An investment company designed to boost spin-outs from the Leeds, Manchester and Sheffield universities, launched earlier this year, has announced its leadership team.
Jim O’Neill joins Northern Gritstone as non-executive chairman, and Duncan Johnson assumes the role of chief executive.
The new university investment company aims to become a northern powerhouse for academic spin-outs, creating businesses based on intellectual property developed in the three Russell Group institutions.
Lord O’Neill chaired the Cities Growth Commission in 2013-14 – later serving as commercial secretary to the Treasury from 2015-16, when he helped implement the Northern Powerhouse strategy. After 40 years’ experience in capital markets and financial services, he is now vice-chair of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership.
Johnson, until recently, was attached to Caledonia Investments, the FTSE-250-listed investment trust, where he was Head of Caledonia Private Capital for the past decade.
Universities in the north, historically, have raised only a fraction of the funding achieved by others. More long-term capital to help foster and develop emerging technologies is at the centre of what is needed
– Lord O’Neill, Northern Gritstone
Accepting the role, Lord O’Neill referred to the role the North of England played in the industrial revolution of the 19th century – adding he hoped Northern Gritstone could “further and unlock the huge commercial opportunity of our science and technology capabilities” in the region. He describes himself as a “passionate believer” in the need to boost productivity in the north.
“For many years, while the region has often been a leader in new inventions – from Healthtech to Artificial Intelligence and Analytics, Advanced Manufacturing, Life and Biosciences – it has yet to progress these into larger, successful businesses, employing more people in higher-paying jobs. Universities in the north, historically, have raised only a fraction of the funding achieved by others. More long-term capital to help foster and develop emerging technologies is at the centre of what is needed to determine long-term success for the Northern Powerhouse,” he said.
“I have been particularly impressed with how the firm has brought together a highly experienced team which blends deep investment management with business-building expertise, all united by a core belief that profitable organisations delivering top-quartile returns to shareholders should have a wider societal purpose,” Johnson said.
“The current strong pipeline of academic spin-outs provides a unique opportunity for investors to support and participate in the substantial growth of IP rich companies in the north,” he added.
The three vice-chancellors of Leeds, Manchester and Sheffield – Prof Simone Buitendijk, Prof Dame Nancy Rothwell and Prof Koen Lamberts, respectively – released a joint statement expressing their joint excitement for the business, adding that “by collaborating and commercialising our world-class research we can create real impact and tackle global challenges”.
Related comment: University spinout companies: where are all the women?