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Make money without losing your soul

Cover of  by Graham Richards

"Million-dollar science comes from research that no one would dream could become useful, according to a chemist who has made millions out of ??spin-out?? companies. Oxford University professor Graham Richards said in his experience, the most exciting companies came from ??quite blue sky stuff??. The next step was to become a millionaire without losing your soul.

Professor Richards, who delivered a lecture at the Australian National University last night, founded drug software company Oxford Molecular in 1989, which at its peak was worth £450 million ($A915 million). The author of more than 300 scientific articles and 15 books has recently published a new book, Spin-outs: Creating Business from University Intellectual Property. ??It is quite possible to set up companies based on university intellectual property which are good news for everybody concerned,?? Professor Richards said. ??That is, you set up one of these companies without giving up your academic work.??

Professor Richards was the head of chemistry at Oxford for 10 years until he retired in 2007. In his department alone, six staff have become millionaires without giving up their academic work. He said academics were not good at running companies or understanding the ??horse trading?? that was necessary. Typically, investors received about 40 per cent of the equity, 20 per cent went to management of the company and the academic and the university shared the rest equally.

??Academics always believe that their bit is so important it?s worth 80 per cent, and without them it wouldn?t happen. Which is true, but it wouldn?t happen without the money and the university owns the intellectual property.??

But he said the future was looking bleak for many biotech companies in the current economic climate. ??I think lots and lots of biotech companies are going to go broke. ??At the moment the problem is the money. It?s much harder to find cash. And people with cash, instead of backing a little start-up, are looking particularly for biotech firms that are running out of money and buying them on the cheap . . . a very worrying development.?? "

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