From the Classroom to the Boardroom; Glyn Mon Hughes on How Business Spin-Outs from Higher Education Are Being Helped

Daily Post (Liverpool, England), September 29, 2004 | Go to article overview

From the Classroom to the Boardroom; Glyn Mon Hughes on How Business Spin-Outs from Higher Education Are Being Helped


IT'S that time of year when station platforms are piled high with suitcases. Sometimes, they are attached to a bewildered looking youngster arriving at university for the first time. It's the start of a new life, the pathway to a richly rewarding career -- for most students. But there's a lot more to it than that. Places like Bangor and Wrexham see their populations rise substantially when the new term starts. Shops, bars and restaurants see business bound ahead substantially as student pounds get spent. And the various institutions are major employers in their respective regions, thus providing a substantial boost to the local economy.

Increasingly, too, they are becoming the seedbeds for enterprising ideas. New companies are conceived, business plans are drawn up and the conditions are made right for these companies to survive and thrive.

John Jones is the North Wales spin out manager for Spin Out Wales, funded by Finance Wales and the Welsh Development Agency.

``I'm as frustrated as ever, '' he laughed. ``There's lots going on, of course, but we can always do more. What is happening, and this goes for the whole of the higher education sector, is that there is an appreciation of the need of the universities to have a much greater dialogue with the communities they serve. That's particularly so for NEWI which really does want to be a community university.

``We also need to focus our programmes to complement and not to compete. That has been something of a problem in the past.

``There's also a need for the young people who come to university to think about and deal with being entrepreneurs. In the past, students tended to stand aside from business, thinking it was not for them. We do need to address that issue.

There are a number of programmes in place to help those hard-headed enough to consider going into business to find funding for their idea, as well as expertise and further information.

``There are four companies which we started up in Bangor, for instance, '' said Jones. ``We've set up small incubator units there which will allow initiatives to start trading. People can access broad band links, there will be computer and telephone access. It allows maximum flexibility and helps companies enormously in their early days ``And there are mentors and support on hand. That is so vital for the people taking those first steps. ''

To date, Bangor has supported one training company which, unfortunately, went into liquidation recently.

One company which has been spun out of the North Wales higher education sector is Optical Reference Systems, based at Intec on the Parc Menai site, Bangor.

The company was set up in 2000 and currently employs four people full-time.

``We're anticipating creating another post in about six months, '' said Professor Stuart Irvine, director and chairman of the company.

``We spun out the company when I was moving from NEWI to Bangor. Our first tranche of funding came from Finance Wales and NESTA -- the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts. We received our second tranche at the beginning of this year.

``We received initial help from spin out manager John Jones and his information was crucial. We also received, with his help, a pounds 20, 000 loan which is now fully paid off. It gave us the resources to test the market and to get product development going. Last year we received an Assembly Investment Grant. ''

The company, operating in a very highly specialised market, manufactures instruments to monitor thin film disposition and works closely with other companies involved in optical coatings. …

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