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New fund promises to end “valley of death” between research and commerce

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The Institution of Mechanical Engineers has launched a new £2m fund to help businesses bridge the “valley of death” between research and bringing products to market.

Entitled the Stephenson LP the fund, independently managed by specialist venture capital company Midven, it is aimed at helping innovative mechanical engineering companies overcome the investment hurdle between research and development and commercialisation.

The fund, initially worth a total of £2m, is, said the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, in line with its original statement of purpose set out by founder George Stephenson in 1847. This was to “give an impulse to invention likely to be useful to the world”. 

It is the first investment fund of this kind by the Institution and, it claims, any UK professional engineering institution.

The fund’s first five investments have been drilled into blade compressor company Lontra, fuel cell catalyst developer Amalyst, sensor company Oxsensis, fusion energy company Tokamak Energy and space technology business Oxford Space Systems.

Tokamak Energy is focused on accelerating the development of fusion as a low carbon energy source by using high temperature superconductors and spherical tokamaks.

David Kingham, Tokamak’s chief executive, said: “The investment by the Institution is worth much more than the money to us. It is a recognition that the development of fusion energy is an engineering challenge that can be tackled through rapid innovation in compact devices. The world needs a clean base-load energy solution that is abundant, safe and CO2-free. Fusion is one of the few options available and we believe it is critical to find the quickest, most cost effective and realistic pathway to fusion energy.”

Read more about the space sector:

Harwell-based Oxford Space Systems is developing a new generation of deployable structures for space, such as antennas, booms and panel technologies that are lighter, less complex and lower cost than existing products.

Oxford Space Systems has secured a number of collaborative development contracts in the European space industry and is on target to achieve in-orbit demonstration of its technology at the end of next year.

Founder and chief executive Mike Lawton, said, “I’m delighted with the excellent progress we’ve made since founding the business in September 2013. This has placed us in a good position to close our planned second round of funding which has included the Stephenson Fund. We’re very pleased to have secured investment from the fund as in addition to the gravitas of an association with the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, we’re looking forward to mutually beneficial opportunities to attract young talent to world of mechanical engineering”.   

Stephen Tetlow, chief executive of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, said: “These investments are not just about providing monetary investment, but about connecting these and other companies to the vast resources and network of the Institution and its membership. 

“The fund fulfils the Institution’s original purpose to give an impulse to invention and also help companies overcome the investment hurdle. I am really excited that through the fund these five companies will develop exciting and innovative technologies.”

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