Tech Transfer eNews Blog

Oxford U’s unique model brings student power to bear on languishing IP assets


By Jesse Schwartz
Published: January 22nd, 2020

Tech transfer programs usually have a portfolio of commercialization projects that are in that iffy zone: They do have potential but they are not the obvious choice for a spinout with a high likelihood of success. They also are not right for repeat non-exclusive licensing to companies, and they don’t have a ready-made home with a company where the inventor has a longstanding relationship. These projects deserve support because they offer a practical solution to an industry problem and they are based on IP that the university sees value in protecting, but with no clear path to a partner, the technology can languish.

Oxford University in England has piloted a novel approach for this kind of commercialization project that brings together a multidisciplinary group of university students to develop new venture proposals, with the potential for the students to receive 90% equity in any start-up their work produces.

The Student Entrepreneurship Programme (StEP) was created in collaboration with The Foundry, Oxford’s student entrepreneurship center, and Oxford Sciences Innovation, a £600 million venture fund focused on Oxford University spinouts, says Adam Stoten, PhD, RTTP, chief operating officer with Oxford University Innovation (OUI), the university’s tech transfer program.

“We had a notion that there could be a good opportunity to match some of the entrepreneurial resources in our ecosystem with some of the projects that we were having difficulty finding partners for, ones which were ostensibly good technologies but for whatever reason we weren’t finding the right existing company out there to pick them up and run,” Stoten says.

StEP brings together Oxford University students into multi-disciplinary teams and offers them projects from OUI’s portfolio, all of them in that “in between” category of projects that have potential but are not obvious choices for spinouts, Stoten explains.

In the StEP pilot, the student teams worked for four weeks, supported by mentors, to develop new marketing opportunities for the projects. The university paid them a stipend and they had a chance at winning a £25,000 investment at the end of the pilot. Most importantly though, the students will receive 90% of the founding equity in any new venture arising from their work, with the other 10% shared between Oxford University and the inventor of the IP.

“The 90% for students is generous but reflects that, at least for the projects allocated thus far to StEP, we have not yet been able to find a licensee, and so the academic inventors understand that this may be the last chance for a commercial outcome,” Stoten says.

A detailed article on Oxford’s StEP program appears in the January issue of Technology Transfer Tactics. For subscription information, click here.

Posted under: Tech Transfer e-News

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