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From a germ of an idea...

PUBLISHED: 11:37 18 January 2013 | UPDATED: 22:38 20 February 2013

From a germ of an idea...

From a germ of an idea...

Isis Innovation helps bring ideas to reality. We hear how it's done

From a germ of an idea...

Isis Innovation helps bring ideas to reality. We hear how its done

Oxford Instruments was Oxford Universitys first spin out company and we profile CEO Jonathan Flint in this months magazine. But what is a spin out company? Tom Hockaday, Managing Director of Isis Innovation Ltd manages the Universitys spin out process.

A spin out company commercialises ideas, discoveries and knowledge from across all academic disciplines that come out of a universitys research laboratories. Isis Innovation is a world leading technology transfer business, owned by Oxford University, creating links between the outstanding research capability at Oxford, and elsewhere, for the benefit of society.

Put simply, Isis Innovation is the dating agency between the researcher with the idea and ambition to take it further, and investors who have the commitment (because it can take years), to make it a commercial success.

Isis has 80 people actively involved in working through the ideas presented to them (350 last year), half of them with science PhDs. First class scientific and technical backgrounds are essential to help translate the scientists ideas from the language of university research to that of business, explains Tom. Sometimes applications of the research might be difficult to identify and might be entirely unknown. We are dealing with some of the brightest minds in the country, but the application of an idea is not one of the issues all researchers think about, adds Tom. They are curiosity driven and never know where their research will lead.

Isis also helps protect the idea, last year filing 100 new patent applications. In total it manages more than 1800 patent applications each year.

A good example is NaturalMotion. This companys technology captured the imagination of the gaming industry at a Los Angeles trade show in 2006, when its dynamic character animation system was demonstrated in next-generation Star Wars and Indiana Jones games.

NaturalMotion had created 3D character animation software, the first company to do so, based on Dynamic Motion Synthesis (DMS), a technology that simulates the human nervous system drawn from Oxford University research into the control of body movement. Now PlayStation3, Xbox360 and PCs all use the companys technology.

According to NaturalMotions CEO, Torsten Reil, without Isis Innovation he wouldnt have known where to start. We applied for a patent through Isis and I worked with an Isis Technology Transfer Manager who was a programmer to create prototypes we could show to investors. Last year, NaturalMotion received $11 million funding from Benchmark Capital for further investment, including for a new HQ in San Fransisco.

Another example is Oxitec. Insects spread human and livestock diseases and ravage agricultural crops. Current controls rely on pesticides, which have serious environmental consequences. Isis spun Oxitec out of Oxford University in 2002 based on technology developed by Luke Alphey and colleagues in the Department of Zoology. The company is developing proprietary insect strains, including mosquitoes, bred so their offspring die before reproducing, reducing the size of the disease-carrying population. The company was named a World Economic Forum technology pioneer and has been recognised by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Half a billion pounds was spent on research at Oxford last year, from a range of sources, including Government, charities (most notably the Welcome Trust), the EU and industry. Isis also spent over 2.5 million on patents in 2012. We protect ideas so industrial companies taking them on know their investment is protected, says Tom.

Oxford University is one of the greatest universities in the world. Its research base gets bigger ever year and there will be no shortage of ideas. We continue to talk to academics and students, encouraging them to think about commercial activity in a positive way.

The Government increasingly wants publically funded universities to demonstrate their impact, in economic, policy and social terms. Isis has a crucial role in making connections between very early stage fundamental research and products and services that benefit people.

Other ways Isis Innovation helps


Isis Angel Investment Network

Since 2000 the company has set up 66 new companies and raised 400 million of investment finance.

Isis Software Incubator

Helps Oxford staff, students and alumni with really small businesses that dont need management teams and half a million investment. Isis offers space for a computer, desk, chair, and professional support.

Oxford Innovation Society

Set up in 1990 with a membership of global businesses, investors and professional service providers. A great network to introduce new technologies.

Oxford Entrepreneurs

Has 7,000 members of bright enthusiastic young people; Isis is an active supporter.


Oxford University Consulting

Connecting Oxford Universitys expertise, and providing access to services, for local and international businesses.


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