The right contacts important for success

21 August 2018

Access to business networks is a key success factor for the commercialisation of research-based discoveries.

For 20 years UU Holding has promoted the use of research conducted at Uppsala University in society. In a recent report UU Holding analysed what goes into a successful commercialisation process. “The ability to find and build networks runs like a silver thread through all the success factors,” says Chief Executive Officer Lars Jonsson.

By reviewing 150 research articles and studying the companies in UU Holding’s own portfolio, Jonsson and his colleagues have identified some obvious success factors for companies spun off from academia.

Some of the companies have been formed by students at the Master’s level with a strong commercial motivation. They achieve success by incorporating relevant research and other necessary knowledge into the company. However, it’s most common for companies in UU Holding’s portfolio to be formed by researchers.

“A crucial element is that there must be a strong entrepreneurial commitment on the part of at least one of the researchers behind the idea or innovation, someone who knows the field well and wants to reach out to the market,” says Jonsson.

Something that has also proved successful is to link arms with a “surrogate entrepreneur” who has networks and contacts in the business world.

“This is the person who will manage the commercialisation process. But it’s still very important that the researcher takes an active interest because he or she possesses so much knowledge, and not everything can be put on paper. For example, there are studies showing that a transition period of two years is necessary when a researcher sells a patent to industry.”

Making use of the support systems that exist has also been associated with success. Uppsala, for example, has one of the world’s best business incubators with a university connection, Uppsala Innovation Centre (UIC), which is ranked fourth in the world. UU Holding is one of four partners in the venture. UIC operates the business and company development programmes in various phases and also offers a business coach, an experienced person selected to be compatible with the company’s specialisation. The business coach works with the company one day a week for two years as an additional CEO or chairman of the board.

Finally, the probability of success increases significantly if the company has a committed investor behind it over a period of time.

“This is usually a question of private investors. Private equity firms do not become involved as early in the commercialisation processes and have a shorter financial perspective. UU Holding is fortunate to have good collaboration with several established business networks. They contribute both money and commitment. In those networks it has come to be regarded as something of a seal of quality that we are involved,” says Jonsson.

A common factor in all these success stories is the ability to find and build networks. If Jonsson is asked what causes a company to fail, the response is almost always a lack of access to professional networks.

“The landscape has changed dramatically. When I was a researcher in the ‘80s, it was enough to find the right person in a large company. That is no longer the case. Now large companies work in networks of subcontractors and consultants. Someone who introduces something new in these networks always threatens an established actor, perhaps because existing knowledge and technology becomes superfluous. I would argue that it is more difficult today to come up with something new, to show what will make a go of it commercially.”

 

Lisa Thorsén

 

About UU Holding AB

UU Holding is a company owned by the Swedish government and controlled by Uppsala University. The holding company invests in and supports companies started by students and researchers at Uppsala University.  Since its inception in the mid-1990s, UU Holding has invested in more than 90 companies and currently has about 50 companies in its portfolio. One example is BioArctic, which is developing drugs to combat Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s and that went public with great success on Nasdaq in October 2017. Read more at holding.uu.se