of Edinburgh Innovations since 2010, 85% are still trading.
In September, Wobble Genomics, a specialist in RNA sequencing technology, became the latest Edinburgh spinout with a £1.2m investment round jointly led by Old College Capital, the university’s in-house venture investment fund.
According to chief executive George Baxter, his organisation’s remit is somewhat wider in scope than that of many other technology transfer offices. “We also cover industrial awards, translational awards and student enterprise as well,” he explained. “So, we are a little bit broader than what many standard tech transfer offices are in other universities: we are very active in student startups, for example. In fact, last year we were seventh in the UK on the total number of students startups with about 85. We expect to be in the top two or three this year.”
Edinburgh stands out among its Scottish peers with top rankings in areas such as investment into new spinouts, the number of spinout companies and engagement with students, Baxter pointed out. In 2020, Edinburgh invested £32m into new spinouts – roughly six times the level recorded in 2015.
The unit’s success has been recognised not only by Global University Venturing but also in the prestigious Converge awards in Scotland. Edinburgh’s Genevieve Patenaude won the top prize in 2020 for her Earth Blox innovation, a satellite intelligence system which provides information to help mitigate the impact of natural disasters and climate change.
Baxter pointed to the strong angel network and investor community in Scotland as a major source of the nation’s success in enterprise and innovation. As well as the UK-wide support available through the likes of Innovate UK, institutions north of the border benefit from the funding and expertise made available by Scottish Enterprise. “It has been very important and I think will continue to be very important,” he explained. “Something which I am really proud of is that if you look at our support from the Scottish government, we are by far the most efficient university. We are by far the largest output per pound of their support for the innovation of any Scottish university – and in fact, we are up there in the top handful in the UK as well for the same type of funding.”
Baxter said that perhaps the most important factor in Edinburgh Innovations’ current success was its staff: employee numbers have doubled to 120 since he was appointed in 2016. “I cannot speak highly enough of them,” he stressed. “It makes it much easier to be a chief executive if you have got a fantastic team.”
Other nominees in this category were:
- University of Manchester Innovation Factory
- University of Michigan Office of Technology Transfer