21 november 2012

Helping innovators cross the 'valley of death'

Business

Jessica Leith, Director of run3D with athelete Jo Pavey
Jessica Leitch, Director of Run3D, puts athlete Jo Pavey through her paces using the firm's 3D motion analysis service

Funding of £3.6m will help Oxford University researchers bridge the so-called 'valley of death' – the gap between having an idea for an invention and it being developed enough for others to want to invest in it.

The money will go towards initiatives such as secondments that take researchers into industry and follow-on grants that help them to develop proof-of-concept technology and demonstrators to show how an invention would work. The investment builds on Oxford's existing schemes to boost innovation and entrepreneurship but will offer support that is more flexible and will enable researchers to engage with companies at an even earlier stage.

The funding is part of a £60m investment in UK universities being made by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), the UK's main funding agency for scientific research.

Business Secretary Vince Cable said of the EPSRC announcement: 'This investment will help our leading universities become centres of innovation and entrepreneurship and generate the kind of commercial success which will fuel economic growth and make the UK one of the most attractive places in the world to do science-based business.'

EPSRC chief executive Professor Dave Delpy said: 'The research we support is recognised as outstanding on the international stage. These Accounts aim to make a step change in the impact that has on society: generating new business opportunities which drive economic growth, creating better, more informed, public policy.'

Current support for early stage innovation at Oxford has come through initiatives such as EPSRC Knowledge Transfer Secondments (KTS). Dr Jessica Leitch, now Director of Run3D Ltd, was one of those to benefit from a secondment under the KTS scheme. Her EPSRC KTS grant was used to set-up a private running biomechanics service at the Oxford Gait Laboratory.

'My DPhil had used three-dimensional motion analysis to investigate the biomechanics of running injuries and I wanted to make the same 3D technology that I had used in my research accessible to all runners to optimise the treatment and prevention of running injuries,' said Dr Leitch.

'Working closely with the Nuffield Orthopaedic Centre NHS Trust, I was successful in launching the Run3D service in December of last year. It is the only centre in Europe to offer 3D motion analysis to all athletes and has received an extensive amount of national publicity.

'I am now in the midst of spinning-out Run3D as a private company from the University of Oxford, which is an extremely exciting and successful outcome of the project. Founded by work funded by my EPSRC KTS, Run3D is leading the way in a new generation of motion analysis in sport.'

The new support mechanisms will help researchers to engage with the people who might use their research whilst they are still working on their ideas, helping to shape their research. They will also help projects that benefit society but are not seen as likely to have a business model that will deliver commercial returns – for example, open source software applications.

The funding will fit with the existing support offered to innovators through Begbroke Science Park, which provides a home for many spin-out and start-up firms, and Isis Innovation, the University's technology transfer company.