Spinning out

Published on 5 August 2022

From their inception, universities have always been centres of creativity, a gathering point for curious minds. They have also been drivers of our economy, turning ideas into application and creating new businesses.

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Our staff and students frequently go on to forge their own ventures, starting something of their own that has the potential to transform the lives of countless others.

In recent years, harnessing that enterprising spirit has become increasingly important at the University of Dundee, which supports the spinouts and start-ups of its staff and students via its Research & Innovation Services (RIS) and Centre for Entrepreneurship (CfE). The University’s commitment is evidenced in the success of several spinout and start-up companies that are already making huge waves in the world of business.

It’s a commitment that is already paying dividends, with the University last year being named as one of the UK’s most successful at commercialising its research, raising more than £325 million over the past two decades.

We were ranked among the very best universities in the UK at commercialising research in the University Spinout Report 2021 delivered by GovGrant. We were also named fifth overall in the UK for our record in turning research into world-changing companies, ahead of universities such as Oxford, King’s College London, and Imperial College London, in the ‘Spinning out Success’ report, produced by Octopus Ventures.

"Dundee has a long-standing track record of commercial success and tangible impact from genuinely world-class research, particularly from its Schools of Life Sciences and Medicine," said Dr David McBeth, Director of Research & Innovation Services at the University.

"At present, we have several high-growth spinouts making real strides commercially, our pipeline has never been stronger, and we are always on the lookout for entrepreneurial management talent."

“Dundee has a long-standing track record of commercial success and tangible impact from genuinely world-class research, particularly from its Schools of Life Sciences and Medicine.”

Dr David McBeth

Companies such as Exscientia and Amphista Therapeutics have recently ‘spun out’ from our world-leading research facilities to great success in the application of Artificial Intelligence and new generation therapeutics to drug discovery.

Last year saw the drug discovery firm Exscientia achieve an Initial Public Offering (IPO) on the US NASDAQ stock exchange that valued the company at over £2.2 billion. This staggering success saw Exscientia claim a hugely prestigious award, Global University Venturing’s Deal of the Year for 2021.

Spun out from the University in 2012, Exscientia was founded by the School of Life Sciences’ Professor Andrew Hopkins. It was the first company to use Artificial Intelligence to automate drug design from idea to the pre-clinical candidate stage and its advanced AI has the ability to significantly speed up drug development, an expensive undertaking for pharmaceutical companies.

Exscientia is now one of the biggest life sciences spin-out companies to emerge from UK higher education, a true 'unicorn' company.

Amphista Therapeutics, a spin-out from the laboratory of Professor Alessio Ciulli in the School of Life Sciences, is another which is gathering significant momentum. In May they announced they will work with global biopharmaceutical companies as part of strategic collaborations potentially worth more than $2 billion. As part of separate partnerships, Amphista will collaborate with Merck Healthcare and Bristol Myers Squibb to leverage the company’s targeted protein degradation (TPD) technology and generate therapeutics in multiple disease areas.

Amphista creates first-in-class therapeutics that harness the body’s natural processes to degrade and remove disease-causing proteins selectively and efficiently.

There will be more on the way as we continue to look to maximise the impact of our research. Dr McBeth said, "World-leading research is taking place at the University every day, and commercialisation of this allows us to build companies that have the ability to change lives around the world. We are able to help spinouts by connecting them with funding networks and industry expertise, giving them the best chance of turning promising ideas into successful businesses."

And the next generation of entrepreneurial talent is already waiting to make its mark, with the winners of the Centre for Entrepreneurship’s annual Venture competition enjoying a share of a record £41,000 prize fund in 2022.

The showpiece event marked the culmination of the University’s annual Entrepreneurship Week, a series of workshops and lectures championing opportunities for new business ventures in Scotland.

As well as funding to help support their business proposals, all winners receive a place on Elevator’s summer business accelerator programme. The 12-week course allows start-up founders to fine-tune their proposals.

As well as cash prizes for the category winners selected runners-up also received a share of this year’s prize fund, with business concepts ranging from stabilisation software for video footage filmed by racing-style drones to a new enterprise that seeks to develop first-in-class drug candidates as a therapy for diabetes.

Brian McNicoll, Head of the Centre for Entrepreneurship, said, "Once again, the winners of our Venture competition demonstrate the thriving entrepreneurial culture that exists here at the University.

"Our external expert judges were thrilled by the ingenuity of the business concepts pitched by our students and staff and choosing winners was an incredibly tough task. Everyone who reached this stage can be incredibly proud of what they have achieved. I am certain that their experience in Venture 2022 will only help their businesses prosper in the years to come."

The winners of Venture 2022
  • School of Business Award – Jevin Mathew
  • School of Medicine Award – Divyesh Joshi
  • School of Life Science Award – Shravya Murali
  • School of Art and Design Award – Daisy McConville
  • School of Science and Engineering Award – Ryan Anderson
  • Wildcard Award – Dr Robin Pflughaupt
  • Research Staff Award – Dr James Cantley
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