The UK’s potential as a science superpower has been given a significant boost today with the launch of unique guidance that will accelerate and support the founding of a new generation of start-ups.

Leading investors and universities have come together to launch the USIT Guide which aims to put rocket boosters under the way that the Higher Education sector spins out new companies that take advantage of research breakthroughs.

Many of this country’s most successful technology firms – Solexa, Oxford Nanopore, ARM – started off life as spin-outs from a university, and the publication’s authors believe many more will now be forthcoming.

This is an area that the UK already excels in. London’s universities, for example, are more efficient in turning research and development expenditure into spinout companies than many others. They produce a spin-out for every £35.35 million invested in research and development compared with £60.42 million, £42.6 million and £54.5 million for Boston, Los Angeles and New York, respectively.

Between them the group behind the new guidance – which includes venture capitalist firms Abingworth, Sofinnova and Cambridge Investment Capital, and universities Cambridge, Oxford, Imperial and UCL – has helped set up 376 new companies in the last five years, raising over £8.6 billion in investment.

But the USIT Guide’s backers believe it can build on this success and allow both universities and venture capitalists to ramp up the whole process of setting up spin-outs by providing direction and advice in such areas as equity share and IP. As it stands, many of these deals are created from scratch, which is both inefficient and sometimes fails to learn the lessons from previous success stories.

The publication, which is supported by TenU, a group of university technology transfer offices in the UK and US, including MIT, Stanford and Columbia, reflects successful practice around the world.

The USIT Guide was created over a 16-month period from January 2022, and supported by a sector-wide consultation which was supported by BioIndustry Association (BIA), the British Private Equity & Venture Capital Association (BVCA) and PraxisAuril. The initiative was funded by Research England. The USIT Guide working group is chaired by Cambridge Enterprise Chief Executive, Dr Diarmuid O’Brien.

The USIT Guide can unlock the full potential from UK universities research, helping to create more spin-outs faster and attracting increased venture investment. USIT can support our universities create the companies that can contribute to solving the great challenges of our time, from climate to health and the digital revolution.

Dr Diarmuid O'Brien, Chief Executive, Cambridge Enterprise and Chair of the USIT Guide working group

The USIT Guide has come out of the deep professionalism and commitment of UK tech transfer offices to collaboration: sharing approaches internationally, and working with others – particularly investors - to make our ecosystem more effective.

Jessica Corner, Executive Chair, Research England

Universities are a key engine for innovation in the UK. The USIT guide will enable the investment community to work more closely with our universities to create high impact businesses that can drive UK economic growth.

Tim Haines, Executive Partner, Abingworth

It is essential that spinouts have access to expertise and capital investment, in real time to ensure breakthroughs in research and innovation can be maximised for both society and the economy. The USIT guide builds on universities’, investors’ and founders’ experience, and sets out a framework that will allow many more scientists and researchers to turn their ideas into the technology and life sciences companies of the future.

Professor Emma Morris, Founder of Quell Therapeutics, and Director of the UCL Division of Infection and Immunity