Revealed: The top universities for startups

New research has listed the universities that are business breeding grounds

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You don’t have to go to university to start a business but there’s no denying that universities can be a great place to get your startup off the ground.

You’ll be able to access expert knowledge, benefit from a collaborative and supportive environment, and maybe even get access to special funding.

But, not all universities are created equal, and some are much better at encouraging the entrepreneurial spirit of their students.

Now, the numbers have been crunched and the UK’s higher education institutions have been ranked in terms of number of startups produced, startup income and number of patents granted.

The results make for some interesting reading.

Which university produces the most startups?

One of the key questions the analysis from business bank Tide looked at was which universities had produced the most graduate startups since 2014/15.

And the Royal College of Art came out on top, with 1,655.

However, this is partly a reflection of how the data is collected. It’s not just that art students are suddenly becoming entrepreneurs in droves but that the startups total includes sole traders. The vast majority of artists are self-employed and so, by default, are counted as startups.

That said, the college has also produced its fair share of startups – with business ideas brought to fruition with the help of InnovationRCA. This centre for entrepreneurship and commercialisation provides incubation, IP and business support.

It was closely followed by Kingston University, with 1,630.

This south west London university specialises in arts, design, fashion, science, engineering, and business – and has produced startups like Grocemania (No. 56 in this year’s Startups 100) and design and architecture company 121.Collective.

Crucially, Kingston University has a partnership with Santander that gives Kingston startups special investment.

Third was Falmouth University, with 1,135.

This Cornish university focuses on creative pursuits, and runs a ‘Launchpad’ programme that provides expert support to students who want to turn their ideas into businesses.

Which universities have the highest startup income?

The research also looked at which universities have produced the most valuable startups in the last five years – by working out the total value of the intellectual property (IP) for those startups.

In this regard, The University of Oxford led the way with a massive £213m.

This isn’t hugely surprising really. Oxford is one of the UK’s oldest, most prestigious and wealthiest universities, and has also built a reputation as a tech powerhouse.

Some of its recent success stories include software development company Cocotec and medical data processing pioneer Albus Health.

The Institute of Cancer Research claimed the silver medal, with £208m.

It’s arguable though whether it actually belongs on this list. It’s not a university but is classified as a higher education provider because it teaches postgraduate and research degree programmes.

As you’d expect, the institute is leading the UK’s fight against cancer, and recent breakthroughs include establishing that the basic cause of cancer is damage to DNA.

The University of Sheffield was third, although its £64m total was some way behind the top two.

This is another university with an explicit focus on encouraging entrepreneurialism, and runs a ‘pre-accelerator’ programme that helps students develop their business ideas.

In conjunction with the Universities of Leeds and Manchester, Sheffield University also recently formed the ‘Northern Gritstone’ start-up investment group.

Which universities are responsible for the most patents?

Finally, the research – by challenger bank Tide – tried to find the universities that are hotbeds of technical innovation by looking at which were responsible for the most patents filed.

The University of Oxford was way ahead here, with a whopping 3,086 patents.

This was more than double the total of second place – its great rival The University of Cambridge, which accounted for 1,377 patents.

Third was University College London, with 835 patents.

Written by:
Alec is Startups’ resident expert on politics and finance. He’s provided live updates on the budget, written guides on investing and property development, and demystified topics like corporation tax, accounting software, and invoice discounting. Before joining, he worked in the media for over a decade, conducting media analysis at Kantar Media and YouGov, and writing a wide variety of freelance pieces.

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