SETsquared TTOs design new ‘Team Approach to Tech Transfer’

Sean Fielding, Director of Research and Knowledge Transfer at Exeter University and PraxisUnico committee member, highlights how university TTOs are working with SETsquared on the iCURe project.

If you are an academic trying to build a business from your ideas it can be pretty lonely, particularly when you are working with a hard pressed local tech transfer team who don’t have much time available to spend on each disclosure. Moving things forward quickly when no one has enough time or resource to really focus means that projects often have to develop incrementally and can consume a lot of sub-optimal effort with no guarantee of success. To counter this, SETsquared, the enterprise partnership between, Bath, Bristol, Exeter, Southampton and Surrey, has launched a combined approach to handle start-up ideas. 

The initiative is funded by both HEFCE and Innovate UK with additional support provided by the Setsquared group of universities. Based on the NSF I-Corp programme, SETsquared’s ‘Identifying and Commercialising University Research’ (ICURe) links 10-15 young academic entrepreneurs together as a cohort with their academic supervisors, TTOs and mentors and takes them on the start-up journey as a team.

The programme provides shared training and experienced mentors and focuses primarily on developing a specific business plan for a high-tech venture and then engaging with potential partners over a short but very intensive period. The idea is to get out of the lab and validate their ideas in the marketplace.  Up to £50K is available for each venture if a convincing business plan can be put together. 

The scheme enables academic entrepreneurs to test promising ideas quickly and comprehensively in a managed environment.  Programme delegates are well placed to access next stage funding from a range of sources and because the scheme is partly supported by Innovate UK, this is likely to be a first port of call.

The £3.2m scheme was announced in November and already the first cohort is underway.  The TTOs for each university decided to use the SETsquared framework for the scheme because of the shared understanding they have built up over several years and the opportunity to work with the SETsquared Incubator managers at each university. 

The TTOs were closely involved in its design and they identified the initial candidates for the programme and linked them with mentors.  The TTOs saw this as a way to build a new cohort of young entrepreneurial academics and by working closely with their academic supervisors, spread the news through academic departments. 

It has also been a good mechanism to share the combined expertise of the tech transfer specialists in the partner universities.  Most of these teams are quite small but by linking up they are able to act in a much more effective and streamlined way. Innovate UK and HEFCE will be looking at this scheme carefully to see if elements could be rolled out elsewhere in the UK.

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