Research England have worked in partnership with NCUB to describe the entrepreneurial ecosystem needed to make research commercialization successful.

That work, looking at London, focused on universities themselves doing the heavy lifting to partner and construct ecosystems. But now RE is getting in on the game, recognizing our responsibility to contribute to effective ecosystem building for the nation. Our goal – a British Silicon Valley!

Specifically, we have invited a set of international and ecosystem partners, particularly investors, to help us allocate an initial £60 million to identify and spread good commercialisation practices, identifying key challenges and selecting best solutions. Members of the group are:

• Chair – Research England, Executive Chair Professor Dame Jessica Corner
• Dr Carol Bell, Deputy Chair (Development Bank of Wales, RE Council Member and RED Fund Panel Member)
• Tomas Coates Ulrichsen (University Commercialisation and Innovation (UCI) Policy Evidence Unit, University of Cambridge)
• Neil Crabb (Frontier IP Group PLC)
• Paul Van Dun (KU Leuven R&D)
• Alice Frost (Research England)
• Tony Hickson (Cancer Research UK and Cancer Research Horizons)
• Dr Karin Immergluck (Stanford University Office of Technology Licensing)
• Dr Poonam Malik (University of Strathclyde, Scottish Enterprise and Angel Investor)
• Dr Carolyn Reeve (Retired BEIS)
• Zoe Reich and Dr Amy Nommeots-Nomm (Octopus Ventures)

The programme builds on the Council’s successful Connecting Capability Fund, focused on scale and collaboration in commercialisation, with a report on best practice from that programme to date also published today . Examples of success include the £215 million fund-raise by the CCF Northern Gritstone university venture fund.
Following advice from the group, we will publish an invitation to English higher education providers and their business and investor partners for the first round of bidding under the fund later this year. Bids will be invited against specific challenges set by the group.

What sort of challenges might we set? First, we hope that the group can alert us to innovative approaches from around the globe that we might have missed and that we should explore here. Second, we hope that the group will set challenges related to the other perspectives around the ecosystem – approaches that could be more effective for entrepreneurs, investors, local partners, as well as for universities themselves.
In terms of specifics – the CCF best practice report may suggest some avenues. Maybe we need innovative models for proof-of-concept support? Or immersive, virtual and mixed mode approaches to entrepreneurial development? New approaches to digital/tech exploitation? Or cluster development? Or more learning internationally – or deepening relationships locally?

Ecosystems are built around trusted relationships between different parties, with very different interests, who are prepared to work together on high-risk endeavors. Interactions in the policy space of commercialisation are often contentious and confrontational. Members of our group won’t benefit directly from this funding. So our approach is something of a leap of faith where we gamble on busy people’s time. We are therefore already incredibly grateful to the members of our expert group to put in the time, to take a chance, that working together we can do better – for UK, but also for worldwide cutting-edge commercialisation practice.

Like universities, Research England is in it for the long haul on commercialisation. Last year we published our strategic approach to address the government’s priority to increase focus and funding on university-business collaboration. This £60 million fund investment is a pilot, to test whether our ecosystem approach will work. But we want to build a long-term pipeline of funding in this policy space, based around the flexible approaches we have available in our Research England Development Fund.

We are also holding ourselves to account on performance and achievement, setting out in our strategy how we will measure success. A way to improve interactions in the commercialisation policy space may be to provide better metrics and data, to help gain agreement between different parties with different interests on what works, and what success looks like. Part of our strategy then is close working with the UCI policy evidence unit to improve evidence, metrics and data, making commercialisation policy more stable for the long-term.

Final thoughts –To quote Professor Trevor McMillan who advised us on good practice in technology transfer , commercialisation is often great fun. To quote Mike Rees who advised us on university-investor links , we need to celebrate our success more. We hope for both enjoyment and achievement through our ecosystem endeavours.