Northern investment firm Gritstone names leaders

Jim O’Neill

Northern Gritstone, the new investment company founded by the Universities of Leeds, Manchester and Sheffield has named its leadership team, with Caledonia Investments executive Duncan Johnson becoming chief executive 0fficer and former Goldman Sachs investment banker Jim O’Neill as non-executive chairman.

Russell Schofield-Bezer, who has acted as a consultant to Northern Gritstone for the past 12 months, has been appointed as chief operating officer, while Alex Macpherson and Andrew Graham have both been appointed as independent non-executive directors.

Northern Gritstone was recently established to facilitate the commercialisation of university science and technology related intellectual property (IP) in the north of England.

O’Neill chaired the UK’s Cities Growth Commission in 2013-14, going on to help the UK government implement its Northern Powerhouse strategy as Commercial Secretary to the Treasury in 2015-16.

O’Neill is currently vice chair of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership.

Johnson joins Northern Gritstone from Caledonia Investments, the FTSE 250-listed investment trust company, where he was Head of Caledonia Private Capital for the past decade.

Prior to this, Johnson was a founding partner at RJD Partners, a mid-market private equity fund manager.

O’Neill 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.

“I am a passionate believer that the North needs to boost its productivity, helping the country to achieve a stronger trend rate of sustainable growth, and one that is more equitable and inclusive of more regions.

“The concept and ambition of Gritstone sits firmly with much of what I have tried to encourage in recent years, and its introduction should help further the momentum emerging in the north of England.

“Our ambition is to act, in partnership with the founding universities, as a powerful catalyst for innovation to help drive a new era of commercial success across the North.”

Johnson 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.

“Jim and I will be working closely together to grow Northern Gritstone’s origination platform and build on our long-term partnerships with the Founding Universities to deliver the latent potential that so evidently exists.

“The current strong pipeline of academic spin-outs provides a unique opportunity for investors to support and participate in the substantial growth of IP rich companies in the North.”

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 in a joint statement: “We are excited to have created Northern Gritstone.

“The investment it is attracting will transform our capacity to develop – at pace – our pipeline of excellent spin-out opportunities for the benefit of the Northern Powerhouse economy.

“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.”