ICURe extends nationwide

ICURe’s focus is on training early-career researchers to find the right route to commercialisation, and helping them develop the necessary business skills, connections and expertise.  The pilot has engaged 160 university research teams to generate more than 11,000 business links worldwide and create 120 jobs in 44 new companies.

An £8 million Phase 2 expansion of the ICURe pilot sees the University of Warwick and Queen’s University Belfast join the programme, which is supported by Innovate UK, part of the new national funding body UK Research and Innovation.  The universities will work alongside the SETsquared partnership to run and grow the programme across the UK.

With this funding boost, the pilot programme will be able to support an additional 48 research teams nationwide.  University researchers can get up to £35,000 to take their ideas out of the lab and validate them in the market.

A total of £3 million of the funding will go towards helping the start-ups that emerge from the programme to establish their businesses and support future growth.  This will be competitively awarded by Innovate UK.

The ICURe programme will accept applications from teams based at all UK universities. The ICURe delivery partners will actively recruit from their regions, but where timings or other factors dictate will accept applications from other regions.

The Midlands ICURe programme, led by Warwick, has a regional emphasis covering the mid-UK, from Wales to East Anglia, and will support up to 24 projects in two cohorts.

The NxNW (North by North West) ICURe programme, led by QUB, has a regional emphasis covering Northern Ireland, Scotland and the North of England, and will also support up to 24 projects in two cohorts.

This means that a full spread of dates can be provided.  This year there have been cohorts starting in June, more will start in August and September, and two more in January 2019.

The next cohorts have the following dates:
- NXNW Cohort A:  application deadline 6 July 2018, programme start w/c 6 August 2018
- SETsquared Cohort 14:  application deadline 11 July 2018, programme start w/c 17 September 2018
- Midlands Cohort B:  application deadline 25 August 2018, programme start w/c 24 September 2018

Teams participating in ICURe must have three core members: 
- a post-doc researcher/entrepreneurial lead (the ‘early-career researcher’, or ECR); 
- a senior researcher;  and
-a business adviser with relevant industrial experience who can if necessary be recruited with help from the ICURe organisers. 
The TTO from the researcher’s university is expected to provide a shadow team member to give additional expert advice, and act as an essential link between the team and the university.

ICURe has four stages in its process:

ICURe kicks off with a 3-day residential bootcamp for the teams during which they are helped in forming a hypothetical business model for the commercialisation of their research. The team also has to produce a budget and action plan for the next stage.

The next step is for the ECR Entrepreneurial Lead to spend approximately three months intensively testing the business model by having meaningful conversations with at least 100 prospective customers, regulators, suppliers, partners and competitors to validate the commercial potential of their research.  ICURe funding buys out the ECR’s time and provides sufficient funds for the ECR to travel to conferences or key target markets to meet with companies and experts who can help validate the business model.

On completion of this first-hand market research, the team presents to a panel of experts and investors on the results of the Market Validation stage.  The panel assesses the development options for the next stage, which can include carrying out public or private sponsored research, exploring licensing opportunities, and seeking public or private funding for spinout.  Those teams that have demonstrated evidence of significant market demand will proceed to the next stage.

Those teams with the potential for licensing or spinout may get up to £15k of additional funding to take part in business planning training and then three months of preparing a business plan they can use to pitch to investors and to apply for translational grant funding.

If there is a strong case, commercialisation staff from the universities and university incubators will work with each team so that they can be fast-tracked into creating a start-up company.

Successful applicants to the ICURe programme will receive a budget of up to £35k for Stages 1 through 3.  This funding is not a grant, but is instead drawn down against expenditure through the university’s research commercialisation office.

Don Spalinger, chairman of the SETsquared Partnership, and Director, Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the University of Southampton said “SETsquared created ICURe to overcome some of the barriers of getting the outputs from the UK’s world class universities research labs into the commercial marketplace.

“ICURe’s results from its first three years of operation go beyond our expectations.  This expansion of ICURe’s nation roll-out will enable even more research teams at more UK universities to take advantage of its proven capabilities.  ICURe enables university research teams to explore all avenues of commercialisation, from collaborative research to consultancy to licensing to spinouts.

“The ICURe experience empowers the university research teams to work more closely with businesses in all of their future activities.”

Professor Stuart Croft, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Warwick, welcomed the extension of the ICURe programme to the Midlands.  “Warwick is renowned for the many ways it acts as a highly effective bridge for innovation between academic research and industry, and we are therefore delighted to be a key part of the national rollout of ICURe with its focus on helping early-career researchers taking their innovations into the marketplace.

“Warwick will also draw on the innovation-based partnerships across the Midlands such as Midlands Innovation, the Midlands Engine, and the Midlands Enterprise Universities teams, to ensure that this programme helps create even more innovation-based jobs and business growth across our region.”

Brian McCaul, CEO of Qubis Ltd and Director of Innovation at Queen’s University Belfast, also recognised the effective features of the programme.  “Having had nine teams graduate from ICURe, and having run three of our own Lean Launchpad programmes, Queen’s and Qubis have been pioneers with lean start-up in tech transfer.  The focus on the customer-need is the perfect antidote to tech-push.

“We have already seen significant commercial benefits, whether measured by deals done, or learnings achieved, especially with early-career researchers. We are convinced that ‘lean changes’, change everything.

“We’re now keen to work with our partners to accelerate ICURe adoption across Northern Ireland, Scotland and the North of England.  This is a vital initiative for rebalancing the UK innovation economy.”

Posted on Thursday, 05 July 2018