Much of the innovative work on the University of Birmingham campus goes on behind closed doors.  But the support given to academic enterprise by University of Birmingham Enterprise is visible when you look a little closer …..


Visitors to campus could be forgiven for missing a white box attached to a lamp-post near Old Joe.

This anonymous box contained a sensor that could measure the surface temperature of the road they were pointed at, and was continuously transmitting data back to a computer in Lee Chapman’s office in the School of Geography Earth & Environmental Sciences.

This single sensor was the prototype for the Wintersense road surface temperature measurement technology.  On its own, the small, lightweight box provides a pinpoint measurement of the road surface temperature at that location.  But networked to other sensors, it provides a highly granular picture of road surface conditions which can be used to direct gritting lorries towards areas of need, and traffic away from potential accident black spots.  

Lee investigated the possibilities for commercialisation through an Operating Division, which is a unique service created by University of Birmingham Enterprise Ltd.  Using the existing “back office” and legal structure of University of Birmingham Enterprise Ltd, we create a ready to trade “shop front” so academic innovators can quickly seize the moment when they find an appropriate customer, commercial partner or knowledge transfer opportunity. 

The Operating Division, called Altasense, allowed Lee to explore the market and conduct tests in locations that were further afield. 

Fast forward three years, and Wintersense has been licensed to global environmental monitoring company Campbell Scientific, who are now putting the product forward into a commercial system offering that can be supplied across the world. 

Altasense continues to trade and is currently developing further technologies for monitoring railway track conditions.

Michabo Health Science

Pollutants, pesticides and other chemicals that can cause harm are all around us – and the demand for testing services that will measure environmental and human hazards has increased hugely in recent years. 

Mark Viant from the School of Biosciences works at the intersection of chemistry, biology and data science.  His expertise is finding new ways of testing the effects that chemicals used in our everyday lives have on us, and our environments. 

With advice from University of Birmingham Enterprise, Mark has done a lot of consultancy with industry and European regulatory bodies, advising on how molecular technologies can reduce uncertainty in hazard assessment, and leads Phenome Centre Birmingham, which provides a collaborative service in metabolomics to scientists who work in industry, the public sector, and academic research. 

Mark, with colleagues John Colbourne and Ben Brown, have now set up an Operating Division called Michabo Health Science, named after Michabo - a mythical figure from the Anishinabek Nation in Canada, who recreates the world and restores its health. 

And while this may not be highly visible on campus, the enterprise has made waves in the world of commerce.  Michabo now provides precision toxicology testing services to companies and to EU regulators. 

If you’d like to discuss setting up an Operating Division, contact Simon Freeman, Head of Academic Consultancy Services,   

The BioHub

The need for a Birmingham-based biomedical innovation hub was highlighted in a 2011 report authored by Medilink, which provides specialised support to life science companies in the UK. 

The report had been commissioned following a seismic shift in healthcare innovation:  the abolition of the Regional Development Agencies meant that local support for entrepreneurial activity had reduced, and pharmaceutical companies were building links with academic centres of excellence. 

The University needed a “launchpad” for medical innovators who needed a commercial laboratory environment to take their ideas to market.  Using their knowledge of the UK life science and enterprise scene, University of Birmingham Enterprise found funding and the BioHub was built to deliver this.  Since opening in 2015, it has filled to capacity and developed a further floor of space to house medical innovators and University spinouts. 

For further information about the BioHub visit