Recently, PRO hosted a roundtable with George Freeman MP, Secretary of State for Science, to explore first-hand the experiences from some of the most innovative and exciting science and technology companies in the world. The participants were the Founders and CEOs from businesses at the forefront of biotech, medtech, robotics, AI, deep data, and next generation semiconductors. These were firms whose businesses germinated from research at leading British universities such as Cambridge, Imperial, and Oxford. They were joined by the advisers and the funders who make it all possible. The premise of the event was to understand the journey taken by companies from the beginnings as a university research project to becoming a scale-up. In addition, the event was a platform to explore any existing roadblocks stopping innovative university spinouts from becoming multinational powerhouses and to think about the tools the UK Government could use to support the growth of innovative science and technology companies in the UK.
The discussion at the roundtable was conducted under The Chatham House Rules but below is a note of the key topics discussed:
- Overall mood was very positive following the announcement of HSBC acquiring SVB UK that morning
- Whilst there was praise for some universities, Cambridge and Imperial being two names, the general sense from the attendees was that a lot of universities are behind and do not have sufficient procedures in place to help start-ups spinout effectively
- A key issue for firms moving out of universities was having available and reliable power and water supplies, as well as logistics infrastructure. The firms also noted that for a company to grow, it would need additional support to improve local infrastructure with a focus on spreading costs out over a number of years
- A few firms asked for clarity around and accessibility to trading regulations for smaller companies, especially with regards to countries like China, India, Europe and the US when “strategic” materials are involved.
- Similarly for investors, clarity before they invest in or acquire a UK-based company would help to avoid misunderstandings, uncertainty and the loss of potential overseas investment.
- Several of the attendees said that there is an ongoing challenge with skills, organisations such as the Science Museum Group were noted to play a critical role across the country to inspire the next generation and promote science innovations and careers. One founder said the Government should start to encourage BTEC programmes to being sector specific, such as to have a BTEC in semiconductors, rather than more general engineering, computing and science.
- One founder noted that visas for foreign workers has been a challenge. They suggested a fast-track system that runs in parallel with the interview process so that qualified candidates can get visas immediately, OR a temporary visa system so that candidates meeting specific criteria can begin working as soon as companies agree a contract with them, and then a longer-term visa will be processed within an agreed time.
As requested by the Minister, PRO shared further information and insights of the attendees was sent, which will feed directly into the DSIT & Treasury Science & Technology Framework” consultation.