It seems like only yesterday that Global University Venturing celebrated breaking through 2,000 deals in its database, but at the time of writing we are already at more than 3,200 investments and exits.
You can find an updated version of our flagship longitudinal analysis in the latest Global University Venturing magazine – as well as a separate report looking specifically into corporate venture capital funds backing spinouts – to find out more about how the innovation ecosystem is doing, but in case there was any doubt, it is in an outstanding shape.
It is a truth not universally acknowledged, sadly, with one British newspaper claiming in 2017 that “Oxford is the worst university in the world for commercialisation” – despite the fact that in Oxford University Innovation (OUI) the institution boasts the most prolific tech transfer office in the UK when it comes to generating spinouts.
OUI may be second, just about, to ETH Zurich’s commercialisation arm ETH transfer – this year’s GUV Tech Transfer Unit of the Year – in Europe, but it shows that the public narrative remains woefully misguided.
The view persists not just today but also in other parts of the world, such as Australia, where an election was held this month. Chris Nave, a founding partner of Brandon Capital Partners and chief executive of the spinout-focused Medical Research Commercialisation Fund noted in a comment for local newspaper the Australian that both major political parties, Labor and Liberals, had avoided using the word “innovation” in their campaigns because they thought it hurt the coalition government at the last election.
“In policy terms, only Labor’s electric car initiative was an example of a future industry driven by innovation,” the article said, and Nave argued that the parties were shunning innovation “at the nation’s peril”.
Supporting innovation, and recognising those driving it, is not just bad politics but, as Nave correctly identified, dangerous. Innovation may have the side-effect of creating high-skilled jobs – with increasing automation for menial labour, high-skilled positions will be the only jobs available to people – but crucially it also helps solve the really big issues faced not just by a single nation but by all of humanity, such as superbugs and climate change.
There is a focus on Oxford PV, a solar panel technology producer spun out of Oxford, in Global University Venturing. These are the types of project that need serious support long before they emerge as a full-fledged spinout, not because they will make big money, but because they help to ensure that in a century someone will actually be around to care about money.
Meanwhile, in Germany, decades of making the economy dependent on the car industry – the sector commands 20% of the country’s economic output, up a whole quarter since 2005 – mean innovation in electric vehicles is now more important, but politicians are reluctant to take substantial action for fear it would hurt the car industry. Better to keep going with pollution – because it will guarantee jobs in the near term and thereby votes – than fight for long-term growth, or so the argument seems to go.
Political will and public narrative are inextricably linked, but with tech transfer offices often on bootstrap budgets without the resources for a marketing team, influencing either remains frustratingly elusive.
It is Global University Venturing’s hope that its multi-year data analysis will help underline just how well the innovation ecosystem is doing with so little support. Imagine, even if just for a moment, how successful it would be if policymakers acknowledged this, rather than catering to fringe movements nostalgic for a simpler time that in reality meant having no fridge-freezer in the kitchen and no antibiotics to cure a simple infection.
To quote Bob Hawke, a former prime minister of Australia who died earlier this month: “The things which are most important don’t always scream the loudest.”
Hawke knew what he was talking about. As prime minister he not only created the country’s publicly-funded healthcare system, Medicare, but also initiated superannuation pension schemes for all workers and oversaw the passage of the Australia Act, removing all remaining jurisdiction of the UK.
Hawke was in office from 1983 to 1991 – making him Labor’s most successful prime minister and proving that if you have a bold vision, voters will put and keep you in power. If only today’s politicians recognised this.