UK science has too few ‘hustlers’


Science has too few ‘hustlers’ Why do we have so few entrepreneurs to help bring the products of our scientific expertise into widespread use? Do places like Harwell and Daresbury do enough to identify and encourage hustlers like some of those about whom I have written (see blelow).        Next week: Synthetic Biology at Imperial helps to launch startup ‘LabGenius’.

 A promoter of collaborations to tackle serious issues Ian Downey at the European Space Agency (ESA) puts consortia together for innovative projects enabled by Satellite technology. To combat the recent sharp rise in Lyme’s Disease he had brought together researchers into malaria in Africa and in the UK, GPs and hospitals in Scotland, and pharmaceutical companies – in a project funded by the ESA at Harwell.

A lab head and product developer At MIT she encouraged her students to tackle issues that could have commercial appeal as much as scientific value, and helped them to realise their commercial capabilities as well as produce great science; and went on in the same style to found her own lab in the far east, whence came lots more startups. (Science 12 June 2015)

 Rolling out innovations: the Space Catapult Subverting concerns that in the UK we fail to exploit our technical leads, the Space Catapult is charting new applications for satellites and facilitating path-finding initiatives in technology, markets and finance. June 2015 (

 Advancing the development of synthetic biology  SynbiCITE ( is an ‘Innovation and Knowledge Centre’ several of which were established in the last few years to develop emerging technologies that have the potential to become major industries. Synthetic Biology – creating manufacturable agents by digitally engineering their biology – is in its very early stages: the Centre is still in the process of identifying commercialisable challenges (such as in chemicals, advanced materials, energy, health and environmental protection.) But even in these very early stages, it has already managed to spawn several startups, of which LabGenius is one – a business which is selling DNA to biotech and pharma for drug development (see next week.)

Steve Blank’s I-Corps Biotech Boot Camp Hallowed publication ‘Nature’ reported on a nine-week ‘Biotech Boot Camp’ in the US, funded by the National Institutes of Health, which aims to get entrepreneurial scientists to get out there and ask potential customers what they want.

John Whatmore, December 2016



Making use of existing IP to start new businesses


The Future Business Pre-Incubator (‘FBPI’is looking to find ways of leveraging the UK ’s (and Europe’s) technologies into new businesses, and so contribute to economic growth. With YCombinator and Techstars in the US focusing on internet businesses, FBPI is looking to see how to combine UK (and European) entrepreneurialism and support with IP that has been generated by some of the world’s leading scientific academic communities.

          Last Autumn, FBPI held a week-end at Oxford ’s Said Business School whose objective was to see if groups of business people, engineers and scientists could come up with ways of commercialising some of the publicly funded IP that was presented. Out of eleven ideas, one group registered a new company the following day, which quickly found ongoing funding (and is likely to take space in the new European Space Agency (‘ESA’) Incubator at Harwell); one more is in negotiations to license technology and has applied for the ESA Incubator, and two more are awaiting feedback on the technology before continuing their application.

The recent rapid growth of start-ups in the US, especially in internet businesses, has not been matched by anything remotely comparable in the UK . FBPI asks how we can create similar heightened levels of activity in other regions and industries; for example, how to exploit the differential capability that Europe has, by focusing on science and technology and engineering based businesses.

FBPI notes that the traditional software/mobile incubator follows a US model in a segment where Europe does not have a competitive advantage. What this network does is focus on existing patented technologies, to which entrepreneurial talent, expert mentors and seed-funding can be applied. All of these, FBPI notes, are available locally. The Thames Valley area is one of Europe’s largest hi-tech clusters, with a number of outstanding scientific facilities at Harwell alone, and is close to the regional HQs of three large mobile Telcos; at Oxford it has two universities and two Business schools; it has one of the world’s largest science parks and two other significant ones, the European Space Agency incubator and the Science and Technology Facilities Council’s Innovations Technology Access Centre.

FBPI sees its process as an open market that connects ‘knowledge pools’. Supporting the development process from its beginning and up the escalator of growth, it will aim to seek entrepreneurs among local institutions and communities; it will seek access especially to ESA’s, CERN’s and other IP portfolios; it will run start-up week-ends designed to identify commercialisable IP and match it with appropriate entrepreneurs; it will enable prospective new businesses to have suitable accommodation in incubators; it will ensure that cohorts of mentors from academic and commercial institutions are available; and it will seek to ensure that development capital is readily available. In addition it will seek to collaborate with or franchise an Accelerator brand, that will help to validate its regime.

Having tested the efficacy of the start-up week-end to produce IP that might have commercial potential, FBPI is now seeking to replicate these, by catalysing 20 such week-ends over the course of the ensuing two years, each one in a different area; for which it has pitched for £300k funding from the Technology Strategy Board and other funders.

John Whatmore                                                                       March 2013

The Centre for Leadership in Creativity