The UK Government has announced a review of the UK spinout ecosystem, to be led by Professor Irene Tracey, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Oxford, and Dr Andrew Williamson, Chair of the Venture Capital Committee at the British Private Equity and Venture Capital Association.

The formal review comes in the wake of years of political interest in the role of university spin-outs in driving UK growth. The data suggests that the UK is already internationally competitive at establishing and nurturing university spinouts, although points to weaknesses particularly around the availability of scale-up capital to help take deeptech businesses from small disruptors to global leaders. The Government though is keen to explore how the UK can achieve a step change in success and compete more directly with the scale and impacts of spin-out activity in key innovation ecosystem in the US, such as Boston and Silicon Valley.

There is a substantial body of work that exists exploring this subject, from the McMillan review of Technology Transfer in 2016, the Rees review of university-investor links in 2019, and, most recently, work published last year by the UK Policy Evidence Unit for University Commercialisation and Innovation at the University of Cambridge.

However, this issue remains a hot potato, with diverse and strongly held views on what effective spinout policy and practice should look like in the UK. The review will focus on identifying best practice approaches – looking across the UK and internationally – that promote innovation and grow businesses of the future, aligned to the Chancellor’s vision to create the world’s next Silicon Valley in the UK.

This is clearly an important subject and the review presents an opportunity to stabilise policy around university spinouts for years to come, which would be welcome. However, it also must recognise that ‘spinning out’ is just one of many routes through which the UK’s world leading research creates impact. Equally important are the strategic partnerships that university research teams build with industry, which will be increasingly critical in helping the UK meet major policy challenges such as Net Zero, future health, and regional economic growth.