The Rainbow Seed Fund: Kickstarting Technology

RSF - Kickstart Technology

Creating a new technology company is an exciting time. It is an opportunity to get a new breakthrough to the market, meeting an unmet health need, improving the cost-effectiveness of manufacturing, or making energy cleaner and greener. However, getting a brand new technology from the bench to the bedside, or to the manufacturing shop floor, is an expensive process, and has a high risk of failure, and once the start up money has run out, it can be tough to get investment through ‘standard’ venture capital routes. This is where the UK-based Rainbow Seed Fund, with its objective to kick start promising UK technology companies, can help.


What is the Rainbow Seed Fund?

The Rainbow Seed Fund is a £24 million, early-stage venture capital fund. It was launched in May 2002, with an initial investment from the UK government of £4 million. The fund is backed by its publicly-funded research organisation partners (see text box) and the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS).


Rainbow Seed Fund Partners

  • Science and Technology Facilities Council at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory (STFC)
  • Porton Down Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl)
  • Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC)
  • Natural Environment Research Council (NERC)
  • Public Health England (PHE)
  • Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency (AHVLA)
  • National Physical Laboratory (NPL)
  • The James Hutton Institute
  • Culham Centre for Fusion Energy (CCFE)
  • Food and Environment Research Agency (FERA)

The Rainbow Seed Fund aims to bridge the so-called ‘Valley of Death’; the gap between a company getting start-up money and the point that it can sustain itself from selling products and services, or setting up licensing and collaboration agreements. Andrew Muir and Mark White at Midven independently manage the fund.


What Does the Fund Support?

The Rainbow Seed Fund invests across the UK, supporting small to medium enterprises (SMEs) developing tools, platforms and products from healthcare through agriculture to clean and green technologies. These companies have grown from research carried out at Rainbow Seed Fund’s partner research organisations, or are based at the partners’ campuses at Harwell (near Oxford), Babraham (Cambridge), Norwich and Daresbury (near Warrington).

The fund also invests in synthetic biology companies, supported by an additional, dedicated £10 million investment from the BBSRC (Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council).

Individual investments are between £25,000 and £500,000 over the lifetime of the company or project (generally over 3-8 years), for example supporting development of products to proof-of-concept stage. Since its foundation, from only £7 million of its own funds, the Rainbow Seed fund has leveraged over £150 million of private investment, supported over 30 start-ups (with two profitable exits), and created more than 255 technology-related jobs with £40 million of export sales.

Andrew Muir