Funding boost supports growing high-tech companies in the UK

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UKRI has provided a £10 million funding boost to the UKI2S, supporting early-stage businesses arising from world-class scientific research in the UK.

UK Innovation and Science Seed Fund (UKI2S) is a £37 million seed fund that invests in early-stage, high-risk, long-term capital for high potential, early-stage businesses. It aims to boost the UK’s competitiveness and productivity from commercialisation of many areas of publicly-funded research, including:

  • healthcare
  • clean energy
  • artificial intelligence
  • software
  • space technology.

UKI2S also includes a specialised sub-fund focused on the emerging field of synthetic biology, a field of research that involves designing and recreating biological organisms or systems for innovative uses.

The new £10 million funding injection enables the UKI2S to increase the number of new UK businesses it can support. Typically, these early-stage, deep-tech businesses operate in areas as diverse as:

  • new antibiotics
  • research into Alzheimer’s disease
  • ‘green’ chemicals
  • airport security.

Nurturing new technology

The fund is backed by:

  • the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS)
  • UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) partners: the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC), Biotechnology and Biological Science Research Council and Natural Environment Research Council
  • several other public sector organisations.

It nurtures companies developing technology emerging from UK laboratories, or which are based on UKRI campuses or working with the Catapult Network across the UK, supported by Innovate UK.

Science Minister Amanda Solloway said:

From food solutions for growing populations to high-tech materials for life-saving medical devices, it’s exciting to see breakthroughs in UK laboratories being translated to profitable businesses which offer solutions to some of the world’s biggest challenges.

By funding these projects, we maximise the impact of British innovation, create high-skilled jobs across the UK, and cement our position as a global science superpower.

To date, the fund has already invested £19 million in 70 companies, which have gone on to:

  • attract over £640 million in private investment
  • created over 700 high-value jobs
  • have spent more than £300 million on research and development.

UKRI Chief Executive Professor Dame Ottoline Leyser said:

This new funding is testament to the flourishing innovation sector in the UK. UKRI continues to support a vibrant community of start-up and spin-out companies, demonstrating that from the seed of an idea, with careful watering, the most bold and innovative breakthroughs can grow.

Thanks to seed fund investment, these companies are mining the rich vein of research carried out in laboratories across the UK to deliver solutions to real-world problems, and address some of the biggest challenges in medicine, sustainability and technology.

High risk and high reward

While these start-up companies all have compelling ideas for new technology, they also have technical risk and require funding support for prototyping, testing and trials. The funding is designed to support them through this process towards commercialisation and success in a global market.

Professor Mark Thomson, Executive Chair of STFC, said:

This new funding allows a new cohort of science innovators and entrepreneurs to design the products and services that transform our everyday lives.

From life-changing medical breakthroughs to cutting-edge technological advances, these ambitious spin-out companies are responsible for tackling some of the biggest problems and challenges in society.

The success stories from this high-risk, high-reward fund prove that innovation is thriving in the UK.

The seed fund is independently managed by venture capital specialist Midven.

Andrew Muir, Director of the fund manager Midven (now part of Future Planet Capital) and Fund Principal of the UK Innovation and Science Seed Fund, said:

More than 75% of the ‘deep science’ companies we have backed would almost certainly not have got off the ground without our initial funding, advice and assistance.

Those companies are now worth around £1 billion and have created hundreds of highly skilled jobs. The UK’s entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well and so this additional funding is great news for the next generation of founders.

Further information

Three recent examples of thriving companies supported by UKI2S include:

The Electrospinning Company (TECL)

A spin-out of STFC, TECL is a leader in the development and manufacture of nanofibrous biomaterials for use in tissue regenerative devices. UKI2S has been involved with TECL for many years. It helped found the company in 2010 and was the first and only investor for almost three years.

The company now has 14 employees and global clients. Based at the Harwell Campus, it supplies the first electrospun material to be incorporated into a FDA-approved medical device.

In the last month the company has completed a £4.5 million fundraising round (UKI2S), led by US materials science company Confluent Medical Technologies Inc. as a strategic investor.

The proprietary Electrospinning process will be used to create biomedical textiles, such as for heart valve frames. The company’s CEO, Ann Kramer, is recognised as a leading entrepreneur and is an Ambassador for ‘Women in Innovation’.

Helix Technologies

UK antenna developer Helix Technologies recently raised £500,000 (€575,000) (UKI2S) to get its resilient, precision Global Navigation Satellite System design into production.

The funding now enables Helix to strengthen its engineering team, based at the Harwell Campus, build its IP portfolio and launch its first commercial precision antenna products in mid-2021.

It will also provide the foundation from which Helix can raise further investment to start scale-up to mass production for applications such as driverless cars.

Tropic Biosciences

Tropic Biosciences is a UK company looking to address the challenge in feeding the rapidly-growing population of the tropics with nutritionally-dense food in an environmentally sustainable way.

The company, which benefitted from a £241,000 investment from the UKI2s fund for synthetic biology, uses a genome editing technology to develop new, high-yielding varieties of tropical crops. Some of their current work includes developing varieties of bananas and coffee plants with increased resistance to diseases.

The company is now also commercialising its gene editing tools in other applications and has licensed the technology to multinationals.

With UKI2S investment, the company has accelerated its development and this year it raised $28.5 million.

Tropic has built its operational team to 61 full-time employees and established its own laboratory in Norwich.

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