Oxford University Innovation, the tech transfer unit of Oxford University, has been awarded Tech Transfer Unit of the Year by Global University Venturing.
It is a sign of the times that, when selecting a shortlist for this year’s GUV Tech Transfer Unit of the Year award, it seemed as if the longlist should very much just be copied and pasted. For any of the nominees to make it onto the shortlist can be seen as a particular achievement in and of itself – and for anyone to win is a notable feat.
Nonetheless, Oxford University Innovation (OUI) is a worthy winner that has managed to stand out among a group of highly driven and successful peers.
The reasons for this are many (see guest comment by OUI for more).
For one, Oxford University’s commercialisation arm has managed to more than double the number of spinouts generated in a calendar year – from 10 in 2015 to 21 in 2016.
The combined seed capital raised by the 2016 cohort also increased to £52.6m ($67.8m), a jaw-dropping fivefold increase over the previous year’s £9.5m. The boost is also responsible for spinouts breaking through £1.4bn in total external funding collected since 2011.
If those numbers are already impressive, consider that, in the first quarter of this year, the institution’s spinout have secured £56.3m in capital – with approximately a tenth, £5.3m, in seed funding. During that same period, OUI generated five spinouts (though four remain in stealth mode), filed 26 patents, received 93 disclosures and its licensing and consulting services department inked a combined 152 deals.
The tech transfer office’s successes are even more extraordinary when recognising that, for much of 2016, OUI did not have a chief executive. That OUI continued to grow is a testament to the entire team and Linda Naylor, the managing director who took over the reins from Tom Hockaday when he stepped down in February.
It would take until September 2016 for OUI to appoint Matt Perkins as its new chief executive. Perkins joined from electronics equipment manufacturer E2V Technologies, where he has been president of space imaging since March 2015.
Then last month, Naylor stepped down to be replaced Adam Stoten, who was promoted from head of technology transfer life sciences to the newly created position of chief operating officer. Naylor recognised the extraordinary passion the team put into their work day in, day out when speaking to Global University Venturing about her long career with OUI, saying: “For me, personally, although we are seen as one of the world-leading TTOs, it has been building up such a strong team of people – it is the people behind it that have made it.
“Obviously the research from the university is first-class, world-class, which is almost a given as it is Oxford. But for me tech transfer is all about people, and without the people we would not be this world-leading TTO – one of them anyway.”
If the personnel changes at the top of the organisation were not enough to throw OUI off course, then nothing was going to be. In June 2016, the TTO rebranded from its original name of Isis Innovation to better reflect its connection to the university (though the name’s similarity to Islamic State, which meant emails were sometimes blocked by spam filters, helped matters along).
Isis Enterprise, OUI’s consultancy arm, meanwhile also gave up on that name, rebranding to Oxentia last month. OUI is aiming to spin the consultancy out as a separate company later this year.
Matt Perkins recognised the continuing success of OUI when he spoke to GUV as part of our annual review. He said: “The momentum behind the Oxford tech cluster is strong – exemplified by Oxford Nanopore’s £100m round and Oxford Sciences Innovation (OSI)’s extra £230m – and is set to continue well into 2017 and beyond.”
It was not only university venturing fund OSI that made headlines when it grew to £580m in December 2016. A month earlier, the institution unveiled Lab282, a collaboration between Oxford University, OUI, OSI and drug discovery company Evotec, that will inject a total £13m into the commercialisation of biomedical research. The capital is expected to last for three years. Grabbing headlines, too, was Oxford Nanopore Technologies, a spinout working on a portable DNA and RNA sequencer, which raised £100m in December from a consortium led by GT Healthcare. The round was supported by IP Group, the winner of Investment Unit of the Year 2017, Woodford Investment Management and several other new and existing backers. The transaction more than trebled Nanopore’s total equity to an astounding £351m.
On the other side of the spectrum, OUI also showed how it is done when it revealed SpyBiotech, a spinout developing biomedical superglue to improve the efficacy of vaccines, had raised £4m in a seed round at the end of March 2017.
SpyBiotech’s seed round was impressive not for the amount, but for the investors behind that number: Oxford Sciences Innovation and GV, the early-stage corporate venturing arm of diversified conglomerate Alphabet. The transaction marked a ground-breaking investment by a corporate venturing firm into a university spinout, proving that Oxford-born technology can make history in more ways than one. That it was GV of all corporate venture capital firms to invest was no coincidence – it is already an investor in OSI.
More interesting spinouts are set to continue emerging from Oxford University: in March 2017, the university established Oxford Cannabinoid Technologies (OCT), a new research company in partnership with private equity and VC firm Kingsley Capital Partners that will look into the use of cannabinoids to treat a range of acute and chronic conditions. OCT even secured high-profile support from actor Patrick Stewart and is set to boldly go where no company has gone before.
We cannot, of course, make any predictions for next year’s nominees, but it appears OUI is doing everything it can to be on future shortlists.