ICURe is a collaboration of the SETsquared Partnership, Innovate UK and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), which aims to support the commercialisation of university innovation and ideas. The SETsquared pilot of the past three years has supported over 160 university teams with their projects, leading to 50 new spinouts, including six from University of Warwick.
ICURe aims to tackle barriers including levels of commercial awareness and entrepreneurial skills amongst academic personnel, weak networking between academic and industrial communities, and cultural conventions and reward systems, through the delivery of a programme of commercialisation support for teams of academic researchers wishing to explore the commercial potential of research originating in universities.
Design and Delivery of the Programme
The design of the programme contains the following components:
Each cohort required project teams made up of an early career researcher that had completed their PhD, Principal Investigator, and a Technology Transfer Officer make an online application. Places on the programme were awarded based on a scored assessment.
Phase 1: Bootcamp and pitch: This stage includes (i) Orientation and start-up training, and (ii) Three-month market validation. Validation exercise includes (i) Business mentorship (ii) Teleconference updates, and (iii) Options Roundabout presentations.
Phase 2: Business plan: Participants that were recommended to apply for ‘Aid for Start Ups’ were given additional financial support of up to 35k to further develop their findings into a concrete business plan. Project teams at SETsquared institutions were given an opportunity to make use of incubator facilities at a reduced cost
Phase 3: Aid for Start Ups: Projects identified as potentially scalable businesses, but needing public funding to help them move at the pace required to capture the opportunity, were recommended to apply for Aid for Start Ups funding. Thirteen grants of up to £0.5m were made available to support the development of spinouts.
The delivery of the programme includes:
- Business Model Generation: ICURe kicks off with a 3-day residential bootcamp for the teams (4 days for the Entrepreneurial Leads) during which they are helped in forming a hypothetical business model for the commercialisation of their research.
- Market Validation: The next step is for the ECR Entrepreneurial Lead to spend approximately three months intensively testing the business model by having meaningful conversations with at least 100 prospective customers, regulators, suppliers, partners and competitors to validate the commercial potential of their research.
- Options Roundabout: On completion of this first-hand market research, the team presents to a panel of experts and investors on the results of the Market Validation stage and what the ECR learned about the strengths, weaknesses and opportunities for the business model. Those teams that are assessed as having demonstrated evidence of significant market demand that could lead to a license or the creation of a spinout will proceed to the next stage.
- Business Planning: Teams with the potential for licensing or spin-out gets up to £15k of additional funding to take part in a business planning bootcamp and then three months of preparing a business plan they can use with investors and to apply for translational grant funding.
Impacts of the initiative
Evidence from an Ipsos MORI study published in 2018 that analyzed the first six cohorts of ICURe highlighted the initiative is both an effective and economical instrument for accelerating the commercialisation of academic research and producing a range of wider benefits.
- 124 teams (10 cohorts) have now successfully completed the initiative with 37 companies having been created.
- Participation in the programme increased and deepened links between participating academics and industry, accelerating the commercialisation and the technology development process.
- An estimated 24 additional spin-outs were created, with an average age of one year at the time of this evaluation, raising a total of £6.9m in private equity finance.
- Spin-outs employed an average of three workers and were generating an average of £86,000 in revenues by January 2017. Spin-outs taken forward with Aid for Start Ups funding grew more rapidly, reporting an average of six FTEs employed and an average turnover of £45,000. The total present value of licensing agreements signed as a result of the programme was £8.7m.
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