November 14, 2019

Top 10 UK universities for turning research into businesses

A new "research to riches" ranking places The Queen’s University of Belfast in first place for the number of spinout companies.

Kim Darrah

4 min read

Some of the UK’s brightest startups are built on ideas that were dreamt up in universities. 

But for academics it is not always easy to make the transition from researcher to entrepreneur and the probability of success has a lot to do with the amount of support available from their university.

To scout out the best universities for nurturing business ideas Octopus Ventures created an Entrepreneurial Impact Ranking, which it published in its new report 'Research to Riches'.

To make the ranking they looked at the total number of spinouts each university had produced relative to the amount of funding they had received — 'spinout' refers to any company that had been set up to exploit intellectual property made at the university.


They combined this with research on the number of patents coming out of each university, as well as disclosures, which are less well known than patents but play a crucial role in commercialising research. Disclosures are generated when a researcher submits a new idea to their university technology transfer office for potential commercialisation.

They also collected data on the number of successful exits that had come from each university.

The result of the research is a ranking that looks very different to more traditional university rankings such as the Times’ Higher Education ranking, which places Oxford University first place, Cambridge in second place and Imperial third. 

1) The Queen’s University of Belfast

Total number of spinouts: 59

Notable spinouts:

  • Kainos, founded in 1986, is a software company that develops IT solutions for businesses and organisations.
  • Andor Technology, founded in 1989, manufactures high-performance scientific imaging cameras, microscopy and spectroscopy systems.
  • Fusion Antibodies, founded in 2000, develops antibodies for therapeutic drug and diagnostic applications.

2) The University of Cambridge

Total number of spinouts: 135

Notable spinouts: 

  • ARM Holdings, founded in 1990, is a Softbank-backed designer of smartphone chips.
  • Abcam Plc, founded in 1998, is one of the world’s leading producers of antibodies.
  • Cambridge GaN Devices Ltd, founded in 2016, is a developer of highly efficient power electronics.

3) Cardiff University

Total number of spinouts: 43

Notable spinouts:

  • Q-Chip, now part of Midatech Pharma, founded in 2003, which develops advanced life science and therapeutic products.
  • QMC Instruments Ltd, founded in 2001, which develops instrumentation for the detection and processing of electromagnetic radiation.
  • Fault Current Limited, founded in 2012, which develops a series of unique 'fit and forget' magnetic fault current limiter (mFCL) protection products.

4) Queen Mary University of London

Total number of spinouts: 19

Notable spinouts: 

  • Chromosol, founded 2017, is breaking new ground in the silicon photonics space
  • hVIVO, founded in 2012, is working in the field of "human challenge studies", which is an approach to getting clinical proof-of-concept for possible new drugs
  • Stealthyx, founded in 2002, is working on a drug-targeting platform technology that is capable of drug delivery only at sites of disease

5) The University of Leeds

Total number of spinouts: 56

Notable spinouts:

  • Xeros Technology Group, founded in 2013, is a platform technology company that is reinventing water intensive industrial and commercial processes.
  • Tissue Regenix PLC, founded 2006, is a regenerative medical technology company making replacement body parts using human and animal biological tissues.
  • Tracsis PLC, founded in 2004, is a transport software and consultancy company which aims to increase efficiency and reduce costs in the transportation sector.

6) The University of Dundee

Total number of spinouts: 30

Notable spinouts:

  • Exscientia Ltd, founded in 2012, is a pharmaceutical company which automates drug designs.
  • Cyclacel, founded 1996, is working on oral therapies that target the various phases of cell cycle control for the treatment of cancer and other serious diseases.
  • DC Biosciences Ltd, founded in 2006, provides pharmaceutical and biotech companies with proteomics services to accelerate the development of safer drugs.

7) University of Nottingham

Total number of spinouts: 44

Notable spinouts:

  • Exonate, founded in 2013, is working on improving the treatment of patients with retinal vascular diseases.
  • Azotic Technologies Ltd, founded in 2012, specialises in natural nitrogen which helps address the problem of nitrogen pollution
  • Promethean Particles Ltd, founded in 2007, specialises in the design, develop and manufacture of inorganic nanoparticle dispersions.

8) King’s College London

Total number of spinouts: 33

Notable spinouts:

  • IGEM Therapeutics, founded in 2016, in an immuno-oncology company developing immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibodies to treat cancer.
  • MedPharm, founded in 1999, is a pharmaceutical company working on topical and transdermal product development
  • Proximagen, now part of BenevolentAI, founded in 2003, specialises in using artificial intelligence for small molecule drug discovery and development.

9) The University of Oxford

Total number of spinouts: 163

Notable spinouts:

  • Oxford Nanopore Technologies, founded in 2005, specialises in DNA sequencing.
  • NaturalMotion, founded in 2001, specialises in creating animation technology for the game and film industries.
  • Zegami, founded in 2015, transforms visual data into information by combining media, data and artificial intelligence.

10) Imperial College of Science, Technology and Medicine

Total number of spinouts: 124

Notable spinouts:

  • DNA Electronics Ltd, founded in 2003, focusses on molecular diagnostics.
  • Orthonika, founded in 2015, is working on developing 'Total Meniscus Replacement', a way of replacing the meniscus of the knee.
  • Veryan Medical, founded in 2003, is developing technology to improve the performance of vascular stents by adopting the principle of biomimicry.

Sources: Octopus Ventures (ranking), Spinouts UK (count of spinouts)