"My background is in electronic engineering – having completed my doctorate in 1978 and having spent a period of time working in industry. I am currently an academic at Nottingham University, where amongst many other tasks I supervise a number of highly motivated and talented postdoctoral researchers. In parallel with my university work I am the Research Director at Monica Healthcare Ltd – a spin-out company formed in 2005 with some of my former doctoral research students. We have brought a foetal monitor using wireless technology to market from my university research laboratory. Monica currently markets and supplies this product across the world via 23 distributors. Monica Healthcare was the culmination of 15 years of research at the School of Electrical and Electronic Engineering and the School of Human Development at the University of Nottingham.
"Several factors have combined to enhance my commercial appetite, and consequently led to the setting up of the business. During my duties as an academic research supervisor I enjoyed an excellent working relationship with several doctoral students some of which expressly indicated an interest in commercialisation. In two such instances these doctoral researchers were awarded Medici Innovation Fellowships. These fellowships offer funding for doctoral researchers to develop their commercial awareness in areas such as corporate law, intellectual property, developing a business strategy, company registration and mentoring in the design of a viable business plan. As well as my experiences as a researcher and lecturer at Nottingham University I have also worked in industry which has allowed me to appreciate the practical aspects of design and manufacture of a product for a particular market. This industrial experience provided excellent opportunities to develop my commercial awareness where I was involved in high volume production and testing of commercial products.
"In the mid 1990s, questions were being asked about the value of HE research to UK Gross Domestic Product, e.g. what were the commercial impacts of government funding? League tables and targets were subsequently adapted to include commercialisation aspects in 2000 and 2004, and then in 2007 clear evidence of spin-outs/licenses created within an academic institution was required as part of the RAE (now REF). The requirements for universities to create commercial opportunities were clear, so fellow academics effectively had to dance to this tune. Reinforcement by our the government was critical to being able to persuade academic colleagues that patenting new developments was preferable to publishing.
"As a university academic I have directed these doctoral researchers to develop the expertise necessary to the development of Monica Healthcare Ltd. While I value the skills I learnt managing such researchers, the energy of these researchers in bringing the product to market has been invaluable. We have created a spin-out company from the work of supervised doctoral researchers who were able to turn a research idea into a workable medical device ideally suitable for the clinical market. After the completion of this doctorate we were able to be awarded two Medici Innovation Fellowships to accelerate the process of taking this technology to market.
"Undertaking doctoral studies is highly recommended as it fosters independence thereby generating an aptitude to obtain answers to questions on one's own. Doctoral study also greatly develops the capacity for self-analysis and a critical eye, something which is continually stressed to all doctoral students. This critical eye for data has proven especially useful in responding with sufficient clarity to venture capitalists (VCs) requiring assurances before investing. Here, the ability to communicate with fellow researchers was a highly important preparation for being able to sell and communicate one’s ideas to such VC’s.
"I welcome these recent government initiatives to encourage entrepreneurship within universities, and the recognition of the importance of research with commercial and social value. Formerly, the attitude within academia was ‘publish not patent’. Now the importance of knowledge transfer within the academic world has increased and this has in turn provided an impetus and a commercial focus to what universities can offer to the country’s manufacturing base."