Europe’s deep tech depends on university spinouts

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Deep tech has become a hot topic in Europe, and it is hoped that the region may have an edge over the rest of the world in basic research-based innovation. One of the key arguments: European countries have excellent universities and talents. But how can academic talent be turned into startups? Let’s dive in. Anna

Universities, deep technology cauldron

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“From startups to universities, we are joining forces to make Europe the world leader in a new wave of deep tech innovation!” European Commissioner Maria Gabriel tweeted earlier this week after her speech at the Summit in Brussels. As I noticed while attending the event, she was by no means the only one who broached the subject with enthusiasm.

That deep technologies are generating high hopes in Europe is no surprise. Alex and I already wrote about Deep tech boom in Europe and investor interest in it Earlier this year. But I was interested in the role that educational institutions are supposed to play.

“There is no doubt that the future of innovation in Europe will depend on its world-leading universities,” Riam Canso wrote in guest post ahead of the event. Canso is the founder Concept Xwhich I heard about for the first time earlier this month. The British non-profit aims to transform the Ph.D. researchers into venture scientists.

“This is a simple but well proven recipe,” Canso said. “You have a Ph.D. a team working on cutting-edge research with key applications in the real world. They know their innovations can help discover effective treatments for now untreatable diseases, make carbon-negative cities more efficient, or decide the future of automation. Through a combination of entrepreneurship education, access to free legal advice, funding opportunities and networking with experts, we help them understand how to turn their research into a viable deep tech start-up.”

Universities are not new to spawning spin-offs or spin-outs more or less willingly (here we will use these terms interchangeably). The Massachusetts Institute of Technology, for example, is known for many entrepreneurs among its alumni, and many of these businesses are based on intellectual property developed during study or research.

But in Europe, intellectual property can be a sensitive issue. “The potential for meaningful innovation brewing in Europe’s research labs,” Canso said, “is largely untapped due to various—and sometimes even stuffy “IP ownership rules that can make additional companies unsuitable for investment and difficult to scale.”

However, both European universities and venture capital firms are increasingly making efforts to turn the most promising seeds into successful companies.

Mind the gap

Despite the obstacles, VCs looking to innovate know that spinouts are very worthy of their attention. “As an investor in early-stage businesses, many of which are deeply technical in nature, we see universities as the foundation for the companies we invest in,” said Simon King, himself a venture capitalist with a Ph.D.

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