Cambridge University commercial arm cashes in on brainpower

Cambridge University’s commercialisation arm, Cambridge Enterprise, has soared into the black for the first time in a decade.

For the first time since foundation, CE has effectively hit a profit, returning a record amount back to the university and its innovators based on their IP generation.

Income generated from the university’s commercialisation activities continued to rise in 2011 – as did the number of intellectual property, consultancy and equity agreements signed on behalf of the university and its researchers.

Income from licensing, consultancy and equity transactions exceeded £10.2 million, with £8.3m of that amount returned to the university, departments and researchers.

Cambridge Enterprise provides support to more than 1,000 university researchers at all stages of the commercialisation process, from supporting grant proposals, to licensing technology to existing companies, through to funding new companies and ventures.

Dr Tony Raven, the new chief executive of Cambridge Enterprise said: “Universities such as Cambridge have an important role to play in supporting an innovation-led economic recovery, through collaborative research, technology licensing, consultancy projects and new company formation.

“The growth enjoyed by Cambridge Enterprise this year demonstrates the value that industry attaches to Cambridge research, and the contribution the University is making to our national economic recovery.”

Over the past year, the Cambridge Enterprise team completed 116 licences, signed 183 consultancy contracts and returned more than £468,000 to its evergreen seed funds through equity transactions.

Income from licensing increased 24 per cent from 2009/10, and income from consultancy increased by 37 per cent year on year.

Cambridge Enterprise also invests intellectual property and cash to create new companies and ventures based on Cambridge research. Currently, Cambridge Enterprise holds equity in 68 companies and manages ‘evergreen’ seed funds on the university’s behalf.

Over the past year, the companies in the Cambridge Enterprise portfolio raised more than £189m in funding including $200 million raised by Plastic Logic.

One of the fastest-growing companies in the portfolio is Eight19, which was spun-out from the Cavendish Laboratory in 2010.

The company, which is building upon the Cavendish’s expertise in the area of organic photovoltaics, has recently completed trials of IndiGo, a personal pay-as-you-go solar electricity system, in Zambia, Kenya, Malawi and India. The system could provide safe, sustainable and affordable power for some of the 1.6 billion people worldwide who do not have access to electricity.

Another Cambridge company which enjoyed a highly successful year was PneumaCare, which has developed a non-contact method of measuring lung function for the one third of patients who are unable to use current methods.

The company was named a winner at the prestigious Medical Futures Innovation Awards, and its product is now in use in hospitals across the UK, with expansion to southeast Asia and North America planned for 2012.

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