Dr Pete Jackson, Chair of Anglia Innovation Partnership LLP, explains what three key ingredients are needed to create successful businesses from scientific innovations.
The thing that really excites me, that really gets my blood flowing, is when I spot the potential to create a business from just an idea or an early concept. I’m talking about a business that will have a real opportunity to scale up because at its heart is a product or service that will have a positive impact on people’s lives.
Over the past fifteen years, I’ve had the opportunity to create seven biotechnology companies that, amongst them, are delivering new drugs for different types of cancer, developing new crop protection products, helping the fight against infectious diseases and providing research, development and manufacturing technologies and services to other life science companies.
And we’ve achieved great success with them. For instance, two of the service companies have been sold to industrial acquirers and two of the cancer drug companies are now listed on the London AIM stock market. The three other ventures are in strong growth phases. One of them, of which I am CEO, is focused on developing new treatments for infectious diseases caused by ‘Superbugs’ that have evolved to become resistant to existing drugs.
From my own experience in developing successful businesses, the three things that all the companies have needed to enable them to exploit the great ideas and intellectual property at their core is to have great people, outstanding facilities and access to funding.
That’s something I am passionate about making available to the new generation of great companies I know can and will emerge from Norwich Research Park.
So, let’s start with the first ingredient – great people. To build world-class companies you need to be able to attract the best talent. And to grow you need to build strong teams; not only technically, but also within core disciplines such as business management, finance and at board level. Even with these roles filled, you cannot do everything on your own. Access to an experienced pool of advisers and non-exec directors is essential to prepare a company for growth, especially when looking for funding, and in directing the science effectively to solve real-world problems that will ultimately lead to commercial success.
Then it’s all about the tools of the trade. Start-ups and fast-growing companies need access to state-of-the-art facilities to conduct their research, accompanied by strong links to leading academics, university facilities and NHS clinical trials, as well as to private sector expertise and services in the legal, patents, contract research, regulatory and manufacturing fields. It’s a complex world out there and without access to the right capabilities there is a danger you won’t ever be playing your strongest cards when you present your product or service to market, especially one that is competitive.
Finally, nothing can happen without the right funding. All the companies I have worked with have benefitted from supportive venture investors; from high net worth business angels to international venture capital firms and corporate development funds. To enable start-up businesses to access finance, and to de-risk potential investment opportunities for investors, it is vital that pre-seed funding activity is made available to prepare investors and their fledgling companies for the journey ahead of them. In knowledge-rich environments, such as we have here at Norwich Research Park, these processes for accessing seed funding must be embedded in the ecosystem to ensure there is a mechanism to identify and pull through novel, industry-appropriate ideas for consideration.
Next, seed finance is needed to establish a company, hire the first staff and secure facilities to commence operations. If successful, this can then progress to raising what can be millions or even hundreds of millions of pounds on the public markets, for example to support international clinical trials of important new cancer drugs.
These three ingredients – getting the right people, the right facilities and the right funding at the right time (that’s important!) – are so inter-connected that coordinating them effectively is key to creating successful ventures and building value. So, you may ask, what are our plans to help Norwich Research Park assemble these vital three ingredients?
When I joined as Chair of Anglia Innovation Partnership LLP 12 months ago, I immediately saw the potential it had for growing a substantial number of successful businesses. To help make that a reality, we have already put in place some key initiatives.
On the funding side, we have launched the SEIS/EIS Innovation Fund, where qualifying investors can get tax reliefs to invest in the next generation of exciting new ventures on the Park.
We have also partnered with QUBIS, the commercialisation arm of Queen’s University, Belfast, which has an unrivalled track record for creating new technology start–ups, to provide entrepreneur development support, assessment and pre-seed activity plus the launch of a new seed fund.
The relationship with QUBIS is already bearing fruit, with six entrepreneurs at Norwich Research Park receiving funding from the BBSRC’s Innovation-to-Commercialisation of University Research (ICURe) Lean Launch programme and support to develop their ideas and build strong business plans in preparation for the spin-out of their new ventures.
In terms of facilities, we have a range of specialist labs and other facilities that are already being utilised by researchers on the Park. To attract start-up and spin-in businesses, we can offer them access to these facilities in collaboration with academics and clinicians. Plus, we also have fantastic buildings such as Centrum that are important for things like hosting events and providing core amenities. Norwich Research Park is also able to provide a full range of accommodation types – offices, labs, meeting spaces – that will give companies the flexibility to set up and then grow.
And speaking of investing in great people, we now have our new CEO Roz Bird in position. Roz brings a wealth of commercial experience to lead the Norwich Research Park team into this exciting future and make the most of the fantastic opportunities to create a business powerhouse on the Park. Her team is already managing a number of other bids for funding and offers from the John Innes Centre and BBSRC to help support pre-seed activity.
With the great underpinning science we have at Norwich Research Park, combined with the assembly of the three vital ingredients needed for enterprise creation, we, together, can create long-term sustainable value for the Park, the region and the UK.