The core of what we do at Oxford University Innovation is to enable positive change through the application of Oxford research and expertise to the wider world. And, while many great ideas have passed through our doors over the past three decades, perhaps the most impactful has been the application of research in the battle with COVID-19.
When the Spanish Flu struck back in 1918, the media at the time largely glossed over the significance of the pandemic and it quickly escaped our collective memory. Not this time around. The COVID-19 story has dominated the press, social media and the fleeting in-person conversations we’ve all had. Every part of the world has been affected by COVID-19 and has a story to tell, and Oxford certainly is no exception.
The contribution of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine to combating the pandemic has been front and centre in the story of the past year, with the jab now finding its way into arms globally and saving millions of lives in the process. Similarly, the COVID-19 risk calculator QCovid was deployed with OUI support at the start of 2021, arming clinicians with the information they need to guide vulnerable patients through the pandemic. We’ve also created Oxsed and Oxvent, addressing rapid testing and affordable ventilators respectively, while many of our spinouts have refocused their own efforts on the pandemic.
The Ecosystem Matures
Alongside the technologies directly related to COVID-19, OUI has overseen a tsunami of interest in innovation that the pandemic has set in motion. Our company creation statistics have hit new highs, with 31 new companies created in the past year. This has been met with ferocious investor interest, with a record £1.1bn coming into our companies. Social ventures too have bloomed under lockdown, with six created in the past year and a total of 11 since we launched the programme three years ago. Meanwhile, all parts of the business have reported record interest, with both our Clinical Outcomes and Consulting Services teams rushed off their feet in recent months.
However, as the pandemic becomes manageable as vaccines take hold, we’re once again asking ourselves: what’s next?
Our spinout portfolio not only continues to grow, but to rapidly mature. Oxford Nanopore’s £3.4bn IPO is stealing the headlines, while many continue to scale towards their own flotations. Meanwhile, YASA held a prominent exit of its own with its acquisition by Mercedes Benz. As these develop, the overall ecosystem is moving from the gold rush days of the Oxford Boom to a more established community of innovators looking to create a rising tide of impact that raises all boats. While OUI’s role in the process remains at that inflection point where research transfers into the wider world, we believe we have a part to play in sustaining the momentum of recent years and using our voice and convening power to help our community thrive.
OUI will continue down its path of constant evolution to better catalyse the entrepreneurial spirit emerging from the University and the Oxfordshire region. Looking forward, we will continue working with our partners both in the University and externally to define how OUI can deliver its expertise, passion and culture of innovation more broadly.
Spearheading Social Ventures
I am also immensely proud of the work we have spearheaded in the social ventures space. While OUI has become a global leader in how we transform patentable ideas from areas such as life sciences and AI, university innovation as a whole has much to offer in how we maximise the potential of concepts, policy innovation and thought leadership. It is clear that in order to address the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), divergent thinking and the will to walk the path less trodden will be required to overcome these global obstacles and create a better world for future generations. Our social venture programme is still in its nascent stages, yet our companies are already targeting five of the 14 SDGs. These companies have both the agility of business entities and the purpose of state-owned organisations at their core, and clearly are a key resource to develop. By continuing to do so while inspiring peers to join us, OUI aims to elevate social ventures to a point where these socially-focused ideas can become a critical economic asset to the UK while doing good in the world.
Fundamentally, we want to see a world where not just the innovations pertaining to the pandemic, but all the ideas we manage realise their potential for transformative positive change across all sectors of society. As a goal, this may never be fully achievable but, as a vision that OUI aspires to, it is something that we strive towards every day. In partnership with our university colleagues, our companies and our partners in the ecosystem, we will endeavour to make it a reality.
Dr Matt Perkins, Chief Executive Officer, Oxford University Innovation
In 2021, OUI welcomed Mairi Gibbs, Simon Warner, and Jaci Barnett as our new Chief Operating Officer, Head of Life Sciences, and Head of Consulting Services, respectively.
OUI is proud to support IDEA (Increasing Diversity in Enterprising Activities), a new initiative from the University of Oxford to tackle challenges and inequalities faced by underrepresented groups in entrepreneurship and innovation.