Europe’s deep technology relies on university spinouts –

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Deep tech has become a hot topic in Europe, with hopes that the region can have an edge over the rest of the world for innovation rooted in fundamental research. One of the main arguments: European countries have great universities and talent. But how does academic talent translate into startups? Let’s dive in. † Anna

Universities, a deep technical cauldron

“From startups to universities, we are joining forces to make Europe a global leader in the new wave of deep tech innovation!” European Commissioner Mariya Gabriel tweeted earlier this week after her speech at the summit in Brussels. As I noted while attending the event, she was far from the only one who enthusiastically mentioned this topic.

It was no surprise that deep technology is generating high expectations in Europe. Alex and I wrote earlier this year about Europe’s deep tech boom and investor interest in it. But the role that educational institutions are supposed to play piqued my interest.

“There is no doubt that the future of innovation in Europe will emerge from its leading universities,” Riam Kanso wrote in a statement guest post prior to the event. Kanso is the founder of conception X, which I happened to hear about for the first time earlier this month. The UK-based non-profit organization wants Ph.D. researchers to daredevils.

“It’s a simple but well-proven recipe,” Kanso said. “You have a Ph.D. team working on groundbreaking research with important real-world applications. They know their innovation can help discover effective treatments for now incurable diseases, boost carbon-negative cities or tackle the future of automation. Through a combination of entrepreneurship training, access to pro-bono legal advice, funding opportunities and expert connections, we help them figure out how to turn their research into a viable deep tech startup.”

It is not new for universities to spawn spin-offs or spin-outs more or less willingly (we will use the terms interchangeably here). MIT, for example, is known for counting many entrepreneurs among its alumni, and quite a few of these ventures are based on intellectual property developed during their studies or research.

But in Europe, intellectual property can be a thorny issue. The “potential for meaningful innovation brewing in Europe’s research labs,” Kanso said, “remains largely untapped by varying — and sometimes suffocating — IP ownership rules that can make spinout companies uninvestable and difficult to scale.”

However, both European universities and venture capital firms are making increasing efforts to ensure that the most promising seeds become successful companies.

Watch the gap

Despite the hurdles, VCs seeking innovation know that spinouts are well worth their attention. “As an investor in early stage companies, many of which are highly technical in nature, we see universities as fundamental to the companies we invest in,” said Simon King, himself a VC with a Ph.D.