Tony Raven, chief executive of Cambridge University’s technology transfer office Cambridge Enterprise, has joined a small but illustrious group of recipients of the GUV Lifetime Achievement Award.
Previous awardees include Susan Searle, chief executive of Imperial Innovations (since rebranded to Touchstone Innovations) from 2002 to 2013, and Lita Nelsen, who led Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s commercialisation arm Technology Licensing Office for two and a half decades.
In 2014, when Lita Nelsen was given the award, there was a shortlist – the other two nominees were Richard Jennings, then deputy director at Cambridge Enterprise, and Katharine Ku, executive director at Stanford University’s Office of Technology Licensing.
The simple fact that Tony Raven is receiving the award without a shortlist already stands as a testament to his achievements – the decision, to borrow a phrase from the man himself, “came to [GUV] in a brilliant flash of the bleeding obvious.”
Paul Seabright, deputy director at Cambridge Enterprise, who referenced Raven’s beloved comment said the sentence “and Tony’s enthusiasm for the ‘creative chaos’ of Cambridge reflects his core concept that serendipity has much to do with what makes technology successful.”
When it comes to Raven’s career, that same serendipity has given him a helping hand time and again. Asked to reflect on his professional life, Raven began by quoting Steve Jobs, the late founder of technology company Apple: “You cannot connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards.”
In other words, Raven explained, his career only looks like a coherent plan in retrospect. As it unfolded, he said, it was a “series of serendipitous moments” taking him places he never imagined.
True though that may be, Raven’s professional life has been shaped by a few fundamental traits, chief among them copious levels of intelligence, optimism, humour, confidence, curiosity and openness to experience. Raven does not quote the second part of Jobs’s thought, but it seems apposite: “You have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something – your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever.”
Looking back, Raven divides the lines and points of his career into three groups: academia, entrepreneurship and tech transfer. In the first set, highpoints included graduating with a First in physics from Manchester University and earning his MSc and DPhil at Oxford University. He then worked at Osaka University and Rutherford Appleton Laboratories where he focused on laser fusion.
What caused Raven to jump off the academic trajectory? He said the decisive moment came when he was up for a promotion and was told that he was too young. In response, he decided to “take a look around” and see what other paths he might try. He ended up joining Cambridge-based consultancy firm PA Consulting in 1983.
The next line of Raven’s career properly starts in 1985, when he co-founded Summit Technology. The company followed a research collaboration with the Institute of Ophthalmology that led to one of the first successful methods of laser eye surgery. The company grew to become the market leader in laser refractive surgery and was acquired by eyecare producer Alcon for $893m in 2000.
Shirley Jamieson, head of marketing and communications at Cambridge Enterprise, recalls those early days well: “I first met Tony in 1987, when I joined the newly formed technology consultancy Generics Group (now called Sagentia) founded by Gordon Edge.
“I remember, besides his height, that he spent hours in a dark room on the ground floor which he filled with lasers. Who knows what went on in that room, I was never allowed in, but he must have been doing something interesting with those lasers because in 1991 Tony formed Diomed, a world leader in therapeutic medical diode lasers and was CEO and deputy chairman until 2000.
“Tony is still that tall guy who has enormous appetite for invention and desire to see the world a better place because of great innovation.”
After his third exit, Raven decided to take a two-year sabbatical. Six months in, however, he found himself bored. Serendipity struck again. The government had recently enacted three programs – the Higher Education Reach-Out to Business and the Community, University Challenge Seed Funds and the Science Enterprise Challenge – to encourage universities to move into commercialising their research outcomes.
Headhunters called Raven on behalf of several universities that had won awards and needed to hire someone to figure out what to do with the funds. Raven was not interested in going to the ones with the money though. It was Southampton University, which had not won a government award, that drew him.
What appealed to him? The university’s conviction that commercialisation was important backed up by the fact that they had scraped together the resources to hire someone to turn things around. Raven became Southampton’s director of Research & Innovation Services in 2000.
The university’s belief in tech transfer and Raven’s drive were a happy match. Within a year Southampton had submitted new bids. It soon became the most successful bidder in the whole scheme and earned an international reputation as a leading entrepreneurial university. When he moved on in 2011, Raven left behind a stout portfolio of 11 spinouts with four listings on the London Stock Exchange.
Among Raven’s other accomplishments during this period was devising, together with IP Group (then Beeson Gregory), what would become their model for financing spinouts in exchange for equity. This model has been widely replicated and now supports many universities in the UK and the US in funding their spinouts.
Indeed, IP Group is the winner in the Investment Unit of the Year 2017 category and we take a closer look at their work in that article.
Between 2003 and 2005 Raven also led negotiations with Inland Revenue, resulting in a specific exemption for academics from a change in taxation on the transfer of intellectual property to their spinouts, a punishingly high tariff that had inadvertently created an instant chilling effect on spinout activity.
Alice Frost, head of knowledge exchange and skills at the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE), was quick to celebrate Raven’s engagement. She said: “Tony has been a continuing guide to national policy makers in the development and success of UK university technology transfer and knowledge exchange over last decades.
“He has provided thoughtful and insightful advice in development of HEFCE policies to Higher Education Innovation Funding from the earliest years. And in most recent years he has been an important national commentator in discussions on technology transfer and research commercialisation practice, such as in contributing to the HEFCE/universities McMillan review of technology transfer, as part of the 6u group and in giving direct advice to government and policy-makers such as to select committees.
“We have also benefitted from Tony’s international standing and links. He has generously shared his wisdom and that of his overseas peers and colleagues, such as American counterparts, with policymakers to ensure that the UK’s approaches reflect latest international thinking. “Tony is deeply committed to the success of UK technology transfer. He clearly gives great service to the particular universities that employ him. However it is clear to all that Tony seeks to do service to the greater national good and to the profession that he exemplifies. This has made him an important counsellor on the national stage respected by all.”
When Raven left Southampton University in 2011, serendipity intervened yet again. Curious about how best to reconnect with the Cambridge ecosystem, he phoned Teri Wiley, then chief executive of Cambridge Enterprise. She told him she was leaving Cambridge to return to the US and introduced him to the headhunters handling the search for her replacement.
At Cambridge Enterprise, Raven’s signal achievements have included the creation of a £125m patient capital fund, Cambridge Innovation Capital, and the Enterprise Investment Scheme-based University of Cambridge Enterprise Fund for high net-worth friends and alumni of the university.
Anne Dobrée, head of seed funds at Cambridge Enterprise, picked up on this when asked to describe her colleague: “Tony has never been afraid to explore new ideas, which lies behind his involvement in many sector changing programs both at Cambridge and before.”
This has allowed Cambridge Enterprise to have an ambition worthy of a world leading university and exemplified by record levels of seed investments and the largest series A round for a UK-based spinout ever – Carrick Therapeutics, which collected $95m last year.
Raven had already noted Carrick’s notable investment when speaking to GUV in December 2016. At the time, he said: “December 2016 marks Cambridge Enterprise’s 10th anniversary and with it another record year.
He added: “2016 saw the launching of the £40m Apollo Therapeutics fund in partnership with GSK, Astra Zeneca and J&J together with Imperial Innovations and University College London.”
Paul Seabright recognised the importance of these initiatives: “Through Tony’s enthusiasm and direction in the creation of CIC and our EIS fund, along with his support for Apollo Therapeutics, Cambridge Enterprise has been responsible for some major innovation in the development and commercialisation of university research.
“If emulation is the sincerest compliment, it is worth noting that these approaches are now being replicated at universities around the world.”
David Secher, patron and co-founder of PraxisUnico, a professional association for knowledge exchange staff, similarly stated: “Tony is one of the cleverest people I know in technology transfer.
“Cambridge Enterprise has flourished under his leadership and he has developed a brilliant team. He spotted the need for local follow-on funds and raised the capital and organised the necessary infrastructure.”
Seabright meanwhile also pointed out that Raven has made Cambridge Enterprise into a wonderful place to work, using a “family first” attitude as a central component of the office’s ethos.
He said: “His support for the staff of Cambridge Enterprise and their welfare is boundless. His belief in ‘treating everyone as adults’ and giving them the flexibility and freedom to fulfil their aspirations for new technologies is part of the fabric of Cambridge Enterprise.”
Indeed, many current and former colleagues and peers returned to these same themes.
Edward Benthall, non-executive chairman of university venturing fund Cambridge Innovation Capital, added: “Tony is a towering presence in the world of technology transfer: a former academic, a serial entrepreneur and the leader, over many years, of the TTOs of two leading UK universities.
“The list of achievements of both Southampton and now Cambridge during this time is immense. His advice is sought around the world, and he is immensely generous with his time. He is highly principled, a firm believer in the capacity of science and innovation to bring benefit to the world and dedicated to making this happen.”
Benthall also thoroughly agreed on how deserving Tony Raven is of the Lifetime Achievement Award, saying: “Tony combines the perspective of a giraffe, the patience of a leopard and the thick skin of a rhino, a uniquely useful combination in this job. His lifetime award is richly deserved!”
Secher further echoed the statement, concluding: “I can think of no one more deserving of this award. He is a nice guy too!”
GUV would like to thank Catherine Aman, communications manager at Cambridge Enterprise, for her significant contributions to this article.
Above: Generics summer party 1989
Above: Celebrating Trevor Jarman’s 40th birthday, January 8th 1988. Left to right: Rupert Gooding, Tony Raven, Shirley Jamieson, Hugh Gilbert, Trevor Jarman.