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A chat about UK deep tech and spin-out success with Octopus Ventures

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New research commissioned by UK VC firm Octopus Ventures has put a spotlight on which of the country’s higher education institutions are doing the most to support spin outs. The report compiles a ranking of universities, foregrounding those with a record of producing what partner Simon King dubs “quality spin outs”.

The research combines and weights five data points — looking at university spinouts’ relative total funding as a means of quantifying exit success, for example. The idea for the Enterpreneurial Impact Ranking, as it’s been called, is to identify not just those higher education institutions with a track record of encouraging academics to set up a business off the back of a piece of novel work but those best at identifying the most promising commercialization opportunities — ultimately leading to spinout success (such as an exit where the company was sold for more than it raised).

Hence the report looking at data over almost a ten year period (2009-2018) to track spin-outs as they progress from an idea in the lab through prototyping to getting a product to market.

The ranking looks at five factors in all: Total funding per university; total spinouts created per university; total disclosures per university; total patents per university; and total sales from spinouts per university.

Topping the ranking is Queen’s University Belfast which the report notes has had a number of notable successes via its commercialization arm, Qubis, name checking the likes of Kainos (digital services), Andor Technology (scientific imaging) and Fusion Antibodies (therapeutics & diagnostics), all of whom have been listed on the London Stock Exchange.

The index ranks the top 100 UK universities on this entrepreneurial impact benchmark — but the rest of the top ten are as follows:

2) University of Cambridge
3) Cardiff University
4) Queen Mary University of London
5) University of Leeds
6) University of Dundee
7) University of Nottingham
8) King’s College London
9) University of Oxford
10) Imperial College London

Octopus Ventures says the ranking will help it to get a better handle on which universities to spend more time with as it searches for its next deep tech investment.

It also wants to increase visibility into how the UK is doing when it comes to commercializing academic research to feed further growth of the ecosystem by sharing best practice, per King.

“We are looking at a number of data points which are all self-reported by the universities themselves to the Higher Education Statistics Agency. And then we combine those in the way that we think brings out at a higher level which universities are doing a good job of spinning out companies,” he says.

“It means that you take into consideration which university is producing quality spin-outs. So it’s not just spray and pray and get lots of stuff out there. But actually which universities are creating spin-outs that then go on to return value back to them.”

 

Read more: https://techcrunch.com/2019/11/11/a-chat-about-uk-deep-tech-and-spin-out-success-with-octopus-ventures/

Biotech

Max Q: NASA signs up new Moon delivery companies

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Sign up here to receive Max Q weekly in your inbox, starting December 15.

There were lot of highlights in the space industry this past week (even though a rocket launch that was supposed to happened is now pushed to Monday). The biggest news for commercial space might just be that NASA signed on five new companies to its list of approved vendors for lunar payload delivery services, bringing the total group to 14.

SpaceX is among them, and Musk’s company had its own fair share of news this week, too – some good, some bad. One things’ for sure: Even going in to the last week in November, there’s still plenty of news to come in this industry before the year’s out.

  1. NASA selects five new vendors for commercial lunar payloads

Artist’s rendering of Blue Origin’s Blue Moon lander.

The five include Blue Origin, SpaceX, Ceres Robotics, Sierra Nevada Corporation and Tyvak Nano-Satellite Systems. This doesn’t necessarily mean all or any of these companies will actually fly anything to the Moon on behalf of NASA, but it does mean they can officially bid for the chance. Alongside 9 other companies selected previously by NASA, their bids will be considered by the NASA based on cost, viability and other factors.

  1. SpaceX Starship prototype blows its lid

This is the bad news I referred to earlier: SpaceX’s Starship Mk1 prototype in Texas blew up just a little bit during cryo testing. This test is designed to simulate extreme cold conditions that the spacecraft could endure during flight, and it clearly didn’t. But Elon Musk was optimistic, saying just after the incident that they’ll move on to a more advanced design right away.

  1. Sierra Nevada Corporation details an expendable cargo container for its Dream Chaser spaceship

SNC’s Shooting Star module. Credit: SNC.

One of the companies that is now included in NASA’s lunar payload service provider list is Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC). They’re currently developing and building their Dream Chaser spacecraft, which is reusable and lands like the Space Shuttle. At an event at Cape Canaveral in Florida, they unveiled what they call the ‘Shooting Star’ – an ejectable single use cargo container for the Dream Chaser that can really add to its versatility.

  1. Nanoracks will launch a test craft that can convert old spaceships into orbital habitats

This demonstration mission is just a start, but the tech that Nanoracks is launching aboard a future SpaceX launch will be able to cut metal in space, marking the first time a robotic piece of equipment has done that. The ultimate goal is to use this tech to take spent spacecraft upper stages and give them new life – as research platforms, satellites or even habitats in orbit.

  1. NASA’s JPL is using the Antarctic to test a rover for a trip to Enceladus

That’s one of Saturn’s moons, and it’s made up of icy oceans. Normally, that’s not an optimal place for a rover to get around, but the agency’s laboratory has been testing a design in the Earth’s coldest oceans to see how viable it will be, and now they’re going to use the Antarctic, which is where it’ll test it for months at a time.

  1. Tesla’s Cybertruck is made of Starship steel

Elon Musk revealed Tesla’s crazy, beautiful, ugly, strange Cybertruck pickup last week, and he noted that the stainless steel alloy that makes up its skin is the same material that SpaceX is developing and using on its new Starship spacecraft. Sometimes, being CEO of both a car company and a space company at the same time really pays off.

  1. Space is inspiring new kinds of startups

A lot of large companies outsource at least part of their innovation management and design, and with the space boom on, there’s a new opportunity for companies to emerge that specialize in helping those same large companies find out where they fit in this new frontier. Luna is one such co, putting the puzzle pieces together for health tech companies.

Read more: https://techcrunch.com/2019/11/24/max-q-nasa-signs-up-new-moon-delivery-companies/

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Luna is a new kind of space company helping biotech find its footing in microgravity

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Toronto-based startup Luna Design and Innovation is a prime example of the kind of space company that is increasingly starting up to take advantage of the changing economics of the larger industry. Founded by Andrea Yip, who is also Luna’s CEO, the bootstrapped venture is looking to blaze a trail for biotechnology companies who stand to gain a lot from the new opportunities in commercial space – even if they don’t know it yet.

“I’ve spent my entire career in the public and private health industry, doing a lot of product and service design and innovation,” Yip told me in an interview. “I was working in pharma[ceuticals] for several years, but at the end of 2017, I decided to leave the pharma world and I really wanted to find a way to work along the intersection of pharma, space and design, because I just believe that the future of health for humanity is in space.”

Yip founded Luna at the beginning of this year to help turn that belief into action, with a focus on highlighting the opportunities available to the biotechnology sector in making use of the research environment unique to space.

“We see space as a research platform, and we believe that it’s a research platform that can be leveraged in order to solve healthcare problems here on Earth,” Yip explained. “So for me, it was critically important to open up space to the biotech sector, and to the pharma sector, in order to use it as a research platform for R&D and novel discovery.”

The International Space Station has hosted a number of pharma and biotech experiments.

NASA’s work in space has led to a number of medical advances, inducing digital imaging tech used in breast biopsy, transmitters used for monitoring fetus development within the womb, LED’s used in brain cancer surgery and more. Work done on researching and developing pharmaceuticals in space is also something that companies including Merck, Proctor & Gamble and other industry heavyweights have been dabbling in for years, with experiments conducted on the International Space Station. Companies like SpaceFarma have now sent entire minilaboratories to the ISS to conduct research on behalf of clients. But it’s still a business with plenty of remaining under-utilized opportunity, according to Yip – and tons of potential.

“I think it’s a highly underutilized research platform, unfortunately, right now,” she said. “When it comes to certain physical and life sciences phenomena, we know that things behave differently in space, in what we refer to as microgravity-based environments […] We know that cancer cells, for instance, behave differently in short- and longer-term microgravity when it comes to the way that they metastasize. So being able to even acknowledge that type of insight, and try and understand ‘why’ can unlock a lot of new discovery and understanding about the way cancer actually functions […] and that can actually help us better design drugs, and treatment opportunities here on Earth, just based on those insights.”

Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket. Credit: Blue Origin .

Yip says that while there has been some activity already in biotech and microgravity, “we’re on the early end of this innovation,” and goes on to suggest that over the course of the next ten or so years, the companies that will be disrupting the existing class of legacy big pharma players will be ones who’ve invested early and deeply in space-based research and development.

The role of Luna is to help biotech companies figure out how best to approach building out an investment in space-based research. To that end, one of its early accomplishments is securing a role as a ‘Channel Partner’ for Jeff Bezos’ commercial space launch company Blue Origin. This arrangement means that Luna acts a a sales partner for Blue Origin’s New Shepard suborbital rocket, working with potential clients for the Amazon founder’s rocket company on how and why they might seek to set up a sub-orbital space-based experiment.

That’s the near-term vision, and the way that Luna will seek to have the most impact here on Earth. But the possibilities of what the future holds for the biotech sector start to really open up once you consider the current trajectory of the space industry, including NASA’s next steps, and efforts by private companies like SpaceX to expand human presence to other planet.

“We’re talking about going back to the Moon by 2024,” Yip says, referring to NASA’s goal with its Artemis program. “We’re talking about going to Mars in the next few years. There’s a lot that we will need to uncover and discover for ourselves, and I think that’s a huge opportunity. Who knows what we’ll discover when we’re on other planets, and we’re actually putting people there? We have to start preparing for that and building capability for that.”

Read more: https://techcrunch.com/2019/11/19/luna-is-a-new-kind-of-space-company-helping-biotech-find-its-footing-in-microgravity/

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Biotech News

VEnvirotech transforms organic waste into bioplastics

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After a year of testing out environmental technologies for a private company, co-founder Patricia Ayma developed a process for bioplastic production using bacteria. The system turns organic matter, such as food waste, into a product that can be used as a biodegradable alternative to single-use plastics. “I realized that it was a simple technology for taking to society, that will benefit everyone,” she tells us.

The biotech startup began its pilot phase near Barcelona, at a BonArea supermarket plant, where they were able to develop and test the technology on an industrial scale with a potential customer. Ayma plans to push the innovation toward two sectors: Organic waste producers that want to shrink waste management costs and companies interested in purchasing the bioplastics for various applications.

The team recently closed an investment round of more than €2 million, which will allow them to open a 33,000-square-foot plant to start production on the VE-box: A portable waste management container that will transform organic waste into biodegradable plastics. 

Read more: https://techcrunch.com/2019/11/20/venvirotech-transforms-organic-waste-into-bioplastics/

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