Dundee University’s new principal knows why successful spin-out firms have left the city and thinks Tay Cities Deal cash will stop the problem.
Life sciences firms Exscientia and Amphista Therapeutics have both raised millions in funding and are often hailed as university success stories.
But the bulk of investment and jobs has not taken place in Dundee, but other locations.
Why have successful life sciences firms left Dundee?
Professor Iain Gillespie, principal and vice-chancellor at Dundee University, said there were two main reasons for this – specialist laboratory space and funding.
He believes the university’s £40 million plan to create a biomedical campus will solve the first problem. Then venture capital funding will follow.
Mr Gillespie told a Courier Business Briefing: “University of Dundee is in the UK’s top 10 most innovative universities.
“We are the top university in the whole world for our contribution to innovation in biomedical sciences.
“But there is a problem – when we create new businesses they don’t stay here in Dundee.
“Exscientia, which uses artificial intelligence when looking at drug discovery, set up in Oxford and the US. There’s a tiny bit (25 staff) left in Dundee.
“Last month they raised £100m from BlackRock to upscale.
“Amphista last week raised £38m. We’ve lost them, they’re in Lanarkshire.
“What we need to do is keep these really innovative companies here. That will raise cash and create jobs and opportunities for our graduates and build a skills base.”
Innovation hub will create ‘cluster effect’
The principal, who took up the post three months ago, said the innovation hub will let companies grow quickly.
He said that not only would it help stop firms leaving, but attract companies into Dundee.
“If we keep the firms in Dundee, we’ll create the jobs and opportunities,” he said.
“We will see spin-ins to our city, investment into the city and a cluster effect that has great supply chain and skills development opportunity.
“We want to move away from creating brilliant ideas and someone else gets the benefit to keeping the benefit here.
“I’m incredibly excited, I’m confident we will get it right.”
James Hutton plans for £62m Tay Cities Deal cash
The Courier Business Briefing was held in association with MHA Henderson Loggie and supported by Research and Innovation Services, Dundee University.
The event looked at how the Tay Cities Deal could engage and grow the local economy.
It was hosted by Ellis Watson, executive chairman of The Stylist Group, Puzzler and Wild + Wolf, who chaired the cities deal regional business group and was one of the signatories on the deal.
Other speakers were John Alexander, leader of Dundee City Council and chairman of Tay Cities Deal joint committee; and Professor Colin Campbell, chief executive of the James Hutton Institute (JHI).
This will see the creation of an international barley hub and an advanced plant growth centre focused on vertical farming.
Mr Campbell said it would put the Invergowrie-based institute at the cutting edge of disruptive technology.
“We want to bring innovative companies to Invergowrie,” he said.
“We’ve got fantastic facilities not just in terms of the science and instrumentation but also the agricultural fields around so people can test in a real-world environment.”
Council leader’s plea for private sector to be involved
Mr Alexander said the Tay Cities Deal was even more important in the aftermath of the pandemic.
He encouraged firms in the area to express interest in the projects.
He said: “Tay Cities Deal is the edges of the jigsaw puzzle. The job now is to find the pieces to fill the middle. That’s where local business and the community will help us realise the full potential of the programme.
“Whatever your focus or sector is, there is a project in the deal that will be of interest to you.
“We really need to make sure that local businesses help provide that ability for this to be a catalyst and benefit directly from the jobs and investment that come to the region.”
Catalyst for growth
David Smith, managing partner at sponsors MHA Henderson Loggie, said: “The Business Briefing was enlightening as the panellists lifted the lid on some of the projects.
“The question-and-answer session highlighted the level of engagement from local businesses looking to participate.
“The message was clear. The Tay Cities Deal is a catalyst for growth for our region and for us all to think about how we shape our businesses for the opportunities that brings.”