University Proof of Concept and Seed Funds
university proof of concept and seed funds
Introduction To proof of concept and seed funds
The University has created three investment funds in recent years accessible to University researchers for the development of technologies for commercialisation. Although they differ in minor aspects, mainly related to the ways they were originally created, the Funds can be treated as identical from the researchers perspective.
1. University Challenge Seed Fund (UCSF)
During 1999 Oxford University was awarded one of 15 seed funds that were established as part of the Government’s University Challenge Seed Fund Scheme (“Scheme”). The aim of the Scheme was to fill a funding gap in the UK in the provision of finance for bringing university research discoveries to a point where their commercial usefulness can be demonstrated and the first steps taken to ensure their utility. The Scheme’s primary focus was the exploitation of science and engineering research outcomes. HM Government has suggested that the availability of seed funds can help the commercialisation process in a number of general ways – financing access to managerial skills; by securing or enhancing intellectual property; by supporting additional R&D; construction of prototype; preparation of business plan; covering legal costs; etc. The contributors to the Scheme were charities (Wellcome Trust and Gatsby Charitable Foundation) and HM Government. These central contributors committed a nationwide total of £40 million. These funds were divided into 15 University Challenge Seed Funds that were donated to individual universities or consortia. Each recipient university of a University Challenge Seed Fund had to provide 25% of the total fund from its own resources.
The Oxford UCSF has invested in 126 projects so far, ranging in size from £2,500 to £250,000. The overall objective of the UCSF Scheme is to enable university researchers to access seed funds in order to assist the successful transformation of good research into good business. This early funding is the riskiest stage of the venture process.
The Oxford UCSF is an ‘evergreen’ fund and will continue to make investments whenever it has cash available to do so. The initial £4m was invested by 2003 and as these early investments by the Oxford UCSF bear fruit, the Fund has been replenished and was in a position to resume making investments as from December 2006.
2. The Oxford Invention Fund (OIF)
As the UCSF became fully invested in May 2003, the University made a further £1 million available to continue to finance UCSF style activities. The funding facility was called Isis University Innovation Fund (IUIF), fully invested and now merged in the Oxford Invention Fund (OIF) following its launch in 2011. The OIF provides an opportunity for donors to support innovation and enterprise in Oxford, and to see a return to the University from successful new business ventures. The Fund is an integral part of Oxford Thinking, a united campaign to raise a minimum of £1.25 billion for the collegiate University. The OIF is managed along the similar lines as the UCSF with applications managed by Isis Technology Transfer Managers together with University researchers and presented to the Investment Advisory Committee. Applications to UCSF / OIF are considered on the same basis and are treated in the same way with respect to conditions of the awards. The Investment Advisory Committees of the Funds (which are both owned in their entirety by the University) will decide whether a successful application is funded by UCSF or OIF.
3. Proof of Concept Fund
This two year fund was created in 2004 following a successful collaborative bid by the Universities of Oxford, Cambridge, Imperial College, and University College London to the Government’s Higher Education Innovation Fund (HEIF) managed by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (Hefce). The total fund size was £1.8m, of which £450k was allocated to projects from Oxford University. This fund has now been fully committed.