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From lab to listed: The significance of university spin-outs

29 Sep 2023 Reading time: 2 mins

The world today could look vastly different if the COVID-19 pandemic had failed to be contained.

Thankfully, lockdowns and illness were alleviated by the development of vaccines. Where pharmaceutical giants like Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca hurried to distribute life-saving medicine.

But the solution didn’t just land on their desks one morning.

When you need to bring about fundamental change, change that can alter quality of life across the globe and solve a pressing issue, you need radical advancement of technology.

But Rome wasn’t built in a day, and advancements in new technology take a huge amount of time, talent, and investment, since they require intense, sustained research and rarely have a clear and immediate route to market.

So where is radical, new technology incubated with long-term support?

The answer lies in our universities.

Oxford university spin-out, Vaccitech, and Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz spin-out, BioNTech, became AstraZeneca and Pfizer vaccines. Developed over more than two decades of research, they demonstrate the importance of universities as the origin of world-changing ideas.

The significance of spin-outs

University spin-outs are innovative ventures borne out of university research that has been studied and developed for several years, until a window of opportunity to commercialise the research or intellectual property becomes clear.

In the same way that tech spun-out from universities paved the way for life saving vaccines, the next wave of technological advancement – and the next economic shift – is being led by scientific innovation in ‘deep tech’.

Zoe Reich, deep tech investor at Octopus Ventures, defines deep tech as ‘novel technology that comes from years of innovative research’. We’re talking seven to ten years before a nugget of commercial potential is explored.

The defining difference of deep tech to regular tech, is the step change in benefit. It can provide us with solutions to society’s greatest challenges, such as climate change, food security, disease, and sustainable industry.

The UK is an excellent environment to nurture deep tech ventures, with patient capital and a world class university system.
And this is demonstrated in our 2023 Entrepreneurial Impact Rankings.

Promising prospects

If you know Octopus, you’ll know about our mission to invest in game-changing businesses. As one of Europe’s most active deep tech investors, we’re driven by its potential to positively shape our future, and therefore we support the university ecosystem.

Back in 2020 we published a report with ideas2impact, looking at the success of universities in producing spin-outs. And now, we’re back with an update.

We’ve ranked universities across the UK by their entrepreneurial impact, which is calculated by considering various factors such as patents, disclosures, spin-outs created, and subsequent financial transactions associated with exits. The exiting of spin-out companies (with the UK having some incredible success stories) is fundamental to how well universities perform in the ranking.

Find out about the largest exits and who claimed the coveted top spot in the full report here.

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