Annual Review 2020

Highlighting the activities of Oxford University Innovation

Investments

The Investments and New Ventures team files a year that defies the odds.

Back when the news of COVID-19 spread, the outlook for the OUI spinout portfolio was bleak. Steve Silvey, Investment Manager, stood up (virtually) and shared predictions that seemed to indicate that many of our companies were in for a rough ride over the coming months.

While there remains choppy water ahead, the picture is now decidedly more upbeat. OUI has created 19 companies over the last financial year, many of them under lockdown. Our portfolio has raised over $1bn (£880.2m) in external fundraising over the past 12 months, which includes £24.6m of seed funding. To put that in context, our last record-breaking year was in 2018 where we raised over a third of the nearly £1.5bn UK university spinouts raised as a whole. It is 27% of our total raised since 2011.

We’ve also seen the creation of Oxford’s 200th spinout, PhishAR, and rapidly blown past it, standing at 204 at the time this report was written. In terms of raw numbers of companies created, OUI stands just short of 250 since its creation in 1987.

“Instead of simply looking to survive, many of our companies are at the forefront of trying to address the pandemic,” said Adam Workman, Head of Investments.

Tackling the pandemic

OUI has created some innovative companies during lockdown to tackle the pandemic – including OxVent and OxSed – and are seeing many others redirect their efforts to COVID-19. Vaccitech has played a role in the early development of the ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 vaccine, which is based on the adenovirus platform technology licensed to the company by OUI. Oxford Nanopore is utilising its tech to develop rapid testing. Countless others are finding ways to use their technology and connections to help.

That all said, the group’s main focus throughout the year has been teamwork.

“This year has largely been around efficiency within the team,” said Steve. “We’ve brought on the new CRM, board management software Onboard, and other tools that have helped us be more aware of what’s in the portfolio. With a growing portfolio we want to be more collaborative with each other and the investment community.”

Steve added that he thinks that while universities can have a reputation for being bureaucratic and tough to deal with, the Investment team has earned a reputation for the opposite: “we’re quick, move forward, don’t hold things up and know what we’re doing.”
Onboard is an example of how the team can get things done. Emilie Syed, Investment Associate, led on engaging Onboard.

“We ended up being really happy with the agreement,” said Emilie. “We achieved a great discount for negotiating on behalf of the entire University portfolio. It’s now a low-cost tool to use for OUI and all our portfolio companies.”

The software is now being used to manage the boards of companies in OUI’s portfolio and improve corporate governance. It is even being used by the OUI board, added Adam Workman.

Emilie has been working on several other projects across OUI’s Licensing & Ventures Group and Startup Incubator. At present, she is focused on a foetal monitoring project which draws on AI and femtech, as well as a promising agtech opportunity.

“I’m also looking to work on neuroscience projects which link to my background,” added Emilie. “My prediction is that they will become a more prominent part of the spinout scene.”

A thriving ecosystem

David Howells, Investment Manager, said that Investments is a relatively new team with a new investment strategy which makes it one of the easiest shareholders for spinouts to deal with.

“In theory, as we represent the University, we should be the hardest,” said David. “But by using technology, common sense and our wealth of experience, we’re seen as a good shareholder.”

David, who supported the development of PhishAR, also noted that the whole ecosystem has done well in recent months despite COVID-19. “As you can see by our stats, we’re not just surviving but thriving. Some spinouts are even ahead of plan.”

Adam, who took over the team in 2018, is proud of how far they and the ecosystem have come in this short period of time.

“We’ve built this team pretty much from scratch in two years. We had to build companies’ and investors’ confidence in us as a new team – it was a big change for them. But I’d say we’ve earned their trust and support – something underlined by our ability to raise money. It’s a strong testament to the team and the ecosystem that we’ve been able to grow this number of companies, facilitate that amount of money coming from the market, and protect the University’s brand – all while in a pandemic.”

Investment Stats:

  • Portfolio value: £138m
  • Realisations: £4.6m
  • UCSF awards: £1.12m
  • Follow-on funding: £855.4m
  • Seed funding: £24.8m

 

OUI has created some innovative companies during lockdown to tackle the pandemic – including OxVent and OxSed – and are seeing many others redirect their efforts to COVID-19.

As you can see by our stats, we’re not just surviving but thriving. Some spinouts are even ahead of plan.