Northern Gritstone announces leadership team

Northern Gritstone chairman Lord Jim O’Neill chaired the Cities Growth Commission and served as commercial secretary to the Treasury

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”.


Read more: University of Manchester names partner in £1.5bn project

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