Russ Cummings became CEO of Imperial Innovations in July last year and talks about the company, its links with Imperial College and future ambitions.
Image Credit: Imperial College London
What is Imperial Innovations?
Imperial Innovations helps to found companies based on the science and research coming through from Imperial College, but also from Oxford, Cambridge and UCL. Innovations invests in and supports these businesses throughout their early growth stages, attracts management teams and co-investors to build the businesses, and ultimately creates new value from innovation. We’ve established a reputation for incubating successful spinout firms, especially in fields like therapeutics, medical technology, engineering and ICT.
How do you turn ideas into a viable business?
In two ways. There is the traditional academic-led invention process, normally associated with tech transfer, where we help a team or individual through the invention disclosure procedure (funding the patent and IP protection); provide market research; and help to develop a proof of concept.
In the second case, we act as the catalyst for the formation of a spin-out company, bring in co-investors or attract entrepreneurial management teams to base their start-ups in our Incubator space. These teams might approach us where there’s a market opportunity to create something in a particular field of science and technology, whether it’s a drug to treat respiratory disease or software for a mobile payment system. Then we’ll plug them into the College and pair them up with leading research teams in that field or with people who can sit on scientific advisory boards. I genuinely believe that more new companies are being formed because we’re acting as a catalyst and bridge between the academic world, investment community and management community.
What’s in it for the College?
Imperial benefits through being not only at the heart of a thriving spinout ecosystem, but also through revenue sharing when successful companies are sold, as well as the College’s 30% shareholding in Innovations itself. What do you see as the opportunities at Imperial West? Imperial West is incredibly exciting. The Incubator for early-stage companies that we have at South Kensington is fantastic but running at full capacity. It’s great for companies in their first 18–24 months while they get up and running, but at some point we want them to fly the nest and move to bigger premises. The vision for Imperial West would see companies stay as part of the family for longer and we’ll have more room and stronger support for spin-outs.
What is your driving passion?
I have two personal missions: firstly, to demonstrate that we can make money out of science, engineering and research in the UK. This is a good place for investors and I want to attract more capital to the higher education sector. Secondly, I think science and engineering is a fantastic career for young people to aspire to. I have two boys who have embraced their studies of science and maths. I want their generation to grow up wanting to become scientists and engineers. I don’t just want them to see academic research as the only STEM career path; there is also the opportunity to become scientific entrepreneurs.
As an Imperial graduate, how did you end up back here on Exhibition Road?
I used to live not far from my current Innovations offices as a student of Mechanical Engineering in Weeks Hall between 1983 and 1986. I met my wife here – she lived in Southside – and we have very fond memories of this place. I was sponsored through university by Rolls Royce Motors and, after graduation, started my career in the automotive industry. Essentially, I spent my 20s tinkering with cars and having lots of fun! I then felt I needed more commercial experience, so went into the private equity and venture capital sector working in various roles. In around 2004 I joined the advisory board at Innovations and with the initial public offering in 2006 I was recruited as Chief Investment Officer by Susan Searle (then CEO).
How do you relax outside of work?
I’m not just a petrolhead anymore. I love cycling and keep my jersey in the office. Every year I take a group of staff and management from our portfolio companies to go cycling for a week across France, following part of the Tour de France route.