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Scotland's Student Newspaper
Scottish universities' spin-out success
Survey reveals Scottish universities' lucrative business initiatives as Heriot-Watt launches its Converge Challenge award
Polly Dallyn
Wednesday, 04 May, 2011 | 09:00

Scotland’s universities have produced more spin-out companies in the last decade than any other part of the UK, a survey has revealed.

The news comes as Edinburgh’s Heriot-Watt University launches its second annual Converge Challenge to provide business funding to a lecturer or student. The survey, conducted by internet database SpinOuts UK, looked at the commercialisation of intellectual property at institutions across the UK.

The results highlight the ability of Scottish universities to transfer the discoveries of academic research projects into profitable businesses. In total, Scottish higher education institutions launched 172 firms in the last decade, 125 of which are still active.

Editor of SpinOuts UK Jonathan Harris said: “By providing this information we hope to help universities produce more successful spin-outs and commercialise more innovations and inventions, fuelling economic growth which is vital in the current economic climate.”

The University of Edinburgh created the largest number of spin-out companies of any UK university in the last two years, with a total of 16. It has launched 49 businesses in the last ten years.

Last year, Heriot-Watt launched Converge Challenge, a dragons-den style competition where students and academics with business ideas battle it out for £43,000 worth of funding. The prize includes business mentoring, financial and legal advice and marketing.

The competition will be running again this year with an increased prize fund. Last year’s winner was Dr Paul Henderson, a chemistry lecturer who developed technology that would enable saliva-based drug testing. Although his product is not yet on the market, Dr Henderson told The Journal: “In this difficult economic climate winning the prize really sent me on the right track with the business plan.”

Grant Wheeler, head of company formation at Edinburgh Research and Innovation, the organisation responsible for guiding University of Edinburgh-based research projects to market, told The Journal: "The current economic climate is clearly impossible to ignore, but there is a credible view offered by many that during these times of change, the greatest opportunities appear.

“What this demands of entrepreneurs is careful planning and analysis of markets. Making the right decisions is critical. That’s where Edinburgh Research and Innovation can help.”

Two Edinburgh-based spin-out companies have been singled out as particular success stories. Heriot-Watt’s technology firm Memex was sold to US software giant SAS for an undisclosed sum last year. The University of Edinburgh’s MTEM, another technology firm, was sold in 2007 for $275 million, less than four years after being set up.

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