Page 5 - PERIODIC 2017
P. 5

that company we have talked about for years: let’s do   machine defeated Kasparov. Dave and I agreed to a deal
             it!’ That was the origin of Oxford Molecular Group Plc   whereby he would provide £20 million in exchange for
             which was originally set up as therapy for me. Its success   half the University equity share in any spin-out companies
             was all down to Tony who was one of nature’s natural   emanating from Chemistry for 15 years. By the time we
             entrepreneurs.                                    had done the deal he had sold his company to the then
                                                               recently public stock brokers Beeson-Gregory, so we had
              While Tony was my student, for rather complicated reasons
             he part wrote a film script about C.S.Lewis and was paid   to convince their chairman Andrew Beeson of the mutual
             £3000; a huge sum for a student at that time. What did he   value of the deal. The meeting over lunch was not going
             do with the money? He went and bought a steam roller. I   well until Andrew suddenly looked at me and asked if it
             thought the boy had gone mad until I learned that he took   was a Vincent’s Club tie that I happened to be wearing. It
             his steam roller to steam rallies and was paid £250. When   was and a mutual interest in sport meant that the deal went
             he finished his DPhil he was hired by ICI, essentially to take   through. His interest in sport was in Real Tennis and the
             my technology to the company and was given the biggest   connection with my pupil Spike Willcocks who was a world
             starting salary for someone at his stage. With his letter of   champion was a crucial piece of good fortune.
             appointment he went to the bank, borrowed £35,000 and   The new Chemistry Research Lab which is as good as any
             bought a pair of steam ploughs and took them to steam   in the world is thus founded on luck, but attracts the best
             rallies. But being Tony, he thought that they must be making   of students and is key in recruiting and retaining academic
             more money running the rallies, so at the age of 24, six   stars.
             months in to his first job, he organized his own steam rally,   Beeson-Gregory were soon sold to the Evolution Group
             making £45,000 in a weekend. By 1988 he had left ICI and   who looked at the deal we had done just involving a single
             was just running steam engines. Since that was a summer   department and generalized it to all subjects and many
             activity, we had the chance over the winter to raise funds   universities, setting up a subsidiary named IP2IPO Ltd. This
             and start the company.
                                                               was then floated and became IP Group Plc of which I was
              We raised £350,000 of venture capital, just sufficient cash   chairman for a while. This is now a FTSE250 public company
             for six months. Tony was a great deal maker and we thrived.   with a market capitalization of about a billion pounds.
             In 1992 we had an IPO, floating on the London Stock   One of the first spin-out companies out of the Chemistry
             Exchange, selling a third of the company for £10 million.   Department was Oxford Nanopore based on the work of
             With the cash we expanded into the US, doing seven   Hagan Bayley, which had Spike Willcocks as one of its first
             takeovers there and growing until we had the biggest slice   employees and Gordon Sanghera who started with Allen
             of the world bioinformatics market; over 400 employees,   Hill as CEO. Although still private, this company has a fair
             and a market capitalization of some £450 million. We then   value in excess of a billion pounds.
             screwed it up and sold the company for £70 million to two
             US groups.                                         Because of these lucky breaks, the Department has
                                                               contributed at least £100 million to the University and is
              In 1996 I became the first head of the Chemistry   probably one of the most successful departments in the
             Department which had previously been three separate   whole world in respect of the creation of businesses and
             departments. The big thing in my in-tray was the need   wealth, without, it must be stressed compromising its pure
             to build a new laboratory as the old ones were in a very   research and teaching values.
             poor state. The University gave me the site, but no money
             and I had to raise some £64 million. We had great help    In my dotage I am still involved with spin-out companies,
             from a Government scheme, from The Wellcome Trust,   in particular with Oxford Drug Design Ltd. This grew out of
             from The Wolfson Foundation and E P Abraham as well   my screen saver project where I had 3.5 million people from
             as from Thomas Swan and from the Salters Company   more than 200 countries contributing time on their PCs to
             thanks to Sandy Todd. We were however many millions   look for anti-cancer drugs. We have what looks to be some
             short. Again luck played a big part. From my activity with   novel antibiotics which act at a new target and could be of
             spin-out companies I knew Dave Norwood, a chess grand   enormous importance.
             master who had backed computer-based companies having   But it has helped to be lucky.
             been convinced of their future when the IBM Big Blue

             Spin-Outs: Creating Businesses from University Intellectual Property (Harriman House, 2009, ISBN:9781905641987).
             50 years at Oxford. Author House 2011, ISBN:9781456778613
             University Intellectual Property: a source of finance and impact. Harriman-House 2012, ISBN: 0857192272
             Entrepreneurship: a case study from Two View Points by Graham Richards and Tony Marchington (http://wetzebra.

                                                            The Magazine of the Department of Chemistry
   1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9   10