University commercialisation programme: creating research impact not just new spin outs

Funded by Innovate UK, SETsquared - along with partners North by North West partners (NXNW) and Midlands - has been running the Innovation to Commercialisation of University Research (ICURe) for 7 years now. Over that time, we’ve supported 400+ teams with commercially promising research to explore whether there is a market for their innovation. 


The overall impact of the programme makes for impressive reading: 

  • 1,650 participants 

  • 30,000+ business contacts made 
  • £250m+ of additional investment raised  
  • 500+ new jobs created     

But what’s story behind the figures? How does the programme work and who should take part?

1) Market discovery stage 

Broken down in practical terms, the programme trains, funds, and supports teams led by university early-career researchers (ECRs) to determine whether there is a market for products or services that utilise their research. Up to £30k of funding is available for this validation. Over a 3-4 month period the ECR undertakes a full-time, intensive market discovery – interviewing potential customers, suppliers, funders, and competitors – to understand the commercial potential for their research. They test assumptions around their business model to further inform the market discovery. ECRs are backed by a team from their university including a senior researcher, a Technology Transfer Officer, and an external business advisor.

Past participants say that having 3-4 months of support, dedicated time, and funding to spend on customer discovery has dramatically changed their perspective on their innovations as well as helping them understand industry’s needs and requirements. We’ve had a vast array of research and innovations come through the programme and it’s important to note to that it’s not limited to deep science disciplines – social sciences, humanities, and arts-based research – are equally valid if there is a potential commercial outlet.

2) Commercialisation pathway 

Following the customer discovery stage, participants attend what we call an ‘options roundabout’. At this point an advisory panel suggest the best commercialisation pathway for the team to take. This could include carrying out further public or private sponsored research, exploring licensing opportunities or seeking public or private funding for spinning-out. Whilst the creation of a spin-out company is a hugely valid outcome, and the programme has supported the creation of over 150 of these, we focus more on creating impact. Ensuring that the next generation of innovators who will change the way we live, travel and work get the support they need to bring their products and services to market where they can have the most impact.

Further training and support is available for those take the next step in commercialising their research after the first stage of the programme is completed.

Examples of projects supported by ICURe:

  • ViridiCO2: is setting out to revolutionise the sustainability of chemical manufacturing processes by deriving products from carbon dioxide (CO2) feedstocks to close the carbon loop. Its innovative technology is able to directly replace fossil fuels used in the chemical manufacturing process, with repurposed CO2. Read about their experience on ICUR
  • TRUEInvivo: is transforming the success of radiotherapy treatments through its use of specially designed micro silica beads that can measure the exact dose of radiation a patient receives. The many advantages of this include better targeting of cancers, high confidence in dose accuracy, and a significant reduction in the damage of healthy tissue around the cancer. Find out more about TRUEInvivo’s commercialisation journey 
  • ScubaTx: expertise in software design to commercialise a proven, but unexploited, organ preservation technique and in doing so is able to offer healthcare providers significant net savings and help clinicians around the world to increase the pool of life-giving organs. Read about its lifesaving innovation

Want to find out more? 

If you are supporting research teams that could potentially benefit from this funding and customer discovery support, please spread the word!  We encourage applications from all UK universities, particularly from those which have never participated.

We have an informal information event on 10 September, 12.00 – 13.00, online. Register here:

There are currently two cohorts open for applications: 

SETsquared ICURe: Cohort 38 is now open for applications until 4 October 2021. Find out more:

Midlands ICURe: Cohort H is open for applications until 12 October. Find out more:


Karen Brooks, Programme Director, SETsquared 

SETsquared is a unique enterprise partnership and a dynamic collaboration between the five leading research-led UK universities of Bath, Bristol, Exeter, Southampton and Surrey. Ranked as the Global No. 1 Business Incubator, we provide a wide range of highly acclaimed support programmes to help turn ideas into thriving businesses.

Karen has worked for the SETsquared Partnership in communications and management roles for twelve years. She led the team that developed Europe’s number one University Incubation Programme providing support to over 1,000 early-stage technology companies, which have raised over £1.8bn in investment. Karen has developed the SETsquared enterprise brand for the Universities of Bath, Bristol, Exeter, Southampton and Surrey, which has provided significant value to the UK economy. Karen has been key in the development of overseas relations in the US with technology support organisations such as MIT, Massachusetts Technology Transfer Centre, CONNECT, Global CONNECT, T2 Venture Capital and Austin Technology Incubator. Relationships with these organisations provide a springboard platform for European startups to access the US markets.