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University spinouts twice as likely to succeed when funded by UK funding agencies

University spinouts that emerged from research council investments and receive funding from both the British Business Bank and Innovate UK are more likely to have better business and employment outcomes according to a new report published today.

The ‘Backing innovation-led businesses: the role of public investment’ report, published by the British Business Bank and UK Research and Innovation, including Innovate UK, explores the role of public funding and financing of innovation in the UK.

Better business outcomes[2]

The report finds 97% of spinouts, companies that have been developed from a university’s research, that went on to receive funding from the British Business Bank and Innovate UK remain active, compared to 49% of those who did not. The median spinout with support from both the Bank and Innovate UK has 18 employees, compared to 4 for spinouts that had not had funding from either – a difference of more than four times. In fact, 91% of spinouts with funding from both report having employees, compared to only 43% of spinouts not funded by either.

Better external equity capital outcomes

Spinouts with additional funding support from both the British Business Bank and Innovate UK also raised more external equity capital.

Eight years after incorporation, spinouts with support from both organisations had raised 4.6 external equity rounds on average, compared to 2.9 rounds for those that had not had funding from either. The median value of this equity investment was £7.3m, compared to £1.6m for those not funded by either.

Spinouts with additional funding support also received higher levels of private ‘follow-on’ equity capital, with 55% raising at least five rounds of finance. This surpasses expectations from wider market data, which show that approximately 28% of companies who raise an initial funding round manage to raise at least five rounds of finance.

Geographic inequality in accessing financial market persists

Equity-backed spinouts are found across the UK but those in the ‘Golden Triangle’ of London, Oxford, and Cambridge secure the most investment. University and research institution spinouts are located widely across the UK and are considerably less London-centric compared to the wider UK venture capital market. In fact, the report found that only 17% of spinout companies came from London, with a further 30% from the South East and East of England.

Spinouts outside the Golden Triangle were less likely to access equity capital, with 40% raising at least one round of external equity, compared to 53% of those within the Golden Triangle.

The value of capital raised differed even more substantially, with the median spinout in the Golden Triangle, having raised £5.7m by year eight, compared to £1.4m for the median spinout in the rest of the UK.

As tested in the report, differences in the quality of the research base, effectiveness in creating spinouts, or industrial sectors, do not appear to explain this. Instead, a lack of access to established finance ecosystems may be hindering companies outside of the Golden Triangle.

Catherine Lewis La Torre, CEO, British Business Bank, said: “Investing in innovation-led businesses, is an essential part of fostering an innovation economy, and central to strengthening the UK’s position as a global science superpower. The British Business Bank is committed to driving sustainable growth and prosperity across the UK, and our programmes will continue to fund R&D intensive businesses including spinouts from the UK’s universities and research institutes. By doing so, we will help lead the way in turning UK innovation ambition into a reality.”

Indro Mukerjee, Innovate UK’s Chief Executive, said, “As the UK’s innovation agency, Innovate UK is focused on delivering products and services to support the innovation journey and to help to make innovative businesses more investable, robust, and able to access capital for growth. So, I welcome both this report and the strong collaboration with British Business Bank. The report’s findings reflect my strong personal commitment to a joined up offer to innovative businesses to better exploit the strengths of the UK’s excellent research base”.

Professor Dame Ottoline Leyser DBE FRS, CEO, UK Research and Innovation, said: “To drive an innovation-led UK economy, we must be able to form and scale R&D intensive innovative businesses. This report clearly demonstrates the added value of our organisations in supporting better business outcomes. In understanding how businesses access the support we each deliver and making this process smoother and better coordinated, we will support emerging businesses better and in turn play a key role in driving an R&D intensive economy and delivering better outcomes right across the UK.”

An unpredictable innovation financing pattern

Businesses that have received funding from both the British Business Bank and Innovate UK demonstrate that there is no standard sequencing of funding events. This directly challenges the idea of a linear ‘funding escalator’ which is often seen as grants to research institutions, followed by business grant funding, then external equity finance and finally debt finance. Almost as many businesses (44%) received funding from the British Business Bank before securing any Innovate UK grant funding than they did afterwards (56%), across recipients of both the Bank’s debt and equity programmes.

Case Studies

Paragraf

Based near Cambridge, UK, and building on significant know-how and IP, Paragraf has developed atom-layer-thick two-dimensional materials, with a focus on graphene. Through its growing IP portfolio, Paragraf is applying these materials to a range of advanced medical, electronic and energy devices to benefit society.

The company was created in 2015 and incorporated as Paragraf in 2018 when it spun out of the University of Cambridge. In 2017 it raised its first round of seed capital including from two Enterprise Capital Fund (ECF) Programme funds. Between 2018 and 2020 Paragraf secured six Innovate UK awards across multiple competitions. In 2019, Paragraf raised £16.2m of Series A funding, again involving existing ECF-backed investors but with a British Patient Capital-backed investor also contributing. Most recently, in 2022, Paragraf raised a $60m round of Series B funding, again including current ECF and BPC-backed investors, but with the addition of BPC directly through Future Fund: Breakthrough.

Elasmogen

Elasmogen is biotechnology company originating from the University of Aberdeen. Elasmogen aims to develop novel medicines – its soloMER technology is inspired by proteins found in sharks’ immune systems that can get deeper inside solid cancer tumours because of their small, unique shape – to target autoimmune inflammatory diseases and cancer.

Founded in 2016 by Dr Caroline Barelle (CEO) and Professor Andrew Porter (CTO), whose initial research was supported by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC).  Elasmogen has continued to utilise UKRI funding and programmes, with the company being awarded four Innovate UK grants to undertake R&D projects,including oncology and the treatment of autoimmune disease.

Funding from British Business Investments’ Regional Angels Programme in 2020 added value to the company’s platform, processes and products – and helped to retain its talented team. In May, Series A funding secured from the Business Growth Fund, Scottish National Investment Bank and Scottish Enterprise, means Elasmogen is now in a strong position to consider its next major milestone: entering clinical trials.

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