Put in the driving seat of Oxford University Innovation’s new social enterprise campaign, Mark Mann – this year’s Personality of the Year – surely has one of the most fascinating jobs in academic tech transfer.
As head of OUI’s impact-led SE2020 fund, Mann will supervise University of Oxford’s substantive social enterprise pipeline, which already includes at least 25 potential businesses marrying profit and impact-maximising strategies.
That Mann has been entrusted with such responsibility is hardly surprising, considering he already boasts an exceptional record in driving OUI’s output in underdeveloped areas of technology. Since 2017, he has been the tech transfer office’s head for the humanities and social sciences – a key growth target area for OUI – leading the launch of three OUI spinouts in the segment within the space of a year.
Mann’s proficiency in the role has become clear. PalaeoPi became the first of the spinouts formed under his tenure in January 2018, bringing 3D scanning technology to the highly-specialised field of archaeology, in a project indicative of the potential for tech transfer in humanities and the social sciences.
He has used his position to advocate a disciplined approach to spinout formation, doubling down on the creation of services-led ventures with restricted startup costs, with the aim of limiting the outlay to the cost of a patent filing.
Mann will no doubt look forward to laying down equally strong strategic targets at OUI’s social enterprise unit, which aims to generate at least 10 impact-led spinouts each year.
Equipped with £550,000 ($720,000), SE2020 will operate with a modest investment budget, but while its first deal has yet to be announced, the ecosystem is already taking shape under Mann’s charge. OUI’s first social enterprise spinout – multidimensional poverty assessment provider Sophia Oxford – made its public debut in March this year based on an exclusive licence for metrics devised at the university.
The spinout is making headway on its poverty-fighting ambitions through a partnership with corporate employers in Costa Rica intended to build a clearer holistic picture of poverty in workforces and supply chains.
In a statement marking Sophia Oxford’s debut, Mann hinted at the scope for University of Oxford in the social enterprise arena, arguing that “many potential solutions” to global issues could be spun out from its research.
At SE2020, Mann will have the tools to realise this ambition, with the benefit of a social impact-orientated model that encourages potential ventures through feasibility and proof-of-concept with a view to starting prototype development and scale-up activities.
Mann received his secondary school education from St Mary’s Roman Catholic Comprehensive School in Yorkshire, working his way on merit into a place at University of Cambridge on a natural sciences course.
He continued at Cambridge with PhD and research work, focusing on materials-related fields such as carbon nanotubes and electron beams, before later pivoting into media technology with an appointment at public broadcaster BBC in 2010. The move gave Mann broader foundations in research and tech transfer, through duties centred on distributing the BBC’s R&D output for the use of the organisation and its broadcasting peers.
Mann joined OUI from the BBC in 2015, taking up a position as senior tech transfer manager for projects in areas ranging from chemistry to computer science, before adding the leadership of OUI’s humanities and social sciences output to his remit two years later.