September 11, 2021

Antelope's Mission - "To Rebuild Research"

Making mistakes can change the world

“There is nothing wrong with making mistakes, but one should always make new ones."

When beginning on a quest to positively change how research is done, one cannot overlook and forget the mistakes that have led to the finest discoveries the world has seen. Miscalculations in the lab, more often than not, cost a research team significant time, money and effort, placed in an unsuccessful venture. However, sometimes these fatal errors create hundreds of millions of jobs, save countless more lives and inspire the next generation of researchers to change the world. Just to pick a few:

  • Penicillin: Sir Alexander Fleming was investigating staphylococcus which is a bacterium that causes abscesses and other very severe infections. Before he left for a two-week holiday, a petri dish containing a staphylococcus culture was left on a lab bench and never placed in the incubator as intended. Somehow, in preparing the culture, a Penicillium mold spore had been accidentally introduced into the medium. The ambient conditions that prevailed during Fleming’s absence allowed both the bacteria and the mold spores to grow, but the mould obviously inhibited the bacterial growth around it. Since this fortuitous discovery in 1928, and after Florey's work that resulted in the use of penicillin clinically in 1944, it has been estimated that 200 million lives have been saved by this discovery
  • Plastic: In 1907 Leo Hendrik Baekeland set out on a quest to invent a ready replacement for shellac, an expensive product derived from lac beetles. In the process he inadvertently created a polymer that was unique in that it didn’t melt under heat and stress, and would come to be the first fully synthetic plastic. A discovery that has created millions of new jobs and industries, at unfortunately the cost of our environment.
  • The Big Bang: In 1964, while working with the Holmdel antenna in New Jersey, two astronomers, Robert Wilson and Arno Penzias, discovered a background noise that left them perplexed, as all plausible external causes had been ruled out. Their unplanned discovery of background radiation would not only gather them a Nobel Prize but also stand to inspire the next generation of Young Physicists.

These discoveries may have now become to be known as mistakes, but in all actuality, the bigger mistake would have been, if such discoveries weren't shared and applied amongst the general public. I'm afraid to say that modern day research, is in fact, guilty of the latter. Total University R&D spending over the past 10 years has surpassed a record 2 trillion dollars, with only 5% of all commercially viable research making it to market. That means that the other 95% of breakthroughs, capable of influencing and impacting our lives, possibly even to the same extent as the 3 examples above, just sit in the patent and intellectual property vaults of our respective institutions.

The hope lies in our University Spin-Outs

So what are University Spin-Outs?

"Spin-Outs are companies that transform technological inventions developed from university research that are likely to remain unexploited otherwise."

Spin-Outs have been the Universities' answer to unrealised research opportunities, with thousands of Spin-Outs being allowed to commercialise the results of their discovery since the mid-1980s. This has been tremendously attractive for both private & public investment sources, on account of the survival rates of spinouts being much higher compared to other types of start up enterprise. This was seen in 2018, with law firm Anderson Law conducting an investigation into Spin-Outs and their lifecycle, finding that nine out of ten spin-outs, survive beyond five years in comparison to only two out of ten new start-ups. In terms of monumental impact, some of these spin-outs not only survive, but thrive, with for example, ARM Holdings, a designer of smartphone chips, which was developed by the University of Cambridge, being acquired by Japanese firm Softbank for £24 billion.

Not acting on spin-outs true potential

“The UK has produced a host of successful university spinouts, but there are many unrealised opportunities that have been left in labs or got lost on their funding journey. These could be worth trillions of pounds to the UK economy.”

The above quote comes from Octopus Ventures, a venture capital firm who argue that there is yet a lot more untapped opportunities to be realised, and it exists in the other 95% of research sitting in Universities. Looking to the states, and to Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) as the leading hub of innovation in the US, the University has produced over 26,000 Spin-Outs, with a combined annual company turnover of US$2 trillion and the creation of over 3.3 million jobs in the region. To put this into perspective, on average each one of those 26,000 Spin-Outs would be producing US$77 million in annual turnover with over 127 new jobs created. This is all from just one University and it clearly illustrates the huge potential that exists to capitalise on universities’ research.

Why we are Rebuilding Research

"Learning and innovation go hand in hand. The arrogance of success is to think that what you did yesterday will be sufficient for tomorrow"

William Pollard, a physicist not entirely well known outside of the physics community but of whom the above quote belongs, puts it best. One must be willing to challenge old and accepted ideas to further the learning process, and at Antelope we intend to do such that. To help Universities across the world achieve the same level of success as MIT, we will in fact, have to rebuild the research commercialisation process in other universities. To achieve such a feat, we have talked and listened to the advice of countless others who have built monumental companies with university research, and have distilled what needs to change down to a 3 principled manifesto. We are building the future of research with these in mind:

  1. The right Talent should be easily accessible: The biggest challenge for spin-outs is finding and having access to top industry talent. Academics cannot provide the necessary skill sets to successfully navigate the pathway to commercial success and so, they need to find business co-founders and commercial team leads to turn their ground breaking research into viable start-ups. At Antelope we have replaced the tedious & time intensive process of search with an autonomous matchmaking platform that connects and recommends a plethora of global industry talent, relevant to your research, who can help commercialise your discovery.
  2. Access to Funding should be made Simple: Access to early funding for Research is essential for a Spin-Outs success but although the vast majority of research IP is fundamentally sound, investors and commercial grant funding agencies focus more on the team that leads the commercialization than the inventors themselves. By building investable teams behind investable solutions, Antelope is helping to unlock millions in supports for more discoveries, as well making it all easily accessible through our platform.
  3. Research should be more Collaborative: Outside of University-Industry Collaboration, partnerships between Institutions has been a key factor in building a successful spin-out as well as helping to attract top talent. Unfortunately as there hasn't been a level playing field for access to funding for Institutions outside of the Ivy League or Russel Group Universities, collaboration between Universities has taken a backseat to the competitive space that exists for trying to get funding. At Antelope, we are hoping to bridge this divide by providing easier access to capital as well as connecting researchers working on similar R&D efforts.

With these 3 principles acting as our north star on this mission, we hope to positively shape research for the better and we are excited to welcome anyone who wants to partner with us on this mission.

Thanks for Reading

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