Lord Jim O’Neill appointed chair of investment vehicle launched by northern universities

Lord Jim O'Neill
X The Business Desk

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A new investment company launched by the universities of Leeds, Manchester and Sheffield to help boost the commercialisation of spinouts and start-ups in the region, has appointed Lord Jim O’Neill as chairman.

Lord O’Neill will help establish Northern Gritstone in the region as one of the largest dedicated investors into the commercialisation of university science and technology related intellectual property in the UK.

The firm also plans to raise up to £500m from strategic corporate partners, institutional investors, and qualifying individuals.

Lord O’Neill has been integral to the Northern Powerhouse initiative in recent years, having chaired the Cities Growth Commission and going on to help the government implement its Northern Powerhouse strategy as Commercial Secretary to the Treasury.

He is currently vice chair of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership.

Also joining Northern Gritstone  is Duncan Johnson as CEO from Caledonia Investments, the FTSE 250-listed investment trust, where he was head of Caledonia Private Capital for the past decade.

Prior to this, Duncan was a founding partner at RJD Partners, a lower and mid-market UK private equity fund manager.

Lord O’Neill, chairman, Northern Gritstone, said: “From the Industrial Revolution through to the early Digital Revolution, the North has helped to power our nation’s history. Gritstone’s mission is to take this one step further and unlock the huge commercial opportunity of our science and technology capabilities.

“For many years, while the region has often been a leader in new inventions – from healthtech to Artificial Intelligence and analytics, advanced manufacturing, life and biosciences – it has yet to progress these into larger, successful businesses, employing more people in higher paying jobs.

“Universities in the North, historically, have raised only a fraction of the funding achieved by others. More long-term capital to help foster and develop emerging technologies is at the centre of what is needed to determine long-term success for the Northern Powerhouse.”

Duncan Johnson, CEO, Northern Gritstone, said: “Our ambition is to drive returns by establishing a world leading ecosystem of support and funding, built upon the concepts and inventions that the founding universities and the company’s other partners, have developed.

“I have been particularly impressed with how the firm has brought together a highly experienced team which blends deep investment management with business building expertise, all united by a core belief that profitable organisations delivering top quartile returns to shareholders should have a wider societal purpose.”

University of Manchester

Commenting on the appointment of the leadership team, Professor Simone Buitendijk, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Leeds, Professor Dame Nancy Rothwell, President & Vice-Chancellor of the University of Manchester and Professor Koen Lamberts, President & Vice-Chancellor of the University of Sheffield said: “To be able to attract such a high-quality leadership team is testament to the strong track record of our universities as engines of innovation – by collaborating and commercialising our world-class research we can create real impact and tackle global challenges.

“We welcome Jim and Duncan on board and look forward to great success over the coming years.”

Alex Macpherson and Andrew Graham have both been appointed as independent non-executive directors.

Russell Schofield-Bezer who has acted as a consultant to Northern Gritstone for the past 12 months has been appointed as COO.