Northern Accelerator – an innovative collaboration between Durham, Newcastle, Northumbria and Sunderland Universities – is driving a step change in the commercialisation of research to help address regional imbalance and strengthen the North East knowledge economy.

The project is accelerating the translation of world-class research into commercial opportunities, forming sustainable businesses and creating more and better jobs.

The North East has the lowest business density in England (749 per 10,000 population compared to the UK average of 1,059) and comparatively low levels of private sector R&D investment. The North East Universities’ research accounts for a significantly higher proportion of R&D spend (38%) compared with the national average (24%). It is therefore critical the North East Universities respond to the challenge in commercialising their research to support local and national economic growth.

Both the North East and Tees Valley strategic economic plans have ambitious innovation agendas. It is within this regional context that Northern Accelerator sets out to deliver. Enabled by £4.9m from Research England’s Connecting Capabilities Fund, it builds upon an ERDF programme to embed entrepreneurial business leaders into university start-ups at the earliest stage. Set to surpass its targets, this programme has doubled spin-out creation and increased academics’ interest in commercialisation. ‘Executives into business’ continues as a core element of Northern Accelerator, de-risking executives’ engagement and enhancing spin-out companies’ access to networks, business experience and investment routes.

Alongside this, an ‘Ideas and impact hub’ encourages academics to embrace opportunities for enterprise, providing training to help recognise and exploit intellectual property. Pre-incorporation funding is available to take high quality research projects closer to commercialisation and ‘Innovation assessment’, a detailed business-readiness diagnostic, provides robust external due-diligence. An investment pot of seed funding will help spin-outs validate their business model and demonstrate value to post-seed investors.

These initiatives are designed to cultivate a pipeline of credible investment opportunities. The long-term vision is to deliver sustainable impact, developing an ongoing venture capital fund for university spin-outs and a vibrant community of businesses created through the programme.

Roy Sandbach OBE, Chair of Northern Accelerator’s Strategic Advisory Board, is passionate about its potential to reshape the region’s innovation ecosystem: “Northern Accelerator is a game-changer for the north east economy, a vital contribution to delivering the regional strategic economic plans and a national exemplar. The programme spans boundaries and drives collaboration. It connects world-class university research with proven business expertise, creating viable enterprises that will contribute to regional prosperity.”

Che Connon, Professor of Tissue Engineering at Newcastle University’s Institute of Genetic Medicine, successfully launched spin-out company Atelerix with the help of a Northern Accelerator funded CEO: “Having worked alongside Dr Mick McLean for two years, we’ve moved the company through business planning, company set-up and product development. We’ve obtained £1.1m of investment and moved to revenue generation with rapid sales growth projected.”