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British Council promotes business creation from science

Creating new business ideas through using the prolific research generated in universities and other public establishments was the subject of a week long conference that took place at the end of January. The conference titled Intellectual Property and New Business Creation from Science and Technology, drew delegates worldwide.

The event kicked off with an introductory talk from event director, Qi3’s Jonathan Gold, who talked on the commercialisation of the UK science market place and gave delegates an overview of the UK university base and how this is funded. This included setting the scene in which UK universities operate and explaining the roles that business angels and venture capitalists play.

Over the course of the week 16 speakers delivered specialist talks with delegates participating in panel discussions. There were two reviews of how different government laboratory groups (one in the medical field the other in the environmental area) organised their management of intellectual property. They also examined how they took their intellectual property to market in the form of licensing and “spin-out” company creation. The review resulted in stimulating debate on issues as diverse as staff motivation, conflict of interest between spin-out company activities and the research institute programme, and the difficulty in managing the patenting process in an atmosphere where academic publication is the norm for research staff.

Presentations from Oxford and Southampton, two major UK universities who run very different technology or knowledge transfer operations sparked lively debate. Both have similar aims: to identify, protect and commercially exploit intellectual property with the potential to grow income for the universities and researchers themselves. The ultimate goal can also be seen as stimulation of the UK economy and job creation.

Delegates listened to a talk on the development of an organisation (now a stock market quoted company) that once held a government created monopoly on the management of intellectual property across all the UK universities. This perfectly illustrated the expansion of the current business-creation market place in the UK over the last three decades. More than 130 universities in the UK receive around £1 billion in research funding from government and research charities. In addition to this, there are a large number of government funded specialist research establishments, (Public Sector Research Establishments or PSRE’s) which also receive research grants. In total the UK Government expenditure on research in 1998-99 was approximately £6 billion and this represents approximately 2% of UK GDP. The UK has the largest venture capital industry outside the USA and this presents a challenge to UK universities and public research, as only a small percentage of it is at present directed to support high technology businesses and very early stage projects. Early stage funding is usually left to individuals and small government grants. Of key interest to the delegates was the £300 million of government funds made available for technology transfer and new business creation in the public sector over the last few years. These funds have been used in a series of schemes whereby universities and public laboratories bid for funds to set up entrepreneurial training schemes and seed capital funds. The challenge has been to create the opportunity for all UK universities to access intellectual property exploitation infrastructure funding. The seed capital funds are used to evaluate the commercial potential. They fund the first steps to investigate the business potential of an idea and start to build a business framework around an idea, and more than 30 universities now have access to these “University Challenge Funds”.

The conference, which took place at Eynsham Hall, Oxfordshire, was organised by the British Council. Jonathan Gold said that he believed “the event provided a comprehensive overview of the UK experience in creating a new business from a research idea. The delegates themselves contributed greatly with their own experience and ideas…”

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