Science and technology investor and business builder, Midlands Mindforge announces new Chief Executive Dr Lisa Smith and Chair Mike Rees

Date posted: June 28, 2023
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By working with university and local partners to identify and commercialise world class science, Midlands Mindforge will contribute to regional growth and advance the UK ambition of becoming a global “scientific superpower”.

Lisa is an award-winning investor, consultant for the Cambridge Institute for Sustainable Leadership and a Harvard MBA graduate. Over the course of her career, Lisa has been passionate about promoting sustainable business development, championing start-ups into growing and successful businesses while embedding inclusive and diverse leadership cultures across the organisations she has worked in. She has an established track record of success across these missions, having led teams at BTV, McKinsey and Unilever to enable effective business building and support inspiring entrepreneurs to fulfil the potential of their ideas.

As the organisation’s new Chair, Mike Rees will support Lisa in developing and implementing Midlands Mindforge’s vision of knitting together investors, researchers and spinouts into a network which will enable sustained business scaling, building on the excellence which already exists at a local level and unleashing the potential of the region.

Mike is the Deputy Chair of the Supervisory Board, and Chair of the Board Risk Committee at ING Bank, Chair of the board of Travelex and Chair of the Board of the Mauritius Africa Fintech Association. Until 2016, he was the Deputy Group Chief Executive Officer of Standard Chartered Bank. In 2019, Mike authored the 2019 UKRI report investigating how to strengthen university access to finance in a way that supports spinout company formation and university-investor relationships. He is also the Senior Independent Council Member at Research England.

Midlands Mindforge aims to build upon the existing incredible skills and talent base in the Midlands. It’s eight university partners – Aston, Birmingham, Cranfield, Keele, Leicester, Loughborough, Nottingham, and Warwick – already boast 126 active spinouts worth an estimated £1.1 billion. An essential aspect of Midlands Mindforge’s work will be focused on creating the conditions within which start-up and spinout businesses can scale and grow in the region. This will include addressing the funding deficit in the region – with the Midlands currently receiving only 5% of SME Equity Finance Deals despite being home to 15% of high-growth SME businesses – and creating a virtuous circle of more spinouts attracting more talent and more growth and employment opportunities in the Midlands. Midlands Mindforge will have at the heart of its Investment Strategy a focus on promoting environmental and social goods; its portfolio companies will need to meet at least one of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), ensuring it invests with impact and supports technology for good.

Commenting on her appointment, Chief Executive Dr Lisa Smith said: “I strongly believe that innovators come in all shapes in sizes, and it is only by tapping into 100% of the Midlands’ talent pool that we can turn the UK into a global scientific superpower. Through Midlands Mindforge, we want to leverage the incredible work already taking place in the region to create the conditions where local university spinout and start-up businesses can genuinely flourish. By helping to create a financial ecosystem which enables these entrepreneurs, we can help provide them with a platform from which they can showcase the Midlands’ talent to the world – and bring the world to the Midlands.

“The university partners we are working with have already shown an incredible commitment to work together to solve the underlying problem faced by spinouts and start-ups struggling to expand in the Midlands: a deficit of funding and financing opportunities. I am delighted to have the opportunity to work with these fantastic institutions, and our other partners in the region, to provide a growth platform for the world-class science and tech work taking place across the Midlands.”

Commenting on his appointment, Chair Mike Rees said: “Four years ago, I authored a report for UKRI on the reasons why we should be investing in the growth of university start-ups and spinouts and the incredible economic and academic opportunities which scaling these types of businesses can bring to regions and the country writ large. Building strength in places, through collaboration and innovation, has the potential to unlock economic growth and make reality the promise of equality of opportunity across the UK.

“Midlands Mindforge has already made remarkable progress in bringing together eight of the Midlands’s world-leading universities in a collaborative model which will harnesses the interdisciplinary and cross-cutting research strengths of these institutions. With such a fantastic research pedigree, industrial base and skills pipeline in the Midlands, I am excited to get to work with Lisa and our partners to make the most of the fantastic opportunities in the region.”

Minister for Investment, Lord Johnson, said: “We are determined to make the UK a tech and science superpower, so it’s imperative that we continue to grow and funnel investment and expertise towards the technologies of the future. Building on the progress of The Midlands Engine in rapidly becoming a world-class cluster of excellence and magnet for overseas investment, I wish the new CEO and Chair every success in ensuring that Midlands Mindforge plays a key role in backing world class tech.”

Professor Karen Holford, Chair of Midlands Innovation Board and Chief Executive and Vice-Chancellor of Cranfield University said:

“On behalf of the eight Midlands Innovation universities, and founding partners of Midlands Mindforge, I am delighted to welcome Chief Executive Dr Lisa Smith and Chair Mike Rees into post. I am confident with the breadth of experience, appetite for success and shared vision for the independent investment company, Midlands Mindforge will generate investment into the region’s research and innovation ecosystem.

“We are looking forward to working closely with Lisa and Mike to help scale-up research and enterprise activity in the Midlands, boost economic growth and help create highly-skilled jobs. Our university partnership has a strong track record collaborating on innovative research ideas that turn spinouts into successful businesses and these two new appointments to Midlands Mindforge will further support our vision to create opportunities in the Midlands for our people, place and partnership.”

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