- Established in 2007
- Spin-out company from the School of Chemical Engineering and Analytical Science
- Founded by Dr Nigel Brown & Dr Ted Roberts
- Combining adsorption with electrochemical regeneration for the treatment of organics in water and wastes
- IP – Eight patent families covering the technology and applications
- Funded by UMIP Proof-of-Principle Funding (PoP) – Initial funding via EPSRC, including EPSRC Follow-on-Funding
- Innovate 10 – Winner of Sustainability category 2010 – TSB funding competition
- Rushlight Clean Environment Award 2010 with Magnox Ltd
- Brownfield Briefing Innovation Award 2010 – “Most Innovative Remediation Method” with Geo2 Ltd
- European Academic Enterprise (ACES) Fast Start-up Award, 2009
- Sustainability Award 2009 – Institution of Engineering and Technology
- North West Innovation Award 2009 – Institution of Engineering and Technology
- Listed in the Guardian Global Cleantech 100 2009
- Water Award for Innovation 2008 – Institution of Chemical Engineers
- Award for Innovation 2006 – Royal Society of Chemistry (PTG)
“UMIP’s Venture Manager allowed us to concentrate on the development of the technology whilst he helped us to develop the business plan”
Dr Ted Roberts and Dr Nigel Brown, co-founders
About Arvia Ltd
Arvia offers a low carbon, chemical and waste free process for the onsite treatment and recycling of industrial waste water. The technology captures pollutants using NyexTM, Arvia’s patented material and then destroys them by applying a low-power electric current. The treatment and regeneration process takes place on-site and is up-to 90% more cost-effective than conventional techniques.
Arvia has been working with Magnox Ltd, to demonstrate the process as a waste treatment method for the treatment of orphan and legacy radioactive organic wastes, specifically oils. This is a new and highly innovative solution for the treatment of radioactive oil waste. Retrieving and processing this type of waste material is a major challenge, as part of decommissioning and cleaning-up the UK’s nuclear legacy.
We met up with co-founders, Dr Nigel Brown and Dr Ted Roberts, to find out more about the company’s journey and their personal experiences of setting up a spin-out…
At what point during your research did you realise that there could be commercial potential for your discovery?
At an early stage we believed that the novel approach to the treatment of aqueous wastes could have significant industrial potential. The EPSRC funded project started in 2001, but our preliminary results had already shown the potential of the process and generated significant industrial interest. However, it took us some time to develop an understanding of the treatment process and to develop practical technological solutions to industrial problems.
How did you find the process of setting up a spin-out?
UMIP’s Venture Manager allowed us to concentrate on the development of the technology, whilst he helped us to develop the business plan. UMIP also provided the specialist services that were required, such as the legal issues with starting the company and handling the process of protecting the intellectual property. Without UMIP’s help, the process would have taken much longer and we would undoubtedly have made many mistakes along the way.
What would you say was the greatest challenge?
Fundraising was the most time consuming and demanding hurdle. Once we’d decided that there were various applications of the process, we decided that a spin-out company funded by venture capital was the preferred option. Whilst venture funders showed significant interest, getting all the information/agreements proved a significant issue, requiring much more time and effort than anticipated. In addition, the dramatic changes in the financial climate significantly affected the availability of funding just at the wrong time for us. Our UMIP Venture Manager did a fantastic job seeking out and attracting potential VC investors. The launch of the UMIP Premier Fund (UPF) was timely and they were one of the early-stage investors.
Did you receive any additional funding to develop the technology?
Initial funding for the research was obtained from the EPSRC, with Follow-on-Funding to build an initial prototype. UMIP Proof-of-Principle funding then provided the opportunity to prove the prototype whilst interesting investors. Arvia also received a grant from the NWDA for construction of a pilot system. The product/prototype development stage was very challenging as the funding opportunities were limited and relatively short-term.
How did you find dealing with investors?
So far we have found working with our investors very positive, as they are able to contribute their expertise and are of course focused on making the business a success. We were concerned that the investors might want to take the business in a different direction in order to get a quick return, rather than taking a longer term approach but so far this has not been an issue.
What were your aspirations for getting involved in the commercialisation process and being involved in a spin-out?
We were keen to see the technology taken from the lab to application in industry. In research, there is nothing more satisfying than seeing your work have a real impact in industry, as well as creating employment. The boundary between academia and industry is, I believe, a fascinating place to work.
How did you find the transition from the academic to the commercial world?
This was a relatively painless transition as the School was very helpful in assisting Arvia, particularly allowing access to the laboratories. We then moved to an incubator office within the University, whilst maintaining the links with the research which has continued in Ted’s labs. We have now moved the company’s headquarters away from Manchester, but we have maintained a close link with the company and the University.
What factors do you feel are essential in starting and nurturing a spin-out company?
A strong belief in the technology that is being commercialised is essential, as without this the setbacks encountered will not be overcome. You also need to bring together a good team of people with the right mix of skill, knowledge and expertise. The researchers and academics are unlikely to have the skills in fundraising, business planning, marketing etc.
What do you feel are the benefits to The University in engaging in spin-outs?
The university gains a number of benefits:
- Good publicity associated with awards and commercialisation of a new “green” technology.
- Higher research assessment performance, as research impact is increasingly being evaluated.
- Student appeal – engineering students are keen to associate with industrial projects.
- Student access to industrial Labs (MSc student are currently working in Arvia Labs).
- Industrial/academic collaborations – Arvia are working on a number of joint projects, including CASE project and EngD projects.
- Introduction of other potential industrial collaborators to the University – a KTP project has been set up with another company who want to exploit the Arvia Process in their sector.
Do you have any advice for other Manchester academics thinking of going down this route?
Whilst venture funding looked a good route for initial funding, the time consumed to achieve this makes using alternative methods attractive. Friends and family are a good source, but for larger sums accessing high net worth individuals can make investment decisions quicker.
What’s next for Arvia?
Arvia are looking to expand the acceptance of the project in the nuclear market via other UK companies, but is also looking at projects overseas. In the water market, Arvia have installed their first small treatment unit (5m3/d) and are looking to install a 20 m3/d unit by the summer, with a 500 m3/d unit now likely to be installed in 2012. Key to Arvia’s longer term commercialisation plans is the on-going R&D which is occurring both within the company and the University. This work is essential to ensure that the technology can be successfully scaled up as well as enabling access to new applications and market sectors such as grey water treatment.