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EDUCATION & SKILLS EI setting new records in startups,


accelerators and incubators Edinburgh University’s commercialisation service is going from strength to strength


BY COLIN CARDWELL


When we spoke recently, Dr George Baxter was justifiably elated. Te first reason was the news that morning of the unex- pectedly swift rollout of a vaccine for Covid-19. Te second was the announce-


ment by Edinburgh Innovations (EI) that Resolution Terapeutics, one of Te University of Edin- burgh’s spinout companies that EI supports, had announced funding of £26.6m from Syncona, a spe- cialist healthcare investment com- pany, to gain early clinical data for its first product: cell treatments to treat and repair advanced liver damage instead of the condition requiring a transplant. Dr George Baxter is chief exec-


utive officer of EI, the university’s commercialisation service, which was 50 years old in 2019 (and while celebrations have been put on hold owing to the coronavirus pandemic there were at that stage 100 research projects related to Covid-19 on EI’s books). It was also a record year for


EI itself. It launched 88 new companies, organised spinouts and startups that totalled a record £32.6m in investment and se- cured £55.4m in translational and industry awards to fuel collabora- tive innovation. As a 100% owned subsidiary of


Edinburgh University, EI is able to keep the commercial activities of the university discrete, meaning that surplus revenue generated is ploughed back into the univer-


Dr George Baxter: “We are by far the largest knowledge exchange operation in Scotland and one of the largest in the UK”


sity’s core purposes of research and teaching. “We expect this year to be


another record year, working with more than 100 companies com- prising a mixture of startups and spinouts,” he said. “Tat will make us one of the top five universities in the UK for startup companies.” EI’s client companies represent


a wide range of sectors, from offshore decommissioning and hydrogen storage to fintech. “We operate across the whole spec- trum as with 5,500 academic staff at the university there probably isn’t an area in which someone doesn’t have a research interest,” said Dr George Baxter. One, Earth Blox, recently


emerged triumphant at both the 2020 Converge and Scot- tish EDGE16 Awards, and was invited by Google to present at the technology giant’s 9th Annual Geo4Good Summit. Earth Blox was co-founded


by Dr Genevieve Patenaude and Professor Iain Woodhouse, both from the School of Geosciences


54 | FUTURESCOT | WINTER 2020/21


at Edinburgh University, and Sam Fleming, and has created code-free, cloud-based map- ping software which simplifies access to planetary scale satellite analysis in ways that help explore environmental impacts involving deforestation and disaster map- ping, among others. “Tat is a fascinating company


as it’s something that fits into our role in working with partners to establish the Edinburgh region as the data capital of Europe, attract- ing investment, fuelling entrepre- neurship and delivering growth with the help of the Edinburgh and South East Scotland City Re- gion Deal,” said Dr George Baxter. Another client is agritech


company Crover, which has reached the final stages of Startup Battlefield, one of the world’s leading startup competitions. Founded by Dr Lorenzo Conti, the company has developed the world’s first robotic device able to provide information on the global grain storage market and monitor expensive spoilage and infesta- tion, information that is other- wise impossible to gather. With a number of accelera-


tors and incubators around the university, EI has the advantage


of being part of what is one of the world’s top-20 research universi- ties. “Tat gives us a tremendous breadth of expertise in multiple areas,” said Dr George Baxter. “Also, we operate at scale: we are by far the largest knowledge exchange operation in Scotland and one of the largest in the UK. So we can deal with everything from a relatively small student start-up to a spin-out of the order of Resolution Terapeutics.” EI also has its own venture


capital vehicle, Old College Capital, which invests on behalf of Te University of Edinburgh and has access to a wide range of additional venture capital. “At the moment we’re dealing with some 30 sourc- es of external funding,” he said. “And that combined with our


expertise across so many areas of knowledge exchange allows us to operate at a scale that many uni- versities would struggle to get to.” Te coronavirus crisis, he added,


has done nothing to curtail EI’s activity. “What has been incredible is that we are actually busier than ever. On top of the ‘business as usual’ – working with the academ- ics, consultancies and industrial partnerships – we’re working on around 100 Covid-related projects. “Tese range from working with


suppliers of protective equipment and assessing how we can better manufacture that, through to the recycling of PPE and a project with a company that wanted to rapidly upgrade its manufacturing facility to produce high-concentration alcohol hand wash.” Looking across the Scottish,


UK and international economy he said: “Te crisis has thrown up challenges to all sorts of compa- nies as to how they are going to survive and thrive. And one of the first ports of call is a university like this and the innovation it pro- vides though EI. It might sound clichéd to say we are here to im- prove the world but that’s actually what we are here to do.” l


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