In recent years, UK universities have been working hard to develop their alumni networks with a view to raising their endowments. They have had to do so in order to mitigate the very real risk of losing ground to competitors in the United States and elsewhere amid a gulf in funding levels. At the same time, they have also had to develop their corporate relations, and this in turn has brought about improved and more systematic links between universities and industry.
Another example of alumni venturing in Cambridge comes from the Cambridge 800th Anniversary Campaign. The University of Cambridge Discovery Fund, launched in 2008, is an evergreen fund making proof of concept, pre-licence, pre-seed and seed investments, enabling young companies based on Cambridge research to succeed. This fund was launched as a means for philanthropic support, from corporations and individuals, for the very early high risk stages of new company formation. It is essentially benevolent seed money which in the past would have come from central funds.
A similar model to the Saïd Fund has been set up by Cass Business School. The Cass Entrepreneurship Fund is a £10 million venture capital fund, providing growth equity to start-up and early stage companies. The Cass Entrepreneurship Fund finances a number of high-growth young businesses across the Cass Business School community, as well as providing general support and incubation facilities. The Fund was established in 2010 with the support of Peter Cullum CBE, one of Cass' most successful entrepreneurs and the Founder of Towergate Insurance. In contrast to the Saïd Fund, it is not student-run as such but it does look to leverage the Cass talent network similarly.
This is a highly positive development, given the retrenchment in the mainstream institutional VC sector in recent years, and the need for Universities to find new ways to extract value from their networks. I hope to see the trend develop.
A version of this post was first published by me in Business Weekly - http://www.businessweekly.co.uk/ on 15th August 2013.