Happy 30th birthday, Cardiff Medicentre!19 December 2022
Cardiff Medicentre – the first business incubator of its kind in the UK – celebrated its 30th birthday in style. A joint venture between Cardiff University and Cardiff and Vale University Health Board, Cardiff Medicentre offers everything from low-cost desk leasing to high-spec laboratories for start-ups and established life science businesses. It has nurtured 55 businesses, including Cardiff University spin-out Alesi Surgical, which developed and commercialised Ultravision – the world’s first system for minimising laparoscopic surgical smoke in the operating room. Here, we reproduce speeches from the birthday celebrations, which featured special guests, the Rock Choir.
Jeff Andrews, former Head of Economic Development, Cardiff Council
“The story goes back to the mid-1980s when the Economic Development Department of what was then the South Glamorgan County Council, and is now Cardiff Council, became aware of the benefits of using universities and entrepreneurial academics to maximise the flow of investment from universities into the local economy. The ideas behind it came from the United States, initially: we thought it was something we should have here in Cardiff and in Wales. A small number of UK universities were into this – Cambridge, Warwick, Aston, Heriot-Watt – and essentially, they were developing groups of small units with shared services, common areas and business development support, where budding entrepreneurial academics could start to build a business.
We approached Cardiff University with the idea of setting up a joint venture to establish a technology centre. After extensive discussions and with the support of Rhodri Morgan, who was then head of the European Commission’s office in Wales, we established the Cardiff Business Technology Centre in Cardiff.
We then became aware of the benefits of establishing a second centre, this time with a clear focus on the medical sector and the academics and research emanating from the College of Medicine, so the joint venture was established between the County Council, the College of Medicine, the then Development Agency and importantly the Cardiff and Vale Health Board. With European Commission grant aid, we built this centre.
These centres are in great shape. The Medicentre is 90 per cent occupied with 13 companies, and from those small beginnings almost 40 years ago, with the drive and enthusiasm of a number of people, the centre was born and is the highly successful centre it is today.”
Dominic Griffiths, CEO, Alesi Surgical – specialists in minimally invasive surgery and a Medicentre tenant since 2012.
“We’ve been here for ten years. Fittingly, the foggy opening weekend of the Ryder Cup in Newport back in 2010 sums up what it is like to be a spinout company: you’re often largely alone, at the tee, you’re surrounded by people looking at you, thinking ‘hope it goes well,’ you can only go forwards, and even though you think you know where you’re going, you’re hitting it into the fog, hoping you don’t shank it left or hook it right.
That pretty much sums up what setting up a startup feels like. Our story began in 2008 when I met Neal Warren, Director of the Welsh Institute for Minimal Access Therapy at Cardiff University, who was setting up a company to improve the quality of laparoscopic surgery of the abdomen. In my then job at Fusion IP, he told me: ‘There are four big problems with laparoscopic surgery: I really need to improve the visibility during surgery because smoke gets in the way, it’s toxic to healthcare professionals, we need to reduce the amount of CO2 patients are exposed to, and we need to make surgery more efficient.
Neal’s idea was to take a very well-known process, ionization or electrostatic precipitation, and reprofile it. We started off with a £25,000 grant. We bought an ionizer from Boots for £25 and we re-wired it and we sent it down an electrode, like a big biro, and hey presto, it worked. This allowed us to go and raise £500k from Fusion IP and others, including the Development Bank of Wales, and we then developed an effective device. Three years later, we got a CE mark for our technology.
We are now working on our next generation technology which we hope to launch next year. Along the way, we’ve had the pleasure of occupying four Cardiff Medicentre units, we have taken on five students from Engineering at the University, we have produced six studies with Cardiff University academics, a clinical trial, raised £16m which created more value, we have 104 patents, 60 distributors and we have treated over 30,000 patients.
We’ve had the highest of highs and the lowest of lows and everything in between on our journey, and a lot of the success is down to the help we’ve been able to access as a Medicentre tenant.”
Professor Keith Harding, former Chair, Cardiff Medicentre Board
“Cardiff Medicentre is really a tribute to the vision people had a long time ago, and many people here today contributed to what was a true innovation that cemented its value to Cardiff University, to the Health Board, to Wales and beyond.
I’ve been here as a tenant, as the lead for clinical innovation in the University and I’ve been here most recently as chairman of the management board. And what we can genuinely celebrate here on the 30th anniversary is that we have demonstrated in huge amounts what can be achieved when we put academics, clinicians and commercial concerns together – the triple helix of clinical innovation. That’s why, 30 years on, we are running with 90 per cent occupancy, and more innovation space is being created in Cathays Park.
We are here to stay, and we are here to make a difference. We need to recognize our successes as individual organisations and as people linked with the Medicentre, and most importantly to recognize the team – the people who work here, day in, day out, who make a real difference.
And it’s important to recognise the contribution of Mair Davies, who’s been here for 30 years, since Day One. Mair is the glue that keeps the Medicentre together and drives it forward to great future success. Thank you.”
For more information about working with Cardiff Medicentre, contact: email@example.com