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25th October 2023

Clusters of innovation: how the Northern Powerhouse Investment Fund is championing university spinouts across the North


Northern Powerhouse Investment Fund

This month, British Business Bank’s 2023 Nations and Regions Tracker pinpointed several Northern territories of the 33 innovation-led clusters identified in the UK. These clusters, which include Greater Manchester, York & Harrogate, Lancashire, Leeds City Region, Liverpool, Cheshire, and Sheffield City Region, are marked as key drivers for growth and technological progress across the UK.

The strong and long-standing relationship between academics and the business community in the North is the driving force behind this, with university spinouts fast becoming places for innovation-led change across most Northern regions. We are home to some of the largest and most impressive universities in the UK, not to mention the number of academic-led innovation hubs, including Sci-Tech Daresbury, Alderley Park, and Liverpool Science Park.

Since its launch, the Northern Powerhouse Investment Fund (NPIF) has quickly become a catalyst for innovation-backed investment. The Fund’s investment into Dr Tim Craggs, Slingshot Simulations, and Relative Insight are just three examples of university spinouts that are making an impact in the region.

University of Sheffield: international biological research

In 2022, Dr Tim Craggs, an academic from the University of Sheffield received a £150,000 investment from NPIF – Mercia Debt Finance for his device that is set to revolutionise biological research.

Dr Craggs’ El-FLEX device is a low-cost benchtop instrument that incorporates advanced software and will make single-molecule spectroscopy accessible to a much wider range of researchers and scientists.

The funding, which was used to help fulfil the first two orders from the University of Massachusetts and Arizona State University, will also help the innovator to make further sales worldwide.

University of Leeds: powering the Internet of Simulation

Slingshot Simulations is a decision intelligence solutions provider using advanced data science, AI and digital twins to allow organisations to test new ideas and drive better decisions faster and at lower cost.

The company’s current focus is place-based net zero and climate resilience strategic planning built on underlying core technology that can be scaled to a myriad future use cases and industry sectors. The innovative business was a 2019 spin out from the University of Leeds and maintains its University connections through the NEXUS ecosystem with access to its innovation hub where academics and business collaborate to maximise commercial opportunities.

 The company received a £750,000 finance package from the University of Leeds and NPIF – Mercia Equity Finance at spin out and has since gone on to raise a total of more than £5m in investment, including a further round from NPIF – Mercia Equity Finance along with Northern Gritstone. The funding has helped the business accelerating the development of the core technology, expand the team and build its commercial footprint.

Lancaster University: understanding linguistics globally

NPIF – Maven Equity Finance has also supported Lancaster-based Relative Insight with a £1m equity investment. Established initially as a 10-year research project with Lancaster University’s linguistic and cyber security departments, Relative Insight now works with a range of blue-chip businesses such as DFS, McCann and John Lewis, to help in understanding language differences between key audiences. This intelligence is then applied in marketing optimisation, customer experience and employee engagement activities to improve business results.

The £1m investment from NPIF was part of a wider £4m funding package to support its expansion into the US with a new office in New York, while developing its technology platform to help companies drive business value from language data.

The future of innovation

Innovation-led businesses are transforming the future of the Northern economy and paving the way for a new era of technological advancements. By providing investment at critical points in the journey, NPIF is successfully supporting these businesses and entrepreneurs through R&D, geographic and product expansion, growing the team and diversifying into new markets.

The Northern Powerhouse Investment Fund project is supported financially by the European Union using funding from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) as part of the European Structural and Investment Funds Growth Programme 2014-2020 and the European Investment Bank. 

Editors Notes



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