Douglas Robertson looks forward to working with members in 2013

Dear PraxisUnico Member

What a busy year 2012 was for PraxisUnico and knowledge transfer as a whole.  In July, the HEBCIS (Higher Education - Business and Community Interaction Survey) reported that UK universities contributed £3.3 billion to the economy in 2010-11 through services to business, including commercialisation of new knowledge and other knowledge transfer activities.

The UK’s economy is struggling to emerge from recession but there are some reassuring figures on job creation, falling unemployment and business start-ups, combined with positive signs of global economic growth.  This is encouraging, as is the government’s support for research and development in tough economic times.  Speaking at the Big Ideas for the Future conference, hosted by Research Councils UK (RCUK) and Universities UK on 30 May, the Rt Hon David Willetts suggested that there could be more government funding for mid and late-stage research that would drive commercialisation and bridge the ‘valley of death’.  In November, the government announced £1 billion investment for UK science and research through the £100m Research Partnership Investment fund.  This fund was hugely over-subscribed and the government then provided a further £200m.  What this demonstrated to me was that there is plenty of enthusiasm for university- business interaction on both sides and continuing open schemes, allowing the partners to bid for what they wish to develop is essential for the health of UK plc.

The National Centre for Universities and Business announced by Council for Industry and Higher Education (CIHE) in June, building on Sir Tim Wilson’s review, reflects the recognition by university and business leaders that they need to do more together to address the challenges to the UK of immediate turbulence in the global economy and of longer-term competitiveness.  I have had the pleasure of being involved in the Working Group for Enhancing Value for R&D, on behalf of PraxisUnico, and the analyses make sobering reading (see this news article for the overview and report link and underline the unique position of UK plc.  It is essential that whilst sector specific approaches are developed to enhance university-business interaction, not all industry fits into a ‘neat sectoral box’ and also the university research community champions a very strong focus on ‘emerging and disruptive technologies’, which will create new industries and new sectors.

Training and education has a high priority on the political agenda and PraxisUnico recognises that student entrepreneurs are playing an increasingly important role in university commercialisation activities, in many cases graduate and post-doctoral students play a critical role in the creation of university spin-outs and start-ups of which there have been over 8,200* between 2003-2010.  Many of our members are acting as incubators for this burgeoning area for innovation and growth.

It is imperative, in my view, that technology/knowledge transfer maintains a strong membership association that acts and responds to those issues which affect our profession.

Twenty-twelve was a significant milestone for PraxisUnico.  PraxisUnico celebrated its 10 years of a major training endeavour to support our community (2002-2012).  It is 10 years since the delivery of the very first Praxis course in Bristol in 2002.  It has been a privilege to be involved since the beginning.  Over 2,600 individuals from over 20 countries have been trained through PraxisUnico courses.  At a House of Commons reception attended by 170 key sector stakeholders to celebrate the occasion, keynote speakers David Willetts MP and Sir Richard Lambert (former Director-General of the CBI)acknowledged the achievements of the technology/knowledge transfer sector and its future potential.

During the year PraxisUnico has continued its drive to strengthen relationships with a number of our sector key stakeholders.  Strong relationships are being built with, amongst others, the Association of Research Managers and Administrators (ARMA), the Intellectual Property Office (IPO), Enterprise Educators UK, Association for University Research and Industry Links (AURIL), Department of Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE), Technology Strategy Board, UK Trade and Investment (UKTI), RCUK, Vitae, The Design Council, the Leadership Foundation and most recently CIHE. We are keen to nurture the strong links we have already built with our fellow associations for the benefit of the sector as a whole and the interests of our members.

PraxisUnico’s profile has continued to rise and as a membership organisation we have been invited to contribute to a number of key consultations.  I submitted oral and written evidence at the Science Select Committee Inquiry into the ‘Valley of Death’ and we have also been approached for our expertise to help develop knowledge transfer content for other organisations’ training programmes, such as the Leadership Foundation’s Management Development Resource pack (Commercial Skills for Academics and Researchers).

PraxisUnico’s profile is also rising internationally.  We are building on our international reputation and through links developed with like-minded organisations (both in the UK and overseas) and in 2012 technology/knowledge transfer professionals in China, Japan, Brazil, Colombia and Saudi Arabia have been recipients of PraxisUnico training.

We have recently updated the outputs from the University Challenge Fund.  This scheme, launched in 1999, had achieved by 2012; £70m investment in over 200 businesses, through 617 investments at seed or pre-seed stage, leveraging nearly thirteen times the public investment (£898m)! And that is from the funds we can track effectively that are still extant!

We have undertaken a review of the Unico Guides and whilst many of them are still useful there have been quite a few changes in law that indicate the guides require updating.  We are currently in the process of consulting with the membership to establish which guides would be priorities to update.

Following on from the successful Young and Emerging Healthcare Businesses event we held in Stevenage in March, we continue to build on supporting direct interaction with business.  We are planning a further event in May 2013 for all technology transfer, knowledge transfer and research support offices.  Speakers from high profile companies across a range of sectors will describe their R&D efforts, how academic research fits, how universities or research institutions should engage with industry and who to work with, and why.  Further details will be available shortly.  I would like to express my personal thanks to Malcolm Skingle for his strong commitment in this area.

This year we have also expanded our course offering to include the ‘Business Strategy for the Professional Academic’.  As previously mentioned, we have worked with the Leadership Foundation (which provides senior management training to most universities in the UK) to help it develop its Management Development Resources (MDRs) - specifically its ‘Commercial Skills for Academics and Researchers’ MDR, which complements PraxisUnico’s own programme.  My thanks go out to all our volunteer speakers who support, and keep, the PraxisUnico training current and of the highest quality.

We have also supported the Design Council to help promote itsDesign for Technology Transfer course, which ran in November.

We were pleased to welcome David Docherty as our speaker at our Chair’s Dinner in April.  We’re continuing to facilitate and support peer-to-peer discussions amongst our members, formally and informally, and are planning further fora for 2013.

The winners of the 2012 Impact Awards were announced by Maggie Philbin at the PraxisUnico Conference Gala Dinner in June 2012.  The Impact Awards will run again in 2013 and will be announced soon.  Get your applications ready!

The 2012 Annual Conference had another record breaking year with around 300 delegates in attendance.  I said during my closing message at the conference that change brings great opportunity.  With ongoing changes that continue to test our profession, our challenge will be to continue to seek out opportunities.  Our annual conferences remain the highlight of the research commercialisation calendar and the Conference Committee is in the throes of designing a topical and thought-provoking programme for fellow research commercialisation professionals and colleagues.

I would like to welcome the 18 new member organisations who have joined us during 2012, and all those who have experienced a PraxisUnico training course for the first time.

My thanks go to the staff of the PraxisUnico office in Cambridge and to all PraxisUnico committees and speaker volunteers for their continuing commitment and support.

We look forward to working with our members throughout 2013 and I hope to meet as many of you as possible, in person, at the PraxisUnico Annual Conference in Nottingham on 13 and 14 June.

With best wishes for 2013.

Douglas Robertson

PraxisUnico Chair and Director of Research & Enterprise Services, Newcastle University

*Source:  Strengthening the Contribution of English Higher Education Institutions to the Innovation System: Knowledge Exchange and HEIF Funding - A report for HEFCE by PACEC (Public and Corporate Economic Consultants).



Membership at a glance

Membership stands at 166 total members comprising:

·        116 universities, charities and public sector research establishments

·        50 corporate and individual members

·        Representing more than 2,800 research commercialisation professionals

In 2012, there have been 18 new member organisations: 

Babraham Institute Rothamsted Research Ltd
Edwards Royal College of Art
Eli Lilly and Company Southampton Solent University
GALVmed SPD Development Company Ltd
Heriot-Watt University Stevenage Bioscience Catalyst
Kilburn & Strode UKIF
National Institute for Health Research University of Chichester
National Physical Laboratory University of Glamorgan
NC3Rs University of Kent

APPENDIX 1 – PraxisUnico DIRECTORS, patrons and Committees


Board Directors

Richard Brooks                                        FD Solutions   

Alison Campbell, OBE                              Alison Campbell Associates

Phil Clare (Immediate Past Chair)              University of Oxford

Patricia Latter                                          Royal Veterinary College

Stuart Mackenzie                                     University of Strathclyde

Sue O’Hare                                              City University                        

Douglas Robertson (Chair)                         University of Newcastle

David Secher                                            University of Cambridge

Malcolm Skingle, CBE                               GlaxoSmithKline



Dr David Secher and Ms Lita Nelsen, MBE, joint founders of Praxis (now part of PraxisUnico following the merger between Praxis and Unico in October 2009) became Patrons of PraxisUnico in September 2012 in recognition of their exceptional and significant contribution to Praxis and PraxisUnico over the last 10 years.


Training Committee

David Brownlee                                       HSC Innovations

Alison Campbell (Chair)                           Alison Campbell Associates

Sean Fielding                                         University of Exeter

Liz Flint (Deputy Chair)                            Aberystwyth University

Carina Healy                                           Dundas & Wilson

Maureen Kelly                                         Keystone Law

Simon Longden                                       University of Liverpool

David Secher                                           University of Cambridge

Jeff Skinner                                             London Business School

Sue Sundstrom                                       University of Bristol

Iain Thomas                                            Cambridge Enterprise

Conference Committee

Mark Barnett                                           University of Warwick

Ewan Chirnside                                       University of St Andrews

Paul Findlay                                            University of Hertfordshire

John Francis (Deputy Chair)                      University of Glamorgan

Carina Healy                                            Dundas & Wilson

Angela Kukula                                          Institute of Cancer Research

Patricia Latter                                           Royal Veterinary College

Gerald Law                                               UKIF

Karen Lewis                                             BBSRC

Robin Lockwood                                       University of Newcastle

Sue O’Hare (Chair)                                   City University

Rupert Osborn                                          IP Pragmatics Ltd

Wendy Ross                                            Cardiff University

Caroline Sykes                                         University of Nottingham

Member Services Committee

Phil Clare                                                    University of Oxford

Inga Deakin                                                  Imperial College

Tony Hickson                                                Imperial College

Patricia Latter (Chair)                                 Royal Veterinary College

Taj Mattu                                                     Foresight Science & Technology (UK) Ltd

Tony Raven                                                  Cambridge Enterprise

John Stedman                                              NHS Innovations South East

Administrative support for PraxisUnico, which includes its training and conference services, is provided by a core team of six staff under the direction of Executive Director, Maxine Ficarra.