The cases of two university spin-outs in the UK in the field of ionic liquids (ILs) provide further insights into launching a science-driven startup in a rather well-defined competitive situation referring to the German startup cases of Solvent Innovation and IoLiTec. This allows implicitly also a certain comparison between technology entrepreneurship in the UK and Germany.
Bioniqs Ltd. provided designs of ionic liquids (ILs) and developed proprietary (ILs) which aimed to facilitate and improve bio-chemical and bio-catalytic processes in industry, particularly in the chemical, pharmaceutical, paper and textile sectors.
It was founded by Adam Walker who did his Master degree and then PhD project with Neil Bruce, then Chair of Biotechnology at the Centre for Novel Agricultural Products (CNAP) at the University of York (UK).
Walker had to master a steep learning curve for the transition from science into business and coping with a rapid shift in roles and growing a company quite literally from scratch and pushing new technology into almost non-existing markets.
Bioniqs was a “late entrant” into the field and inquiring into its final bankruptcy illustrates typical failures of a university spin-out to turn a curiosity-driven research endeavor into a healthy business – relying on perceived potential or unexpected commercial opportunities without a clear identification and focus on its major markets and executing related market entry or, at least, convincing demonstrations.
Scionix. Ltd. now produces ionic liquids on a ton scale, primarily for use with metal finishing applications, such as metal deposition and electropolishing (electrochemical applications).
It operates as a private-public partnership (PPP) and is a joint venture between the University of Leicester and Genacys Ltd. (a wholly owned subsidiary of the Whyte Group Ltd.).
On the side of the university in a context of Green Chemistry Andrew Abbott, Professor of Physical Chemistry at the University of Leicester, and his colleague David Davies founded Scionix together with Genacys and Prof. Abbott became simultaneously Research Director of the startup.
The fundamentals of its promising business model refer to the fact that it uses a starting material for its ILs which is produced on an Mton scale (low price!) and environmental (“green”) orientation. Scionix focuses on replacing metal-related industrial processes, such as chromium plating, which are subjected to wide-ranging environmental legislation in Europe and the US to reduce their uses.
However, due to the specific realities of the metal plating and treating industry and markets, Scionix is slow to develop.