In this panel we explored a variety of different very early stage (pre-incorporation) funding sources and discussed the issues associated with each. Each panellist brought a different experience.
Andreea Monnat described the purpose, operation and experience of running a large 'Proof-of Concept' Fund in the Duchy of Luxembourg – emphasising the importance of a light touch application, expert decision making process and effective governance, accepting that – as well as some successful ventures – the Fund has lasting impact in terms of academic learning and attitudes towards commercialisation .
Gavin Smith described a recent 'crowd funding' campaign that he spearheaded alongside a particularly entrepreneurial academic at Lancaster. The sums raised were comparatively small and not an easy way of raising funds, but the campaign was incredibly effective in engaging with user groups, creating support and raising awareness. The audience was intrigued by this as a new way of raising early stage funding in situations where the research could be expressed in a way that captured the imagination of the public.
Anne Dobree spoke of Cambridge's Enterprise's experience of providing capital to early stage biomedical businesses – thus as one who sees and judges how effective academic groups have been at 'spending' early stage funds. The insight here was the importance of seeking input from follow-on investors at the PoC stage – to understand how such funds should be used to address the major risks technologies (rather than simply to do more science.
The session comprised a short presentation by each speaker (setting out their own experience and reflections) followed by questions led largely from the floor. The main conclusion was that early-stage funds are easily spent on captivities that add little value to technologies and that those managing such funds somehow needed to ensure that they collected robust evidence of the effectiveness of their funds and ensured that funds were used for projects where applicants could show that their proposal addresses the major risks acting as a barrier to follow-on investment.