After giving an overview of the evolution of the British university commercialisation sector, Jennings went on to address issues in the changing landscape of UK tech transfer.
The traditional venture capital model is no longer working in UK technology transfer, and corporate and angel investors are crucial to the sector’s continued growth, according to a senior figure in British commercialisation.
The comments were made during keynote speech by Richard Jennings (pictured), the deputy director of Cambridge Enterprise, the commercialisation unit at UK-based Cambridge University, at training provider PraxisUnico’s annual tech transfer conference in Nottingham last week.
After giving an overview of the evolution of the British commercialisation sector, Jennings went on to address issues in the changing landscape of UK tech transfer. Alongside funding, he also said that the scarcest resource for spin-outs is good management, and pointed to a paradox in the UK whereby taxpayer-funded research and development supply continues to be in good shape, but local demand continued to dwindle as manufacturing, industrial diversity and the financial sector all continue to perform weakly. However, he highlighted that UK tech transfer office’s (TTO) global focus helped to counter unfavourable business conditions in Britain.
Jennings also spoke about intellectual property (IP), saying it was “often seen as a barrier to collaboration, but should be seen as an entry point”. He said that easy access IP was becoming a complication with patents, as were mass filings of IP by China which are creating due diligence headaches for British TTOs. He also derided “corporate machismo” where companies build up piles of unused patents to “mindless sizes” in an attempt to show off to other firms.
The PraxisUnico event attracted commercialisation professionals from across the country to come and exchange thoughts and views on knowledge transfer, including a highly attended session on how tech transfer offices can engage with academics.
Various TTOs admitted that there was a problem in this area. It was suggested that approaches such as workshops don’t work, and that briefings on the workings of IP were a turn off to academics. However, appointing IP champions to inspire other academics had shown to be successful, but only as long as TTOs don’t use the word champion, as they had found academics didn’t like the term. Targeting younger academics also seemed to work, as did training other contact points for academics in how to spot tech transfer potential, such as a university’s media team.
Most importantly, the group said that TTOs have to be able to go in with case studies to show academics how they can work together, as opposed to telling them what a TTO can do.
The conference also hosted PraxisUnico’s annual Impact Awards, which recognise contribution to UK tech transfer.
City University London spin-out School Screener, which provides a fully automatic vision and hearing testing service for school children, took the Business Impact Aspiring Award. School Screener has the potential to save the National Health Service £25m ($38m) annually.
The University of Nottingham received the Business Impact Achieved Award after licensing Soda-Lo, a low sodium salt that would help reduce disease associated to high salt intake, to food manufacturer Tate and Lyle.
Staffordshire University design spin-out Flux Stoke on Trent and City Enterprise Services both received special recognition, and the University of York won the Collaborative Impact Award for Circle/Flamingo Land, a collaboration conducting research into forestry and biodiversity conservation.