On 21st April, UMIP and Manchester Enterprise Centre (MEC) exhibited at the Educate North Conference and Awards as one of the key event sponsors alongside the Telegraph Group and Barclays. The event was organised by Carm Productions’ Rob McLoughlin and Prolific North’s Nick Jaspan.
Held at the Hilton Hotel, the aim of the conference was to inform attendees about the sheer scale and investment taking place at Universities and higher education across the North and the ways in which attendees might engage with said institutions in terms of commercial engagement.
We exhibited four University of Manchester innovations which included our EasyCare Cotton technology, illustrated by a pair of Levis jeans, a 3M respirator cartridge containing PIMs technology and two graphene-based technologies: a flexible, transparent, conductive screen which powered an LED and a conductive graphene ink printed onto a University of Manchester T-shirt which played sounds when motion above was detected.
The event marked the launch of the University Entrepreneurs Challenge 2016 which saw six student companies from Northern universities or HE institutions go head to head in a special showcase which demonstrated the range, diversity and ingenuity of entrepreneurs emerging from our institutions. Four of the six finalists were University of Manchester alumni and included Amy Win – 4 Lunch, Dr Daniel Jamieson – Biorelate, Paul Delamere – Shindigger Brewing Company and Christina Taylor -The Aim Sky High Company.
The awards were judged by a number of leading industry experts and professionals including Martin Henery from Manchester Enterprise Centre. Martin comments: “As good as our 4 finalists from The University of Manchester were, they were up against some stiff competition which made the task that much more difficult for the judges. The discussion in the judges’ chamber was an interesting and lively one but one thing we were all agreed upon was the quality of the presentations and the confidence and passion of the individuals making them. Whether their respective businesses succeed or fail, one thing is for sure, they are all individuals to watch and are certain to make their mark.”
First prize of £5,000 was secured by University of Chester start–up Heritage with 4 Lunch and The Aim Sky High Company securing 2nd and 3rd places respectively with prizes of £3,000 and £2,000.
Amy Win, founder of 4Lunch, comments: “It was great to be recognised at the event for my work with 4Lunch. The University of Manchester provided me with fantastic advice at the start of my entrepreneurial journey and continue to support my endeavours still now, three years after I graduated.”
Congratulations also go to Policy@Manchester who won the External Relations of the Year category.
Over 250 people attended the evening awards ceremony and, with 14 categories ranging from Lecturer of the Year to Research Team of the Year, it was a great celebration of the outstanding teams and people behind further and higher education institutions’ initiatives across the North.
Amy Win – 4lunch
Christina Taylor – The Aim Sky High Company
For a full list of awards, please see here
Some have been curious why The University of Manchester didn’t patent graphene. Clive Rowland, CEO of UMI3, explains.
The University of Manchester neither discovered nor invented graphene; rather it was the place where this extraordinary material was first isolated from graphite and correctly identified as graphene late in 2003. Graphene had been known about for decades before the Manchester achievement, though many did not think it could be stable.
That initial isolation approach ( using Scotch® tape ) in late 2003 is the rudimentary basis of one way of making graphene, known as mechanical exfoliation.
Mechanical exfoliation as a ‘production’ method was not novel as a concept. Teams elsewhere had used this gradual removal technique as a way of obtaining thin films before Manchester. For example, in 1990, Heinrich Kurz ( Aachen University) reported peeling optically thin layers with transparent tape so that his group could study the dynamics of graphite material.
So a ‘fundamental broad patent’ wasn’t on the cards because, to acquire a patent, among other things, you have to show novelty. In fact graphene patenting started in 1969 when the use of monolayer graphene was patented. Other graphene patents were filed between then and 2004.
What was exceptional and breakthrough at Manchester ( ‘Graphene Rediscovered in its New Incarnation’ as André Geim has said ) was realising what had been isolated and the size of graphene obtained which allowed Geim and Novoselov to experiment, tune, measure and report the electronic properties of graphene. That was what ultimately captured the attention of researchers worldwide – the Nobel Prize being awarded to Geim and Novoselov for their amazing ground breaking experiments with graphene opening up an entirely new field of study and which has led to a new class of important ( two-dimensional ) materials.
At that time, we had hoped that we could patent our high-frequency electronic graphene devices, which had been created during the experimental work, as the basis of an important graphene patent family. Patent attorneys agreed and drafted a patent specification based on an early draft paper. We filed it as a priority patent before any publications. This exemplified patent application was subsequently examined. Unfortunately possibilities for getting such a patent granted were ‘dead in the water’, even without challenges. US patents filed before completely anticipated our patent specification ( none of those have been truly commercialised yet ).
In parallel, André Geim had consulted a major chip manufacturer and, given his concern for good use of taxpayers’ money, the resultant outcome was that he did not support continuing with the patent filing. This was a ‘good call’ as there still seems no prospect of graphene-based electronics for 10 years or more – maybe never as other ‘sister’ two-dimensional materials appear to be better prospects for this purpose.
Negative feedback ( twice ) from a leading journal – “no sufficient scientific advance” – ( though later published in ‘Science’ ) and zero commercial uptake of our general promotional activities and our confidential graphene proposals at that time didn’t do anything for its case either.
Even if there had been a ‘broad’ patenting opportunity, in the absence of industry or investor interest, universities’ practice is to file in very limited territories, often just in the home country. Frequently they are made open source for a nominal fee or free.
Located in Silicon Valley, Stanford University’s ‘biggest’ inventions – Google and DNA Cloning – were filed as patents in the US only.
Now there are many ways to make graphene – completely different from mechanical means. All need more time to ‘market-validate’ their mass production capabilities and evidence the chances for a return on investment.
Very early patents taken out on all of these approaches are likely to have modest and declining value because methods are evolving all of the time and some processes will be suitable for some applications but not others ……and the patent protection clock is forever winding down.
Whilst we were continuously looking for patenting opportunities since the isolation, it wasn’t until 2009 that invention disclosures here ( and elsewhere ) took off. This is when reduced graphene oxide – an exciting opportunity for synthesising graphene on a bulk scale – was ‘rediscovered’ (by others) – it had originally been isolated and identified as monolayers in 1962.
Since 2010 we have filed for 42 patent families for those inventions that we believe do have broad uses and commercial potential and where we are as certain as we can be at this stage that they will be robust ones. Whilst we will never be a patent factory, we have recently established ‘Graphene Enabled’ as business accelerator to help us achieve our mission of translating the research outcomes, and their associated patents that have been ‘produced’ here, into real life applications.
So we couldn’t have cornered the graphene market in 2004. There wasn’t a defensible or even credible process patent position; nor patent scope for field-effect transistor applications; it wouldn’t have been filed internationally; keeping experimental results secret for years isn’t an option for bodies with charity status like universities nor is that appropriate; many other routes to making graphene are possible; many uses need different types of graphene to the one atom thick variety; and we didn’t want to speculate with taxpayers’ money by trying to buy up the world’s graphite mines either. We continue to be determined to make something of what we consider is both feasible and prudent to patent.
Updated and reissued 8 July 2016.
More on this subject can be found in André Geim’s ‘Prehistory of Graphene’ ( Physica Scripta, 2012, Volume T146).
Hundreds of thousands of people worldwide, who have a disease that can lead to blindness, could have their sight restored after The University of Manchester entered into a technology license with Seattle-based company Acucela Inc.
The agreement will see Acucela commercialise technology developed by researchers at The University of Manchester that has the potential to partially restore vision in people who are blind from degenerative retinal conditions such as Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP).
RP is an inherited retinal disease that causes a progressive degeneration of the photoreceptor cells in the eye. Often beginning in childhood, RP patients most commonly first experience difficulties with peripheral and night vision, followed by poor colour perception and central vision; in many sufferers this can eventually result in legal blindness. RP affects approximately 1 out of every 4,000 people in the US, Europe and Asia, around 1.5M people in total, and there is currently no effective treatment for this disorder.
Acucela, a clinical-stage ophthalmology company that specialises in developing treatments to slow the progression of sight-threatening diseases of the eye, will now undertake a programme of clinical trials ahead of commercialisation of the technology. It is anticipated that the first patients will be treated within 3 years and Acucela plans to evaluate the ability of the therapy to partially restore vision in patients who are legally blind.
The therapy was developed by University of Manchester researchers Dr. Jasmina Cehajic-Kapetanovic and Professors Robert Lucas and Paul Bishop. In advanced RP the photoreceptor (light-sensitive) cells die off, but other neuronal cells are still present in the retina. In trials using RP affected mice with a complete loss of their photoreceptor cells, the scientists used a gene therapy approach which successfully made these other cells light-responsive. This optogenetic therapy was sufficiently effective at restoring visional responses in the mice to allow them to detect spatial patterns presented using an ordinary flat screen display.
Commenting on the license arrangement Dr. Ryo Kubota, MD, PhD, and Chairman, President and CEO of Acucela said: “We are extremely excited to enter into this collaboration with the University and to begin the important development work needed to unlock the potential of optogenetic gene therapy to improve visual function in patients who have lost much of their vision as well as their hope.”
Dr. Paul Bishop, FRCOphth, PhD, Professor of Ophthalmology, University of Manchester added: “This is a very exciting therapeutic approach as the blind mice we treated could see surprisingly well in normal lighting conditions, and we think the approach may be safe as we are putting a normal human retinal protein back into the retina, but in cells that don’t normally make it. We are delighted at the prospect of working with Acucela towards restoring some visual function in patients who have severe visual loss from RP and similar conditions.”
The agreement was negotiated on behalf of the University by its technology transfer office, UMIP. Director of Operations at UMIP, Dr. Rich Ferrie commented, “We believe that Acucela is the ideal partner to develop a gene therapy for RP based on this ground-breaking science. The licensing arrangement has the potential to deliver significant economic return to the University if the clinical trials and commercialisation programme are successful. More importantly the signing of this agreement represents a potentially pivotal moment and offers real hope for millions of RP patients around the world.”
The technology was first reported in Current Biology in June 2015 and in The New Scientist in August 2015 and it was also presented at the ARVO eye research conference in the US in May 2015.
Professor Paul Bishop
There has been a lot of debate recently around female entrepreneurship and the reasons why there are so few women in technology. Here at The University of Manchester we have seen quite the opposite and hope that our activities are supporting a reversal of this trend, and give rise to an increase in not just female led technology companies but ones right across the board.
“In conjunction with our partners we have been driving a number of support activities that have seen an incredible response from our female entrepreneurs with ideas for campus start-ups seeking support. We want to stimulate more gender and minority balance in our businesses. Studies show that companies with different points of view, market insights and approaches to problem solving have higher sales, more customers and larger market share than their less-diverse rivals1,” said Tony Walker Director of UMIP’s Innovation Optimiser.
In conjunction with Manchester Enterprise Centre, we have been working closely with social entrepreneur support network UnLtd, stimulating social start-ups based on campus and hosting the Women Supporting Women Social Entrepreneurs (WSSE) a network of like-minded women from across Greater Manchester, operating across the North West, who use their collective energies to support each other to support other female social entrepreneurs. Nickala Torkington, Partnership Manager at UnLtd said: “I think women make great catalysts for change and through WSSE which is a relatively new initiative I’ve been developing with others, we have a growing network of more than 100 women change makers bringing diversity, experience and social and ethical perspectives to support and mentor others. Many of our members are from within The University of Manchester, UMIP has been a great exponent and supporter of ours and Alliance Manchester Business School are sponsoring mentor training for the group.”
Professor Vikas Shah co-president of TiE UK North and Visiting Professor (MIT Sloan, Lisbon) who has been a great champion and provider of mentoring to a number of campus based female entrepreneurs, including Dr Ruth Daniel of IPOW, said: “The University of Manchester has an impressive amount of hugely talented female leaders in all fields of science and the humanities, alongside the University itself being led by Professor Dame Nancy Rothwell, who is one of the most inspiring people you will ever meet! The University celebrates entrepreneurship as an engine of growth, and does so in an inclusive way – meaning that gender, ethnicity and so on simply do not play a part in your access to, or support from initiatives. The huge success of female entrepreneurs and academics has though, without a doubt, created momentum to inspire many other women to follow in their footsteps, achieving really great things.”
We have also recently added our Innovation Optimiser to empower more of our campus innovators to develop and build their business. Our first RoadMap programme provides lean start-up style training to take a technology or research hypothesis into a venture. It too has seen a high participation rate from female innovators. Dr Laura Etchells, who leads the programme, said: “Through Optimiser we aim to increase the incidence and quality of start-ups arising from the University’s rich and diverse community and to make it easier to start your own business. We see more and more female entrepreneurs stepping into the arena, it’s important that we build wide and diverse teams to tackle social problems and build commercial success.”
Amongst the staff and student led projects supported so far includes a number of innovative social and technology business led by or featuring females in significant roles;-
Dr Magda Sibley – HiSolar Ltd, a social business providing an innovative hybrid lighting system that combines, within one element, daylighting and off grid solar powered LED lighting for heritage buildings and social housing
Ruth Daniel – IPOW is a ground-breaking Creative Entrepreneurial Programme that is empowering the world’s most marginalised communities to create sustainable income and social change through their creativity
Amy Win – 4Lunch Ltd was established to increase the confidence and employability of people using the power of food in increasing the health and wellbeing of communities, as well as creating genuine employment opportunities
Jenny Berry – Your Own Words is a poetry programme developed from Jenny’s research project which is currently run in a Manchester-based prison. Poetry is used in a therapeutic way to help prisoners to express themselves through creativity rather than physically
Drs Caroline Sanders, Sandra Bucci and Mrs Charlotte Stockton Powdrell – are all co-directors of ClinTouch an interactive and easy to use mobile phone app that provides an innovative new way of supporting people with psychosis, a serious mental health disorder that affects one in every 100 people
Helen Power – director of Levenshulme Market CIC , a social enterprise that was recently selected as one of only three finalists in the prestigious BBC Food and Farming Awards 2015 market category
Professor Joanna Neill – Professor of Psychopharmacology is developing b-neuro a contract research organisation providing cognition testing services for the pharmaceutical industry
Professor Anne Barton – Professor of Rheumatology has created Inspiral Healthcare which aims to develop better treatments and diagnostics for musculoskeletal conditions
Alison Edmonds – founder and director of EpicSteps CIC, set up to develop confidence, leadership, career awareness and social responsibility in children aged 10-12yrs
Dr Erinma Ochu MBE, Wellcome Trust Engagement Fellow is developing FarmLab, a pop up urban farm for Manchester as part of the European City of Science 2016
1 Source Phillips, K. (2014). How Diversity Makes Us Smarter. Obtained from the Internet at http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/how-diversity-makes-us-smarter/
UMIP’s Tony Walker