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Spotlight on Dr Nicola Broughton: Exploring university spinouts with Mercia

29 September 2017

Dr Nicola Broughton is Head of Universities at Mercia Technologies PLC and leads the University investment team, which works closely with Mercia’s 19 university partners to fund and scale the research which they believe has the most significant commercial potential.

Nicola joined the Group in 2015 and has experience in both life sciences and university commercialisation, having founded her own IP commercialisation company working as a technology transfer, licensing and spinout advisor to many universities across the UK. She also spent 10 years as a commercial director for a University of Leeds spinout.

Here, Nicola discusses how Mercia works with its university partners and manages the spinout process.

How does Mercia work with its university partners?

Our specialist investment team work closely to build relationships with our 19 university partners and as well as managing a portfolio of spinout companies, the team also actively source new university spinouts across all of our sectors. The team builds relationships between the very different worlds of academia, commercialisation and tech transfer. Having had experience in all three, Mercia's strength lies in being able to play a leading role in bringing this process together to deliver attractive returns for all those involved.

Tell me more about the University Team?

Dr Brijesh Roy joined Mercia in 2015 and leads on building relationships with universities across the Midlands. He previously spent five years at Oxford University commercialising academic technology by negotiating dozens of licensing deals and creating new spinout companies.

Paul Devlin is based in Mercia's Edinburgh office and is building a team in Scotland to increase Mercia's deal flow. Paul previously led the Launch.ed start-up programme as company formation manager at the University of Edinburgh.

Dr Sandy Reid has also recently joined the team as an Investment Manager. Sandy has hands-on experience of working with early-stage companies, having been the founder and CEO of University of Nottingham spinout, Promethean Particles, for eight years.

What is involved in the spinout process?

For an academic who has nurtured their work through trials and dissertations, taking the next step and commercialising that work can often feel overwhelming. This is precisely where technology transfer offices (or TTOs), alongside experienced investors such as Mercia, work together to support the transition from academia to a commercial proposition.

What is involved with the process of starting a new company?

In the simplest terms, it is purely a case of registering the business at Companies House and opening a bank account. However, for a university spinout the process begins long before this, the first step is to identify an exciting opportunity, ideally with a strong IP base, but definitely with a significant market to address. The next stage is to work this up into a viable business plan, paying particular attention to the route to market, any technical milestones that need to be achieved ahead of seeking investment and crucially, identifying a commercial team to run the business. Once all these pieces are in place, it’s time to pitch to investors. When an offer of investment has been given, the final stage is to progress through the legals governing the investment but it’s worth bearing in mind that the relationship with your investors doesn’t stop there, it will be a partnership over the lifetime of the company which extends over many decades.

How is Mercia involved?

Mercia’s University team is often involved with University projects, sometimes two to three years ahead of them becoming spinouts, providing guidance and helping shape the opportunity. We actively engage with our partners, providing surgeries where academics and TTO staff can talk about projects over a coffee in an informal setting, as well as participating in larger scale events where we talk about the process of spinning out companies and to raise awareness amongst academics.

What is different about Mercia?

Mercia has pioneered a hybrid investment model, the ‘Complete Capital Solution,’ in order to support the UK’s leading technology companies. Through Mercia’s wholly owned fund management businesses, the Group is able to provide seed and early stage rounds of £100,000+ followed by the provision of scale-up capital of up to £10.0million using its own balance sheet capital. We have also been appointed by the British Business Bank to manage more than £108.0million in new funds through the Northern Powerhouse Investment Funds.

The Investment Team offers a unique combination of venture capital skills with significant operational expertise as many of them have had previous experience of running their own businesses.

How should people get in touch with you?

If you’re interested in finding out more about our University partnerships then please feel free to get in touch with the Mercia team at: universities@merciatech.co.uk

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