Internal KE Initiative of the Year Finalist: Transforming research commercialisation – the Northern Accelerator story
Northern Accelerator has transformed spinout activity at Newcastle and Durham Universities and is recognised in the NELEP Strategic Economic Plan as a key vehicle for university innovation to support growth of the regional knowledge economy. It began as an ERDF programme, helping potential spinouts engage high-quality business leaders at an early stage.
University spinouts, like other high-tech start-ups, face numerous challenges and quality of management is key to success. Northern Accelerator provides financial reward to executives for achieving key deliverables. Used alongside traditional ‘sweat-equity’ arrangements (providing shares in the business for time invested) this has broadened the candidate pool, attracting executives from beyond the north east and out with the university innovation environment. This improves early-stage access to experienced, high-quality management, which in turn improves investment readiness.
Alex Buchan, Investment Director at Newcastle based VC fund manager Northstar Ventures, said “Its clear Northern Accelerator has significantly improved outcomes for Newcastle and Durham spinouts. By improving the quality and quantity of propositions seeking investment they have managed to raise larger rounds from a widening investor cohort.”
The success of the ERDF programme was vital in an expanded partnership (adding Northumbria and Sunderland Universities) securing £4.9m from Research England’s Connecting Capability Fund to continue Northern Accelerator and broadening activity to address other research commercialisation barriers.
‘Executives into business’ remains, enhancing access to networks, business experience and investment routes. An ‘Ideas impact hub’ encourages academics to embrace commercialisation opportunities, providing training on intellectual property. ‘Pre-incorporation funding’ takes quality research projects closer to commercialisation and ‘Innovation assessment’, a business readiness diagnostic, provides robust due diligence. A seed funding pot will help spinouts validate their business model, demonstrating value to investors.
The overall vision is to deliver sustainable impact and fundamental change in the region’s innovation ecosystem.