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New Company Incubation Manager to encourage entrepreneurial spirit

The Research and Business Development Office at the University of Leicester has put in place a number of initiatives to encourage and support research staff to exploit the commercial potential of their work.

The newly appointed Company Incubation Manager, Tim Maskell, brings to the University 15 years’ experience of technology transfer and of the management of university spin-out ventures and early stage companies. He is keen to help Leicester academics make the most of commercial opportunities arising from their research and related activities, and reap the personal and corporate advantages they can offer.

He sees his role as providing support to academics who aspire to spin out commercial ventures as well as to those university spin-out companies who are in the first two or three years of their existence.
[Photo: Tim Maskell]
Tim Maskell

Tim would like to meet anyone who has an idea for commercial exploitation, however far-fetched or undeveloped the idea may seem. Harnessing his commercial experience to the research expertise of members of departments, together they can decide whether an idea has potential, whether it has commercial validity, whether any external funder is likely to invest in it and whether it is likely to make money itself. 

“You need to understand the market and what the end-user wants,” he says. “Academics are expert in their own area of research, but perhaps don’t know too much about commercial matters, especially company-related commercial matters. This is where I can help.

“From a University point of view we can provide a range of support and, where necessary, mentoring or training so that academics can become more aware of what is needed and be helped to succeed. They may be able to provide an idea, but without investment it is not going to get anywhere, and my role can also help with advising and putting together external funding applications.”

One helpful source of funding is the LACHESIS fund, which provides seed money for spin-out ventures in East Midlands universities.

Still new in post – Tim only arrived at Leicester on 1 October – he aims to be proactive. “We need to understand better the commercial relevance of the excellent research that is being undertaken in the University departments and we need to be able to help identify opportunities to develop its full potential. We also need to identify external sources of support and establish links with individuals, organisations and companies that are prepared to work with the University to help with the commercialisation process. Effective collaboration is key to success.”

While he fully recognises that it is not possible to force an academic to engage in commercial ventures, he wants to raise the awareness of the potential of doing so, and to provide support to the academic so that his/her academic research is not jeopardised by any involvement in commercial affairs. “The academic will have to have some involvement,” he says. “There will be a need for consultancy or research, but we must try to minimise the impact on the academic’s mainstream activities and provide support that is genuinely helpful rather than invasive.”

He is candid that the process can be risky, with no sure-fire way of ensuring success, but he is enthusiastic about the advantages it can offer. “One argument is that academics can make some money out of commercial applications of their work. That can be a significant driver, but there is also a great deal of satisfaction to be had from creating something tangible from a pure research project and developing an idea into a real product on the market place.

“The University has a lot of untapped potential arising from its excellent research base, and the challenge is to realise the full commercial value that this represents.

“We already have a handful of early stage spin-out companies that are beginning to establish themselves and make their commercial mark, and we are supporting several opportunities for new ventures arising from engineering, chemistry, biology, physics and astronomy, oncology and clinical biochemistry and several other departments. The future looks very exciting.” 

If you have an idea that you think could have commercial potential, or just want to know more about the steps that need to be taken to evaluate and develop an opportunity contact Tim Maskell, Company Incubation Manager, Research and Business Development Office, Fielding Johnson Building, telephone 0116 223 1372, fax 0116 252 2028, email twom1@le.ac.uk

Tim Maskell's previous experience:

· Early career spent in senior management roles in industry operating in a wide range of different markets. 
· 5 years at the University of Nottingham in a technical transfer role. Chief Executive of company supporting Nottingham spin-outs.
· First Managing Director of one of the Nottingham spin-out companies, involved in the rapid detection of bacteria, especially in food and pharmaceutical processes.
· Following a company merger the range of activities was widened to include the rapid detection of TB in developing countries (producing test results in 48 hours rather than 4-6 weeks).
· October 2002 – left the company to set up a new venture with the objective of transferring some of the technology to veterinary applications.
· At the same time became involved with another early stage company developing novel plant-derived anti-virals, with links with the University of Brighton
· EMBA Business Champion providing mentoring and support to ventures across the East Midlands. 
· Non-executive Director of local NHS Primary Care Trust.

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Last updated: 8 December 2003 10:00
Maintained by: Barbara Whiteman

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