Oxford University, through its innovation arm Oxford University Innovation (OUI), is launching support for the creation of impact-driven businesses: social enterprises.
Social enterprises are companies which combine the impact-centric agenda of a charity with the profit generation strategies of a business. How this is achieved differs from company to company, but fundamental to all social enterprise is the concept replacing the profit-driven mechanism at the core of mainstream businesses with an impact mission focused on enacting positive societal or environmental change.
To date, the innovation side of the University has supported creation of two types of business: regular startup businesses created by the student body, and startups based on academic intellectual property supported by OUI, known as spinouts. Typically, spinouts are formed around a patentable technology, such as a potential therapeutic candidate or an engineering project. This model has been successful for turning Oxford research into reality, with the University, creating over 160 spinout companies since OUI opened its doors in 1987, 19 of which were launched in the past year.
OUI is now supplementing this spinout creation activity by offering the social enterprise choice. Academics will be able to receive support for creating businesses around ideas that perhaps aren’t inherently patentable and will have the option of creating spinout companies focused on impact. Through social enterprise, OUI will be able to offer a business model that is adaptable, dynamic and supports all divisions equally.
OUI has already begun creating social enterprises, the first of which will be announced in the coming weeks. Prior to launch, OUI had already built up a pipeline of over 25 social enterprises. To meet demand for the service, which OUI anticipates will create at least an additional 10 spinouts per annum, OUI has created a group led by Dr Mark Mann, Innovation Lead for Humanities and Social Sciences. Examples of some of the projects OUI will support include secure, cashless homeless donations app Greater Change and mobile and VR-based lifesaving emergency instruction platform LIFE.
Dr Mark Mann, Innovation Lead for Humanities and Social Sciences at Oxford University Innovation, said: “Everyone at the University wants to get as many of these great solutions deployed as widely as possible. To do that, you need a broad range of methods to maximise an idea’s impact. With our new social enterprise service, we can now get far more of the great ideas generated in Oxford deployed across the world and improving people’s lives. The legal and financial space is a complex one, but we can help academic teams to navigate it and to get the best solution for everyone.”
Dr Matt Perkins, Chief Executive Officer for Oxford University Innovation, said: “The social enterprise option opens the door to innovation for impact-driven staff across all divisions of the University, supporting both the serial academic entrepreneur and the researcher looking to make their first innovative steps alike. Unlocking the potential of social enterprise is key to both the development of Oxford as a world-leading ecosystem and in shaping the future of business, and OUI stands ready to support this endeavour.”
Professor Chas Bountra, Pro Vice-Chancellor for Innovation, Oxford University, added: “The breadth of ideas that come out of the University makes Oxford one of the strongest institutions for university innovation worldwide. However, for those ideas to be considered as the basis of a spinout company, they have had to demonstrate commercial potential over impact. Social enterprise reverses that and puts impact first. This paves the way for perhaps the more innovative ideas currently locked up in the University to be given their chance at changing lives for the better around the world.”