Big rise in college 'spin-out' companies

Fri, Feb 12, 2010, 00:00

THE NUMBER of “spin-out companies” from Irish third-level colleges increased by 250 per cent in 2009, according to new figures from the Irish Universities Association (IUA).

The data shows 35 companies were created directly from campus research last year, compared to 10 in 2008. About half of these are in the information technology sector, and half are in the bioscience or food areas.

The IUA’s figures also show a trebling of licensing activity last year, where new technologies or processes created by campus-based research teams are licensed to outside third parties. There were 102 licensing deals last year, compared with 33 in 2008.

The data covers 10 Irish academic institutions: UCD, UCC, UL, TCD, NUI Galway, NUI Maynooth, DCU, Waterford Institute of Technology, Dublin Institute of Technology and the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland.

John Scanlan, director of NUI Maynooth’s office of commercialisation, said the higher 2009 figure was due to increased work by technology transfer offices based at the institutes. These groups identify academic research that has commercial potential, and encourage participants to use that intellectual property as the basis for starting a company, or transferring it to industry through licensing.

The offices are funded by Enterprise Ireland’s Technology Transfer Strengthening Initiative (TTSI), which runs from 2007 to 2012.

According to the IUA, the research funding needed to create a campus spin-out totals about €20 million per company. It claimed this compared favourably with the UK (€30 million) and the US (€50 million).

Mr Scanlan said all of the companies spun out last year have “outstanding technology and are selling into a market of unmet needs”. Companies spun out last year included the mobile software firm Cauwill Technologies, set up in the University of Limerick, and DIT-backed Trezur, which develops digital music applications for consumers.