Robin and Patrick of IN-PART

Bringing innovations to market

IN-PART co-founder Patrick Speedie explains how the Sheffield-headquartered start-up is helping bring together businesses and universities across the globe…

Patrick Speedie co-founded IN-PART, a tech start-up bringing together businesses and university innovations, alongside his business partner Robin Knight back in 2014.

The company is an online platform that makes the initial connection for technology transfer between universities and companies simple, efficient, and scalable.

The platform uses matchmaking algorithms and natural language processing to match university innovations with companies who have an interest in the same area.

Innovations on the platform range from new strategies for combating dementia and cancer, to cognitive communications, artificial intelligence, and advanced materials for the automotive and aviation sectors.

The company’s goal is to connect businesses with academics to discuss the potential of working together, with the aim of generating long-standing strategic partnerships.

Patrick told BQ: “We live in a knowledge-based economy, so innovation is key to everything that we do in every sector, in order to continue to be competitive.

“One of the main sources of breakthrough innovation comes from research funded by the government, so there’s an obligation to try and turn that research into things that can have a beneficial impact on society.

“Our aim is to play a part in unlocking the amazing range of technologies created in universities and to help provide the introductions, feedback, and analysis so that more research can have a genuine impact on the world.”

Prior to launching the business, neither of them had run a business before but they put their faith into the idea and knew it was scalable from the word go.

He added: “My academic background is in law, but I was working in multimedia publishing prior to starting IN-PART. Robin was doing postdoc research in Immunology at KCL.

“We’ve known each other since school, and were both working nearby in London, and a discussion of shared experience lead to outlining the mission statement and need for IN-PART.

“The light bulb moment stems from a conference when I was speaking to two academics and two pharmaceutical company execs.

“The company guys were asking about an antibody that they couldn’t find anywhere and hadn’t found for the last couple of years, and one of the academics said, ‘That’s my last three years’ worth of work…’

“I was stood there at an event with 30,000 people, thinking - serendipity isn’t the way you find each other, right? And that put the seed in my head.”

Research shows that most business ideas fall flat at the initial idea stage and fail to materialise. Luckily for Patrick and Robin, they were supported throughout their journey and were determined to make it a success.

“I received a whole range of advice and support,” says Patrick, “not least from family and friends, but in particular from the University of Sheffield Enterprise centre at the very start.

“We’ve also had a business angel investor, who is now our chairman, and venture capital investors who have provided guidance and support. We have now also created an advisory board with various expertise which we can reach out to for advice depending on what the question is.”

Another major obstacle for innovative start-up businesses is funding and Patrick and Robin were no different, as Patrick recalls: “Securing funding was quite a challenge for us.

“Our system solves a problem that had never been tackled before, so convincing people at the start was rather difficult, but we managed to find a great business angel who took a risk on us, and we’re hoping that risk is looking like a good one now!

“We also had to convince universities that we had the solution, and then ask them to pay… so that was also a challenge at the start, to obtain some key early adopters and then approach others to join our system too.”

And despite both working near London at the time of starting the business, they actually decided to base the business out of a head office in Sheffield due to its buoyant tech sector and affordable rates.

Patrick explains: “I was born in Sheffield, but my parents left to live in Derbyshire when I was three, so didn’t know the city too well, until I came back to study my masters. It’s close to the Peak District national park though, and has an amazing range of independent traders and makers in the city so it was a mix of things really.

“It was also much more affordable when starting a business to support yourself compared to other places like London etc. We also benefit from a vibrant digital community in Sheffield, which is continuing to grow so for us it is the ideal place (although admittedly we do have a London office as well).”

It has now been just over two years since the duo launched the business and with offices in Sheffield and London, funding from venture capitalists and an ever-increasing need for businesses and further education to collaborate, the company has continued to grow.

“There was just to two of us back in January 2014 when we launched and we’re now a team of 17,” Patrick says. “We’ve grown from six universities to over 90, including institutions in the US, Australia, Europe and Japan, and more than doubled our turnover year-on-year. We’ve had three office moves with another coming up shortly, it’s fair to say we’ve grown significantly since launch!

“Looking forward however, we’ve just finished Beta-testing a new product for companies using our system and completed our first sales, so that’s really exciting, but I can’t say too much just yet.

“We’re also continuing to grow internationally, especially in America, taking advantage of our initial clients at MIT, Columbia, Stanford, UPenn, UCSB and 15 or so others.

“Like anyone at our stage though, we’re also looking to find, hire and retain the right people to grow the team, and generally just get better at everything we do!”