Tom Hockaday joined Isis Innovation in March 2000 when it had 16 staff and annual sales income less than £1m (the University of Oxford's technology transfer company was renamed Oxford University Innovation in 2016). My role as Director, Special Projects was to support the MD as the company grew, bringing my experience in technology transfer from Bristol University. We needed to grow the company to satisfy the huge number of commercial opportunities arising from Oxford’s research base. I introduced database systems, a professional HR approach, and was heavily involved in staff recruitment. I took on responsibility for the University’s £4m seed investment fund, which won an award in 2002. I was involved in negotiating the £20m Chemistry Intellectual Property commercialization deal with IP Group plc and developing the relationship with IP Group. I led on Isis meeting the Investors in People standard in 2002. We incorporated Oxford University Consulting into the business and in late 2004 launched Isis Enterprise as a separate division, providing consulting expertise to other organisations on a fee-for-service basis. As the MD became part-time I took on more overall responsibility. We increased sales income year on year and increased the number of technology commercialization transactions each year. At Bristol University I had grown the technology transfer team from one to seven people. This first phase in Oxford was a huge learning experience for me, developing management and leadership capabilities in the highly demanding culture of one of the world’s greatest universities.
When I became MD in 2006, with the current MD retiring, we had grown staff to 35 and annual sales income to £3m. I presented a new growth plan to the University, successfully winning an increase in resources to invest further in all aspects of Isis activities. I built a highly effective senior management team, developing management capabilities and introducing a staff learning and development framework throughout the organization. As we grew I brought in specialist staff in Marketing, HR, Finance and Seed Fund functions. I led negotiations for Isis on a second IP commercialization deal for £12m in biomedical engineering, and then in 2007 the IP arrangements around the initial £10m funding of the Oxford-Man Institute of Quantitative Finance. I was a very hands-on MD, deeply involved and totally committed to the scale-up of the organization for the benefit of the University. In 2008 I was awarded the inaugural Science:Business ‘Bridge’ award for promoting university-business interactions.
Throughout this time, university-business interactions have become ever more important to universities and government and ever-more high profile. I have contributed to government reviews (Lambert, Dowing), lobbied government for policy changes and developments (tax treatment of spin-out funder shares), hosted numerous overseas visitors, reviewed other university technology transfer activities (Cork, Sydney, Tufts, Stellenbosch), and advised governments on their national TT systems (the €1B SATT programme in France). I have been invited to speak on technology transfer at the Royal Society in London and the Association of University Technology Managers in the USA and at their Asia meeting in Kyoto in 2012, and in many other countries. I have experience of science diplomacy from participating in the 2011 founding meetings of GIST (Global Innovation through Science and Technology) held in Malaysia, Egypt, Morocco. GIST is an initiative organized by CRDF Global, Arlington, VA and funded by the US Department of State.
In 2008 with the global financial crisis and recession, I led the initiative to expand our global reach. We needed to identify investment sources and markets for Oxford technologies beyond Europe and the US. I led the set up and growth of Isis Asia, setting up the company and office in Hong Kong in 2009. Isis Asia has now created four joint venture companies in China with local government and local investor involvement in Changzhou & Suzhou, Jiangsu Province, Liuzhou, Guangxi Province and Shenzhen, Guandong Province, and Tom has substantial experience in understanding China.
There is a gap between where university research ends and what industry and investors can see as a viable business opportunity. To bridge this gap, universities need proof-of-concept and seed funds, to invest in promising technologies so they become recognizable as a business opportunity. I have been on the board of the original £4m Oxford seed fund since 2000 and the subsequent seed funds we have set up, which have now made over 150 awards totaling over £9m. Most recently this includes the Parkwalk SEIS/EIS University of Oxford Isis Funds. I led the negotiations for Isis for the establishment of the £350m Oxford Science Innovation plc deal, signed in March 2015. This is the largest university investment fund business in the world, set to accelerate the uptake of Oxford technologies in the market. With these funds and through our core technology transfer business I have overseen the creation of 100 new businesses from Isis, with my involvement ranging from detailed business planning and fund-raising to general oversight. In 2014 I agreed with the Board and announced to the senior management team that I would step down as CEO by March 2016, having been CEO for ten years by then; I believe changes in organisational leadership are important. It has been a wonderful experience working with and leading the exceptionally talented team at Isis Innovation, helping to deliver outstanding achievements for the University of Oxford. In the year ending March 2015, total sales income was £24.6m; Isis has grown at 20% CAGR for ten years, though the recession, has an international spread and outstanding reputation. We were GUV ‘Technology Transfer Office of the Year’ in 2014 and the Isis Enterprise division won a Queen’s Award for Enterprise in 2015.