The top 25: Jill Smith, president and CEO, Allied Minds

Jill Smith knows a thing or two about the challenges of commercialising university research. She first took over leadership at Boston-based and London-listed commercialisation firm Allied Minds on an interim basis in March last year, replacing co-founder and chief executive Chris Silva, before she was made permanent president and CEO two months later.

Allied Minds was founded in 2004 to establish spinouts based on research from partnered US universities and federal research facilities.

During her time in charge of Allied Minds, Smith has reviewed the firm’s portfolio and cut off funding to seven spinouts – a writedown of more than $146m. At the time, she said she hoped to create “more targeted investment strategies” and attract more external investors, while hiring more experienced managers and operating boards for spinouts.

Beginning any job with a nine-figure writedown is not what any chief executive would want, but the fact that Smith has been willing to make these tough decisions underlines how suited she is to the high-stakes business of technology transfer.

Smith’s strategic changes have already begun to bear fruit – Allied Minds hired Simon Davidson, previously a managing director responsible for US east coast investments at In-Q-Tel, the investment affiliate of the US intelligence community, in June last year, making him executive vice-president of technology investments.

Allied Minds also continues to produce interesting spinouts – a recent example is QuayChain, launched in September to commercialise wireless technology aimed at digitising industrial supply chain processes.

Earlier that same month, BridgeSat, a US-based satellite communication technology developer based on work at research institutes Aerospace Corporation and Draper Laboratory, raised $10m in a series B round that not only featured Allied Minds but also Boeing HorizonX Ventures, a corporate venturing division of aerospace and defence company Boeing.

Successes have also come in the form of larger rounds, such as Federated Wireless, a developer of phone spectrum management technology based on research at Virginia Tech, which closed a $42m series B round in September 2017 backed by Allied Minds and co-led by Singaporean sovereign wealth fund GIC, telecoms firm Charter Communications, wireless communications infrastructure operator American Tower and telecoms equipment maker Arris International.

Spin Transfer Technologies, a data storage spinout from New York University, meanwhile closed a $22.8m convertible bridge round in January backed by Invesco Asset Management, Woodford Investment Management and Allied Minds.

Allied Minds has also celebrated exits during Smith’s tenure, with internet security firm Percipient Networks being acquired by network security company WatchGuard Technologies for an undisclosed sum in January this year.

Smith, who can draw on more than 25 years of experience as a business leader, including 16 years as chief executive both of private and public companies, is also on the board of two other listed companies – pharmaceutical firm Endo International and precision measuring technology producer Hexagon.

Allied Minds may have had an eventful time during Smith’s tenure, but her decisions have made it clear she has the skills to put the firm on an upward trajectory and that her leadership will be a boon to portfolio companies.