The vision of Oxford University Innovation is a world-leading ecosystem with the University at its heart. And, with the help of our regional partners, we are closer to achieving this goal than ever before. While there is plenty of road left yet to travel, Oxford is rapidly developing the infrastructure, companies and network to support such an endeavour.
To date, OUI has supported the creation of 270 companies, 95 of which have been created in the past five years. This makes Oxford University one of the most prolific creators of spinout companies worldwide, and in our portfolio are companies at all stages of their evolution. As the number and size of our portfolio of companies grows, more companies are attracting more investors and professionals. As more support and talent arrives in Oxford to enable the creation and growth of companies and those companies scale up, the resulting positive feedback loop is driving forward the innovation culture around Oxford.
This entrepreneur-friendly culture blossoming around Oxford has been met with support from inside the University, with Oxford taking a hands-on approach to support academic ambitions, make changes to catalyse more innovation, and showcase the successes we’re collectively achieving.
“We’re certainly making great strides. But for us to achieve OUI’s vision of creating a world-leading innovation ecosystem with the University at its heart, we need to do more,” said Matt Perkins, CEO at Oxford University Innovation. “We need to ensure a solid pipeline of ideas by attracting more world-leading academics while looking after those already here. We need to create innovation districts to transition those ideas into rapidly-scaling companies. We need to do more to attract the investment community see the opportunity here and realise that although it’s already strong, it has the potential to grow much further.”
Space for Innovation
The purpose of the innovation districts will be to provide both the space for high tech companies and proximity for our innovation community, which in turn will foster collaboration, support and inspiration. The Oxfordshire Local Enterprise Partnership (OxLEP) has been working with partners including OUI and the University to define the innovation districts around Oxford. Together, we are transforming the Osney Mead site to accommodate the growing demand for space from spinouts, as well as further development of the University’s Begbroke site outside Oxford. In addition, a new site which will combine housing with space for companies in Oxford North has officially broken ground. Additional sites, including former retail locations in the centre of the city, are also currently under consideration.
Another key objective of building the space for innovation is to attract big industry and tech names to Oxford. Making Oxford an appealing expansion territory for big players that can help us bolster our ecosystem is a priority for both the University and OUI.
“Whilst many of our brilliant academics end up working for them, and many of our spinout community do business with them, there still remains though, the question of how we get those big names and other players engaged in what we’re doing here in Oxford,” said Matt Perkins. “We need to identify what the missing pieces are and get them put in place for what we’re building here to continue to grow.”
Industrial support, not just for research but for the wider community, is seen as essential. The talent, resources and know-how that industry can bring to bear can be transformative – ideas can be commercialised faster, investment can be easier to attract, and companies can find partners to collaborate with as they grow.
Similarly, another area which requires imminent solutions is infrastructure around Oxford, a beautiful medieval city that wasn’t built with modern transportation or a large population in mind. As a result, addressing issues with transport, house prices, rent and real estate for expansion while helping Oxford transition into a greener future is a fine balancing act. The Innovation Districts will help address some of these requirements, and finding additional solutions for those either living in or traveling to Oxford for work is a focus for many around the city.
Opportunities within our ecosystem is attracting people from all walks of life to become involved with our ecosystem, and those will only continue to grow as our companies blossom. However, it is critical that we can not only bring that top international talent in but keep it within the ecosystem. A recycling of entrepreneurs and staff is beneficial to our companies, allowing ideas and ways of working to spread across the ecosystem. By tackling the infrastructure question, it is our combined aspiration that we make Oxford an easy choice for those settling in for the long-haul.
Addressing the funding drought
Our biggest immediate hurdle though is addressing the scale up funding drought in the UK. Over the past few years, gaps in funding at the proof-of-concept, seed and startup stages have been plugged by investors such as Oxford Science Enterprises and others moving in. However, for our companies to scale to a level where they can have the societal and economic impact we’re aiming for, we need scale up funding that can help our companies grow between series B/C rounds and exits. Increasingly, we are seeing international investors move into Oxford to assist with this growth. There still remains, however, a gap in the market for substantial UK-based investment which share our aspiration of creating and retaining the next Google within the UK.
Oxford is moving from its boom-stage of recent years to a more mature ecosystem. With a partnership with Cambridge along the proposed Innovation Arc offering more sustained growth in the decades to come, there is plenty of opportunity ahead of us. An IPO boom alongside major exits like Mercedes Benz’s acquisition of YASA are demonstrating that many of our firms are moving from startup to established company – with Oxford Nanopore’s £3.4bn IPO taking place the same day this review went live. Developments such as Oxford North, the regeneration of Osney Mead, the growth of Begbroke Science Park, and other new initiatives offer new fertile ground for our companies to take hold in. Talent and investors from around the world are moving into Oxford, with a record-breaking £1.1bn invested into our companies over the past year. However, the difference between Oxford being a good place for innovation and being a world-leading centre for innovation is still dependent on overcoming the barriers we presently face and pushing for further growth and partnerships.
OUI fully believes in the potential of Oxford ideas to profoundly change the world for the better and the companies we create to drive forward that change. Our door is open to anyone who can help us realise that potential.
Oxford is moving from its boom-stage of recent years to a more mature ecosystem. With a partnership with Cambridge along the proposed Innovation Arc offering more sustained growth in the decades to come.
We need to create innovation districts to transition those ideas into rapidly-scaling companies. We need to do more to attract the investment community see the opportunity here and realise that although it’s already strong, it has the potential to grow much further.