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Why Leeds is top city in the North for health innovation spin-out success

Why Leeds is top city in the North for health innovation spin-out success
From the science lab to the boardroom, turning brainpower into profits, Leeds is one of the top academic hubs for spin-out company creation in the UK.
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What is a spin-out? 

The University spinout report from GovGrant 2021 defines a spin-out as: 

“a company that has been created off the back of university research and IP and developed and commercialised by the institution’s enterprise team.” 

Spin-outs from UK Universities are thriving. According to Beauhurst’s Spotlight in Spinouts Report 2023, spin-outs secured £2.13 billion in equity investment, in 2022, accounting for 9.11 per cent of all equity finance raised by UK companies that year.

 

Leeds spin-out landscape  

The University of Leeds is ranked in the top 10 universities that have produced the most spin-outs over the past decade, creating more than 110 spin-outs since 1995, including in health innovation. 

 

Spin-outs at the University of Leeds are supported by its Commercialisation and Reseach Innovation Services. This helps them consider among other factors, the risk, cost, speed of financial return and the best route to market for commercial success and research impact. 

The University offers complementary support via its iconic innovation hub, Nexus. With its global community of innovators, Nexus provides access to those research and innovation capabilities at the university, delivering competitive advantage to businesses. By providing an environment that encourages cross-sector collaboration, knowledge exchange, and access to cutting-edge resources, Nexus empowers spin-outs to develop ground-breaking solutions to real-world challenges. 

Its proximity to nationally unique health research and innovation assets such as the Innovation Pop-Up at Leeds General Infirmary, and the NIHR Clinical Research Network, make it a particularly attractive place for health technology businesses. 

 

Leeds health innovation ecosystem 

Leeds is at the forefront of healthcare innovation, including strengths in healthtech, digital, data and artificial intelligence. Its health industry innovation sector and supporting infrastructure is market-leading. Known as the ‘economic capital’ of West Yorkshire, Leeds  continues to buck the national trends. For example, investment in digital start-ups and scale-ups alone increased by 88 per cent in Leeds during the first three-quarters of 2022. 

Aspiring and emerging spin-out companies in Leeds can bid for funding from the new, regional £7.5 million Launchpad and are set to benefit from the recently announced £160 million West Yorkshire Investment Zone. Both funding pots focus on West Yorkshire’s burgeoning health and life sciences sector. 

All of this creates the ideal conditions for emerging and new health innovation companies, as we see in the examples below.  

  • Emerging spin-out: NIQS Tech (Leeds) Ltd 

Offering a novel, non-invasive approach to real-time glucose monitoring, NIQS Tech is an exciting, new quantum technology spin-out from the University of Leeds. The company is developing a truly non-invasive, continuous and accurate glucose sensor to support better and more proactive diabetes management practices. 

Already recognised in the Yorkshire Tech Climbers ‘Ones to Watch’ list for 2023 and winners of the Health category of the annual Royal Society of Chemistry Emerging Technologies competition, the company is a recent example of a Leeds spin-out success story. 

Being able to effectively translate academic research into viable products or services is both the key to a successful spin-out and the biggest challenge, which is exactly where things began for NIQS Tech founder and CEO Nicholas Furtak-Wells and his team.

Nicholas was undertaking a Physics PhD at the University of Leeds when he got involved in a research project. This was with Professor Gin Jose, scientific advisor and expert in developing photonic devices and materials, and Dr Almut Beige world-renowned expert in quantum optics and addressing issues related to the practical realisation of quantum technologies. 

NIQS’ patented technology was developed within their leading research groups and represents a significant step forward in diabetes management technologies, where users can make real-time, accurate glucose measurements without breaking the skin or drawing blood samples.

Nicholas leads the company’s founding management team comprising University of Leeds PhD graduates, Dr Benjamin Dawson (CTO) and Dr Robert Mathieson (COO), alongside an advisory board including scientific and clinical experts. 

Nicholas explains: “There is a big emphasis at the moment on the need for accessible and affordable technologies that can aid in the early diagnosis of medical conditions, as well as monitor long term health conditions that require close management. The outcome of this is two-fold: reducing the negative impact on both the individual and on healthcare providers’ resources. This is a big talking point at the moment for the NHS and its long-term plan for increasingly prevalent conditions, such as diabetes.” 

Nicholas continues: “When you speak to healthcare professionals, what they want to see from their diabetes patients is them taking regular glucose measurements so that they can take action quickly if they are moving out of the healthy region. You therefore need something that is accessible and user friendly to encourage that regular measurement so that you can support better management practices, which will reduce the likelihood of complications and reduce negative impacts on the individual’s health as well as the burden on the NHS.”

NIQS’ recent efforts have culminated in a handheld-sized prototype which has demonstrated high measurement accuracy in a successful proof-of-concept ex-vivo (outside of the body) study, with a series of in-vivo (within the body) studies planned for early next year.

 

Spin-out success factors 

After Nicholas completed MBA-level training through the prestigious Quantum Technology Enterprise Centre (QTEC) and Royal Society of Edinburgh (RSE) enterprise fellowships, NIQS secured a highly-competitive Innovate UK grant. They used this to secure initial investor funding and spin-out their venture from University of Leeds.

Nicholas explains what’s next for NIQS Tech: “We are now part of the Nexus community and Leeds’ flourishing start-up ecosystem. Our current focus is moving into the next phase of testing to support raising further investment, which will allow us to invest in clinical testing, product development, and start progressing down our chosen regulatory pathway.”

Non-invasive glucose monitoring for people living with diabetes is the first application for the research developed at the University but there are many other ways in which it could be applied. Exploring this will be part of the research and development plan for NIQS Tech. 

Nicholas concludes: “We see opportunities to expand glucose monitoring into different offerings, such as smartwatches and other lifestyle wearable devices. This aligns with growing market trends where people are utilising smartwatch data to inform their life choices and aim to live healthier lifestyles, and wearables manufacturers are taking note of this. 

“We’re also aiming to extend our sensing portfolio to other biomarkers, such as lactate, which could see applications for the sports and performance industry when combined alongside glucose measurements. The other applications for NIQS’ core technology could also be applied to substances such as alcohol and drugs, which we see as other really exciting propositions.”

  • Established spin-out: University of Leeds and Mimetrik Ltd 

Founded in 2020 and also based at Nexus, Mimetrik is another University of Leeds spin-out. It uses 3D scanning technology to produce digitised images of dental patients’ teeth and facial structure.

Currently, digital dentistry solutions provide limited and often inaccurate data to a dentist about a patient’s teeth and mouth. Existing digital technology is expensive, cumbersome, difficult to incorporate into a dentist’s day-to-day workflow and often prohibitively expensive. 

As a clinically-led company, Mimetrik understands how technology needs to be used in the surgery, the issues dentists often face during the working week and the differing priorities they may have. Its world-leading expertise has already led to the development of a five-axis scanner and software that, in clinical trials, has produced scans at a far higher level of accuracy than any existing product on the market.

Its founders set up the company building on many years of pioneering research at the Department of Digital Dentistry at the University of Leeds School of Dentistry. With £2 million seed funding from Northern Gritstone, Mimetrik can now bring its core products, combining cutting-edge software, hardware and mobile apps, to market.

The company aims to redefine the global digital dentistry market, creating a full ‘digital pathway’ between dental labs and clinicians for the benefit of patients, replacing the costly, time-intensive current approach, enabling more accurate and faster treatment. 

Dr Alyn Morgan, Managing Director at Mimetrik and Senior Clinical Teaching Fellow, said: “With over 30 years in clinical dentistry, I have seen first-hand the time and cost spent on traditional techniques and I believe that our products have the ability to transform the industry and ultimately ensure better patient care. 

“Northern Gritstone’s investment is a vote of confidence in our technology and we will benefit from their advice and knowledge as we continue to grow and bring our products to market.”

NIQS Tech and Mimetrik are just two of the huge number of successful spin-outs that are driving health innovation in Leeds.

University of Leeds Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Research and Innovation, Professor Nick Plant, said: “At the University of Leeds, we’re proud of our very strong track record in supporting business to bring new and innovative technologies to market, especially in health innovation. 

“The support we offer is complemented by exciting developments in the city’s innovation infrastructure and in investor and funding opportunities which continue to position Leeds as a leading city for health innovators and entrepreneurs.

“These aspects all contribute to our ambition to transform people’s health and wellbeing and to help grow the economy in Leeds and beyond.”

 

Discover more about Leeds Academic Health Partnership:

Leeds Academic Health Partnership represents the leading organisations and activities that comprise Health Innovation Leeds – the city’s health and care research and innovation. We are one of the biggest partnerships of our kind in the UK and the only one in the Yorkshire and Humber region. We harness our partners’ expertise to help solve some of the city’s hardest healthcare challenges.

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