Image of woman's head
Image of woman's head

The women founders contributing to Oxford’s spinout success

More spinout companies are created by the University of Oxford than any other UK University and an increasing number of their founders and senior leaders are women.

One such company is Omass Therapeutics which spun out of the Department for Chemistry in 2016. It utilises high-resolution mass spectrometry to drive drug discovery for immunology and genetic disease and last year received $100million investment to advance its technology. The company has two female founders, a female CEO and a female Vice President. The company also has a gender balanced board.  

We made a conscious decision to ensure that women are properly represented in our senior leadership team and on our board. Diversity means better discussion, better decisions and ultimately better results. I hope that by seeing this representation in companies like Omass, more women will be encouraged to pursue similar roles in fields, such as artificial intelligence and biotech, where currently only 1 in 5 professionals are women.

Professor Dame Carol Robinson, founder, OMass Therapeutics

Nucleome Therapeutics is another female-led company which spun out of the University in 2019. This fast-emerging biopharma uses cutting-edge 3D genome technologies and machine learning to find genetic drivers of disease, and design drugs against them. Last year, the company raised £37.5 million to continue to decode the genetics hidden in the ‘dark’ regions of the human genome and advance its autoimmune disease programmes.

Dr Danuta Jeziorska, founder and CEO of Nucleome Therapeutics, said: ‘I am thrilled to see more women pursuing careers in the biotech industry. During my time at Oxford, I leveraged support from various entrepreneurial initiatives, Saïd Business School, and directed the Innovation Forum and Oxfordshire Women in Tech network. Having access to the right guidance and mentorship is crucial to fostering a diverse business community where women are empowered with the confidence to realise the fullest extent of their ambitions.’

Yet recent research from the Centre for Diversity Policy Research and Practice at Oxford Brookes University shows that only 18% of spinout companies have a woman founder and this is reflective of the global picture of women across business and industry where fewer than a quarter hold senior leadership positions.

Through its IDEA programme, the University of Oxford is committed to tackling some of the key challenges and inequalities faced by groups who are currently vastly underrepresented in enterprise and industry across the world. Its first initiatives are aimed at empowering, inspiring, connecting and upskilling more women leaders, business founders and pioneers.

Professor Kylie Vincent is co-founder of HydRegen, an Oxford spinout developing bio-based technologies for cleaner, safer and more efficient chemical manufacturing. She is also the University’s Champion for Women in Entrepreneurship, and works closely with IDEA. 

Image of Professor Kylie VincentProfessor Kylie Vincent

She said: ‘There are more female founders and entrepreneurs than ever before. This is great news but numbers remain relatively low and more must be done to balance gender representation. The IDEA programme offers brilliant opportunities for students and researchers including board experience, mentoring, an entrepreneurial skills programme, events and networking. With equality some way off, it’s so important that we support and empower women to achieve their goals and become the founders or the future.’

It has also been found that, on average, companies with female founders find it harder to raise investment in funding rounds. According to research by Enterprising Oxford, in 2020 less than 2% of European tech investment capital went to female founders.

Oxford University Innovation (OUI), is the research commercialisation arm of the University, supporting innovation, entrepreneurial and consulting activities across all University Divisions. Adam Workman, Head of Investment & New Ventures at OUI said, ‘We’re exploring new ways to encourage more women to consider founding a spinout and increase diversity in our existing pipeline of spinout management teams. We need to inspire, train and support women to embark and continue the founder journey. It will take time and perseverance to get to where we want to be.’ 

Oxford Science Enterprises, the independent investment company which founds, funds and builds companies from the University of Oxford, is also committed to increasing gender equality both internally and across its portfolio.

Chief Talent Officer Sarah Shackelton, who has over 20 years of experience building the boards and senior leadership teams of innovative growth companies, said: ‘OSE is strongly committed to gender equality and to a supportive, diverse working environment across our portfolio companies. We have some inspiring women in senior leadership roles within OSE, including our senior life sciences partner Katya Smirnyagina, and more than 25 female founders across our portfolio companies in Life Sciences, Health Tech and Deep Tech. Gender equality is a constant focus in all of our talent recruitment efforts and we strive for equal opportunities to achieve the best outcomes.’

Read more about the IDEA Programme here.