Silicon spires loom as Oxford closes £320m spin-out fund

Oxford University's dreams of emulating arch-rival Cambridge's tech glory take a step closer today, as the £320m OSI spin out fund closes.

by Andrew Saunders
Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons

Oxford Sciences Innovation, to give the fund its full name, was launched in May with the aim of converting more of the University’s academic innovations into commercial successes, more quickly.

It’s a big name gig - both Google Ventures and Carphone Warehouse founder Charles Dunstone are on board - and the target figure of £300m has been bested by £20m, making OSI one of, if not the, largest fund of its kind in the world.

It’s certainly a big step forward for Oxford, whose scientific record is impressive (no fewer than 32 Nobel Prizes for chemistry, physics and medicine over the years) but whose enthusiasm for commercialising lab talent has lagged behind arch-rival Cambridge for many years. (And before all the Cambridge alumni out there start getting hot under the collar, yes we do known that its Nobel sciences haul is even greater, totalling 76 across the same three disciplines).

Other investors in the fund include Invesco, Lansdowne Partners, The Wellcome Trust and City star Michael Woodford’s Woodford Investment Management, so there’s no denying that it’s financial credentials are also impeccable.

Working with the university’s existing commercialisation arm, Isis Innovation, OSI will invest in companies at the seed funding stage, and will have the right to acquire 50% of the university’s founder equity in each venture it backs. In return the university will retain a protected 5% stake in OSI.

So if all goes according to plan we should see many more successful spin-outs from the university, to join those firms which have already progressed from lab to marketplace without OSI’s help, like Oxford Immunotec, Velocys and Oxford Nanopore Technologies.  

Who knows, one day the Silicon Spires may be even more widely recognised than the Silicon Fen…

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