In his new book Graham Richards, who recently retired from Oxford where he was Head of Chemistry, tells the story of his involvement in technology transfer, launching the spin-out Oxford Molecular Ltd and his role in the founding of the University's technology transfer company, Oxford University Innovation.
I asked Graham about his 20+ years of experience helping to turn research into business:
OxSciBlog: What one thing could government do to boost the commercialisation of research?
Graham Richards: In the current financial climate raising funds to start - and even more for second round funding - is difficult. Of course everyone thinks that Government funding would solve their particular problem, but spin-out companies offer one of the few attractive ways of helping the country to recover.
We need new industries and new big companies. Spin-outs can provide these and we need lots of new billion pound companies. Relatively small amounts of Government cash would facilitate this and the alternatives of venture capital and the banks no longer exist. Thus a Government investment fund of, say, £100 million could be very effective and even profitable for the taxpayer: perhaps a couple of Googles.
OSB: What was your view of technology transfer before you launched your first spinout?
GR: I was totally ignorant and indeed Oxford Molecular was the first of the modern style spin-outs where the University had equity in return for its intellectual property, which had then only very recently been given to the University. We very much made it up as we went along, including the division of the equity, which was split one third each to the University, the venture capitalist backers and the founders.
OSB: How have your views changed after two decades of involvement in spinouts?
GR: The University now has, in the shape of Isis Innovation, a very professional technology transfer organisation which can really support the researcher who wants to go down the spin-out route and is prepared to put in the effort. Things are much easier and there are plenty of role models to follow. It is also true that it is no longer so unusual to follow this path.
OSB: What advice would you give scientists considering commercialising their research?
GR: Go to talk to Isis at the earliest possible stage. They will help in almost every way but particularly in the early stage in protecting the intellectual property. Secondly, be prepared to put in some time: it is not trivial. Finally, in general, remain as an academic and get others to run the company. Perhaps the most vital step is finding the initial CEO. The latter will help both with the business plan and also in raising funding.
'Spin-Outs: Creating Businesses from University Intellectual Property' by Graham Richards is published by Harriman House.