As a world-leading university, UCL deserves outstanding support for all elements of innovation and enterprise. Our ambition at UCL Innovation & Enterprise is to offer this to all our staff and students.
In the last few months, UCL has seen some outstanding successes in the area of innovation and enterprise. Two of our spinout companies, Autolus Therapeutics and MeiraGTx have launched on the NASDAQ with IPOs (Initial Public Offerings) raising a combined figure of $235m (£184m). A third UCL spinout company, Orchard Therapeutics, has announced its intention to raise $200m (£156m) through an IPO. All these companies focus on advanced therapeutics – gene and cell therapy – delivering great patient benefit.
Academics from at least four areas – Electronic and Electrical Engineering, the Bartlett School of Architecture, Neuroscience and Computer Science – are collaborating through new cohesive networks with world-leading dance companies, such as the English National Ballet, Studio Wayne McGregor and Sadler’s Wells, responding to the dance sector’s desire to innovate.
Four entrepreneurial undergraduates set up a social enterprise around helping farmers in the developing world to dry rice. They went on to win the $1m Hult Prize and meet Bill Clinton, beating stiff competition from 2,500 other social enterprises worldwide. Meanwhile, a variety of research teams from UCL departments including Chemical Engineering and Chemistry are working with companies on battery technology projects funded by the Faraday Battery Institute, including one to shape the UK-based solid state materials supply chain.
All of these successes have been supported by us at Innovation & Enterprise, which exists at UCL to help staff and students develop their ideas and see them taken up to make a difference to the world.
Capabilities enhanced at Innovation & Enterprise
We have recently brought together the capabilities that UCL needs to support the innovation and enterprise agenda, so that they all now sit as one under Innovation & Enterprise. Included are capabilities to fund the development of ideas, support the creation of short courses (formerly UCL Life Learning), help build innovative business partnerships, commercialise technologies (UCL Business PLC), support those undertaking consultancy (UCL Consultants Ltd) and share how to think and grow as an entrepreneur.
Having these skills together, rather than fragmented, will make it easier for you – our staff and students – to engage with the innovation and enterprise agenda. You no longer have to think: ‘Who do I talk to about commercialising an idea, or where do I go to get funding?’ Just contact Innovation & Enterprise, and we’ll support you.
And the timing of us coming together in this way is just right. The government has set a challenge to UK universities to help grow the UK investment in research and development (R&D) to 2.4% of GDP by 2027. While talking with Patrick Vallance, the Government’s Chief Scientific Advisor, he emphasised to me that universities partnering with businesses and innovation accelerators is vital if we are to achieve this goal. The government wants businesses to increase their investment in R&D, and some of this at least will happen in collaboration with universities, with UCL, with you and me.
There is another element of the government’s ambition to consider. Rebecca Endean, Strategy Director at UKRI (UK Research and Innovation), makes the point that the government target of 2.4% is an ambition, but what really matters is the outcomes this will achieve. These are about creating a knowledge-based economy, more jobs, better society, better culture, more wellbeing and more resilience.
Working to help innovative ideas achieve their full potential
Bringing together the capabilities we have in Innovation & Enterprise puts the university on the front foot in helping achieve these outcomes. We can see this working already in our support for trade missions involving UCL spinout companies to Japan and Switzerland; in our work at the UCL School of Pharmacy, creating a new short course that shares best practice with the pharmaceutical industry in the Middle East; and in our support for the UCL Department of Experimental Psychology, working with Audible to shape the tone and voice of audio books.
We have awarded £3.2m to 113 projects across all faculties in the last year to develop ideas to application, and seen more than 1,600 students involved in our entrepreneurship programmes. This has resulted in great outcomes of almost 60 startups, 160 employed staff and £6.7m investment raised.
To do this we have a talented team made up of specialists from all walks of life. Researchers from academia and industry – companies we have worked for include GSK, AstraZeneca, IBM, Virgin, PwC, and others – people from government agencies, the United Nations and EU bodies. We have worked for startups and big corporates, we include entrepreneurs, consultants, executive and non-executive board members (past and present) and auditors.
This team knows what it takes to get new ideas and enterprises off the ground. They work across UCL, listening to anyone and everyone, discussing their ideas, working with them to develop these as innovation opportunities. It’s our job to make it as easy as we can for UCL people to engage with UCL’s ambition to change the world and to do this through all elements of innovation and enterprise.
This sounds very rosy and positive. It is. We believe passionately in the capability of everyone at UCL to make a difference, and our ability, in Innovation & Enterprise, to support this. But there are some real challenges in front of us.
Preparing for Brexit challenges
Talking with the CBI (Confederation of British Industry) last week, following their most recent Brexit-readiness survey, (I’ve done well to get this far without mentioning the Brexit word!) they set out some of the issues. The lack of clarity for businesses of all sizes and types is leading to reduced investment. Companies are finding it challenging to see opportunities post-Brexit. There are looming skills issues. Managing other risks is causing some companies to stock pile their products, introducing unexpected challenges to the associated supply chains. And – not driven by Brexit – many research-engaged and research-intensive companies are focusing their university engagement on a limited number of partners. Being aware of these challenges, and sensitive to the need to support UCL’s staff and students in their engagement with industry and innovation partners, is a part of the business of Innovation & Enterprise.
It is our ambition that we will work to help each and every one of you in some capacity. As universities go, UCL is world-leading at research and pretty good at innovation and enterprise. Yet knowing the huge potential within UCL, there’s so much more that can be achieved. Whether you have a specific question or you just want to understand more about innovation and enterprise, please come and talk to us. We are here to help.
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Or visit the UCL Innovation & Enterprise website to find out more.