Why would you want to commercialise your research, what are your options, and how might Cambridge Enterprise help?
Julian Peck from Cambridge Enterprise addressed each of these questions this week at a Collaboration Skills Initiative seminar attended by people from across Cambridge University’s Schools of Technology, Physical Sciences, and Medicine.
There are many reasons to commercialize research – and the mix is usually a personal decision. Often money is the least important. In some cases it’s the best way to disseminate results, other times it serves to fund the next round of research, increasingly it is part of the REF and of building credibility with the Research Councils. And also increasingly, for early career researchers it builds a demonstration of your ability to conduct research which can attract external funding, collaboration and support.
Cambridge Enterprise (CE) exists to
- make the world a better place by creating a legacy of products, services and advice that benefit society, the UK economy, and the University, and
- ensure that society and the economy benefit from commercialisation. You’ll note that Cambridge Enterprise does not exist to make money.
Julian outlined four ways to disseminate and build on research
- Collaborations with industry – here there are many sources of funding for “translational research”, that bit of work needed to get work from, say, the result of a PhD to the point where a company would like to support further development. CE is able to direct you to relevant sources.
- Consultancy work – you can provide expert advice based on your knowledge, skills and experience. CE is able to help with contracting (including pricing your work), with admin, invoicing and follow-up and you also get the benefits of a professional indemnity insurance policy.
- License to a company – you may choose to provide a package of intellectual property that a company can build on, develop and exploit in exchange for royalty fees. CE can help here with defining the intellectual property that is to be licensed, negotiating the deal and managing the license through its life
- Form a new company – you could create a new entity to take your research to market may be the exciting one, but may not necessarily be the best way to go. CE can help you with building the company, with finding mentoring and advice and, importantly with seed funding
The important thing to remember is that the decision is yours – you can work with CE or choose another route.
In either case CE is able to offer some vital help, beginning with the task of transforming an opportunity from “untransactable to transactable”. How do you go from an idea and a concept to a package which you can define, bound and trade with a company? This is where Cambridge Enterprise can really add value in the early stages.
With this in place then you can explore your options now with a much better idea of the propositions that you can create and their likely value.
As you put deals together, CE can help you to structure the deal so that your interests and those of your industrial partner, customer or funder are well-aligned. You need to think about this right at the beginning and also to think about the long-term as well as the short-term. Then there’s the tedious but critical “legal stuff” to wade through – and CE is experienced in this as well.
One key area is Intellectual Property. Whether you work through CE or not, they are prepared to help you with an IP rights review. Do you know who may have some rights to your work? Your funder? Collaborators? So CE will help to build a clear picture of the starting point so you can proceed from a robust foundation.
Then what should be your IP strategy? What regions, what industries? One patent or a portfolio? Structured how? And later the task of managing the portfolio, monitoring the licenses and the income streams and managing their distribution.
For those who wish to set up a company then maybe CE could be an investor. They have a seed fund which, as a result of recent exits, is of the order of £12M. There is also Cambridge Enterprise Venture Partners (www.enterprise.cam.ac.uk/our-services/industry-government-and-non-profits/opportunities-to-invest/), a network of angels and other investors bringing potentially £3 billion in funding. And CE can help point you at mentors and, potentially, candidates for your management team.
And of course there is the signposting to all the other resources. Cambridge is a wonderful environment for commercialising your research and this website (www.enterprisenetwork.group.cam.ac.uk/)points you at a wide variety of resources and sources of help.
There’s no one right way to commercialise your research and you might choose a portfolio approach combining translational research, maybe a bit of consultancy, perhaps associated with licensing your technology or creating a company. Whichever route you choose, Cambridge Enterprise is happy to help and to point you towards the many resources available around Cambridge.
If you would like get in touch directly, Julian can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org