Universities crucial in almost half of new inventions—and Oxford is the best

The study also revealed that universities contributed to around 75 per cent of the world’s important inventions

A new study has shown that university researchers have been crucial in 40 per cent of the most significant inventions since the 1950s. The study also revealed that universities contributed to around 75 per cent of the world’s important inventions.

The results of the study, conducted by Steven Brint, professor of sociology and public policy at the University of California, Riverside, have come as a surprise, given the relatively low share of research and development funding awarded to universities.

At the University of Oxford, the development of ideas is supported by Oxford University Innovation (OUI), the research commercialization company for the University.

In recent years OUI have played a crucial role in bringing Oxford to the forefront of innovation.

Unusually for a technology transfer office (TTO), the OUI has been generating profits which are returned to the university, while most TTOs are operating at a loss.

OUI launched 24 high-tech firms in 2016, including OxStem, an Oxford spinout (a company based on the University’s intellectual property) designing stem cell drugs to treat agerelated disease, and DiffBlue, a world leader in automated test generation.

Last week, the OUI was named Technology Transfer Office of the Year at the Global University Venturing Awards 2017. The OUI triumphed despite strong competition from Cambridge, Toronto, and Warwick universities, as well as the University of California, Los Angeles. The OUI was recognized for advances in its activity and in Oxford’s innovation ecosystem over the past year.

Speaking to Cherwell, Gregg Bayes-Brown of the OUI suggested that the success of universities in contributing to innovation and invention was due to “the strength and resilience of the ideas coming from researchers”.

However, he continued: “[Although] funding exists for high quality research, universities face significant obstacles in turning ideas into commercial successes, because they face a lack of capital and support for development and innovation.

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“So many quality ideas being produced by universities simply aren’t taken up and disappear before they can have an impact”.

Two years ago Oxford Sciences Innovation (OSI) was founded to support the commercialisation of Oxford’s scientific research. With over £500m the OSI is the world’s largest fund of its kind, and is able to provide vital capital and expertise to develop Oxford’s scientific ideas into market-leading companies.

The OUI has also begun to push for greater innovation in the social sciences and humanities.

Mark Mann, the Senior Technology Transfer Manager at the OUI, told Cherwell that “increasingly ideas from the humanities are being successfully commercialized”.

Mann further pointed to the growing number of humanities based start-ups in the OUI’s business incubator, which supports members of the University who wish to create or develop entrepreneur-driven ventures.

Speaking at the OUI’s second Humanities Innovation Challenge Competition, Mann stressed the value of combining ideas from the humanities with new technologies. Despite Oxford’s recent advances, there are fears that a hard Brexit could damage Oxford’s innovation and the progress of university research more widely.

Bayes-Brown told Cherwell: “The strength of Oxford’s innovation has been dependent on the diversity of its academics”, and noted that the key to the success of Silicon Valley has been its ability to accept any talented person from around the world.

He added that efforts to reduce immigration by placing restrictions on academics and students coming to the UK could have “a disastrous effect on university innovation”.

I—nnovation and entrepreneurship around Oxford University has benefited considerably from international innovators, with 45 per cent of Oxford spinouts and 77 per cent of startups since 2011 started by foreign founders or co-founders who launched their companies after working or studying at Oxford.