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UK spinouts have a gaping gender imbalance in leadership teams

spinout gender imbalance

There is a significant gender imbalance in the leadership of UK spinout companies, with data showing that 86% of UK spinouts have all-male founders and 92% have all-male directors.

The study, from the Royal Academy of Engineering Enterprise Hub and Beauhurst, reflects wider systemic diversity problems within the UK tech industry.

Separate figures from Tech Nation have previously shown that just 19% of all UK tech workers are women, despite making up 49% of the overall workforce.

It comes as the UK’s university and corporate spinouts raised a record £2.54bn across 389 deals in 2021 – double that of the year prior.

Maria Dramalioti-Taylor, managing partner at Beacon Capital LLP and Royal Academy of Engineering Enterprise committee member, said that it’s important to shed light on the landscape of UK spinouts and recognise both the successes and the failures.

Dramalioti-Taylor said this will help “lead to progressive improvement within the spinout sector, including the encouragement of leadership diversity among spinouts”.

Russ Shaw, founder of Tech London Advocates and Global Tech Advocates, told UKTN that the success of the UK’s spinouts is “hugely encouraging”.

However, he added that “we cannot ignore the alarming lack of diversity in STEM” and described it as “arguably one of the greatest threats to the continued success of our industry”.

Shaw said that improving gender imbalance in spinout leadership teams is “imperative” for the UK to retain its position as a “global leader in innovation”, with the UK’s tech ecosystem recently joining the US and China in passing a $1tn valuation.

A prosperous spinout ecosystem

In the UK there are currently 1,130 active spinouts, which are primarily companies formed out of academic institutions.

The University of Oxford currently leads the nation for spinout creation, generating 193 since 2011 – a figure far higher than other British universities.

However, the report noted that there was “strong representation” from universities in the Midlands, Northern England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland within the top 20 for spinout creation.

Science Minister George Freeman said that the data shows there is “significant progress to be made in improving diversity in British science”.

Freeman added: “This report highlights the vital role university spinouts play in our innovation economy – raising a record £2.54bn last year creating the companies, technologies, and jobs of tomorrow. It’s great to see so much spinout activity beyond the ‘Golden Triangle’ – spreading opportunities across all parts of the UK.”

The research also found that startups formed through university spinouts survive on average four years longer than other startups.

The pharmaceutical sector was found to be the highest performing among spinouts, along with research tools/reagents and analytics/insight performing strongly. AI, precision medicine, and eHealth meanwhile look to be the top emerging sectors.

Support for spinouts grew during the Covid-19 pandemic, with grants from Innovate UK being given to 258 businesses during the period.