Oxford University is recognised worldwide as an institution that creates impact.

Traditionally, this impact has been seen in two forms: the quality of its teaching, and of its research. The University’s alumni have led countries and piloted global organisations, written books and poems which have touched millions, and conceived ideas that have fundamentally changed how we perceive the world around us. The University’s research shines a light onto society and our shared history, takes our understanding of the human body and the world we inhabit to new heights, and helps humanity unveil the stories of the universe itself.

It is on this solid bedrock of the brightest minds and the most brilliant ideas that we are now forging a third pathway for Oxfordian impact: innovation.

Oxford University Innovation (OUI) has worked tirelessly over its 30-plus years of operation to transform Oxford research into reality. Over that time, we have created a steady stream of companies based on Oxford ideas including:

  • NaturalMotion, zoology-based animation software behind some of the biggest entertainment releases of all time,
  • YASA Motors, which recently set up a manufacturing plant for its electric car motors,
  • Oxford PV, which raised over £60m this past year to further develop its next generation solar cell technology, and many more.

These companies and established spinouts like them have built solid foundations for the Oxford innovation ecosystem. From my perspective at the helm of OUI, it is in the past five years where things began to get really interesting. The first company in our records for 2014, OUI’s 104th company, was Nightstar Therapeutics – a spinout formed with the ambition of producing genetic treatments for rare inherited ocular conditions. Although we didn’t know it at the time, Nightstar would fire the starting gun for the Oxford Boom – a massive explosion of entrepreneurship and innovation from Oxford University and the wider Oxford Cluster.

During that time, we saw NaturalMotion sell for $527m. Oxford Sciences Innovation (OSI), which manages the world’s largest university fund with more than £600m in the bank came into being. OUI went from four spinouts in 2013 to 24 for the calendar year of 2018 – setting a new UK record for spinout generation, both in a single year and most spinouts created overall. The Foundry, the Bioescalator and Creative Destruction Labs all established themselves in Oxford, enhancing the innovation output of the University.

As a result, OUI celebrated the creation of its 200th company this year – at the time of writing, we’re at 216. Consequently, we’ve created more companies based on Oxford ideas in the past five years than we have in the rest of Oxford’s 800-plus year history. As for Nightstar, it went on to become Oxford’s biggest exit when it was acquired by Biogen for over $800m in 2019.

Our work hasn’t just been limited to the sciences. Our social enterprise initiative, launched at the start of this financial year, has led to the creation of two social ventures so far: sOPHIa, a multi-dimensional poverty fighting index, and Greater Change, an app which enables secure, cashless donations to the homeless. We also welcomed Professors Sarah Whatmore and Daniel Grimley, from Social Sciences and Humanities respectively, to OUI’s board, giving us pan-University leadership for the first time in our history.

Our incubator continues to grow under its new leadership, creating three new startups this year with many more in the pipeline. We have launched the Bright Sparks programme with Vodafone to bring in mentors from the communications giant, launched a new equity and financial support programme for startups called Future Fusion, and have been working with OSI and the Foundry to inspire the next generation of Oxford entrepreneurs with the Student Entrepreneurship Programme.

OUI continues to find ways to enable innovation within the Oxford community. Through Consulting Services, OUI connects academics with external organisations looking to harness their technical expertise. Our Clinical Outcomes team had a stellar year, granting 756 licences, 85% of which were free of charge. Together with our partners, we also launched a sister fund to the drug discovery partnership LAB282: LAB10x. The new fund will accelerate data-driven healthcare technology projects around the University towards commercialisation.

Collectively, with our colleagues within the University and our friends externally in the Oxford Cluster, we’re building a lasting legacy of impact for global societal benefit.

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