Oxford University Innovation has launched a new social enterprise initiative.
Oxford University Innovation has launched a new social enterprise initiative.

Image credit: Oxford University Innovation

Oxford University launches social enterprise support

Oxford University, through its innovation arm Oxford University Innovation (OUI), is launching support for the creation of impact-driven businesses: social enterprises.

Social enterprises are companies which combine the impact-centric agenda of a charity with the profit generation strategies of a business. How this is achieved differs from company to company, but fundamental to all social enterprise is the concept of replacing the profitability goal at the core of mainstream businesses with an impact mission focused on enacting positive societal or environmental change.

To date, the innovation side of the University has supported creation of two types of business: regular startup businesses created by the student body, and ventures based on intellectual property from the University supported by OUI, known as spinouts. Typically, spinouts are formed around a patentable technology, such as a potential therapeutic candidate or an engineering project. This model has been successful for turning Oxford research into reality, with the University creating over 160 spinout companies since OUI opened its doors in 1987, 19 of which were launched in the past year.

OUI is now supplementing this spinout creation activity by offering the social enterprise option. Academics will be able to receive support for creating businesses around ideas that perhaps aren’t inherently patentable and will have the option of creating spinout companies focused on impact. Through social enterprise, OUI will be able to offer a business model that is adaptable, dynamic and supports all academic Divisions equally.

OUI has already begun creating social enterprises, the first of which will be announced in the coming weeks. Prior to launch, OUI had built up a pipeline of over 25 social enterprises. To meet demand for the service, which OUI anticipates will create at least an additional ten spinouts per annum, OUI has created a group led by Dr Mark Mann, Innovation Lead for Humanities and Social Sciences. Examples of some of the projects OUI will support include secure, cashless homeless donations app Greater Change and mobile and VR-based lifesaving emergency instruction platform LIFE.

OUI has also created a £550,000 social and environmental impact fund, SE2020, to support the development and acceleration of social or environmental ideas towards real-world positive impact. SE2020 is possible thanks to support from the Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), which both backed the fund.

Dr Mark Mann, Innovation Lead for Humanities and Social Sciences at Oxford University Innovation, said: “Colleagues at the University want to get as many of these great ideas deployed as widely as possible. To do that, you need a broad range of methods to maximise an idea’s impact. With our new social enterprise service, we can now get far more of the great ideas generated in Oxford deployed across the world and improving people’s lives. The legal and financial space is a complex one, but we can help academic teams to navigate it and to get the best solution for everyone.”

Dr Matt Perkins, Chief Executive Officer for Oxford University Innovation, said: “The social enterprise option opens the door to innovation for impact-driven staff across all divisions of the University, supporting both the serial academic entrepreneur and the researcher looking to make their first innovative steps alike. Unlocking the potential of social enterprise is key to both the development of Oxford as a world-leading ecosystem and in shaping the future of business, and OUI stands ready to support this endeavour.”

Professor Chas Bountra, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Innovation at Oxford University, added: “In 2016, this University created an unprecedented number of new spinouts, more than any other university in the UK. The majority of these 24 spinout companies arose from the creative and entrepreneurial genius of student and academic colleagues within the Medical Sciences (MSD) and Mathematical, Physical and Life Sciences (MPLS) Divisions of the University, with expert support from our colleagues in OUI. This new initiative from OUI, led by Matt and Mark, will enable the Humanities and Social Sciences Divisions – along with MSD and MPLS – to exploit their leadership and global networks, to help patients, societies, industries and economies across our planet. I anticipate the above number will double in the coming years.”

Oxford University Innovation's social enterprise team.Oxford University Innovation's social enterprise team.

Image credit: John Cairns