The Radcliffe Camera, Oxford

Patrick Pichette, ex-Chief Financial Officer (CFO) of Google has quit as chairman of Oxford University’s £600m spin-out fund, as announced on Companies House earlier this week.

Pichette’s resignation as chairman of Oxford Sciences Innovation (OSI) comes only six months after his appointment, and weeks after the departure of the CEO. OSI’s CEO Charles Conn left the company in November, amid claims of a “bitter boardroom feud”, as reported in The Telegraph.

Conn is the former warden and global CEO of Rhodes House and the Rhodes Trust. He read PPE at Balliol as a Rhodes Scholar, and was responsible for administering the Rhodes Scholarship from 2013 to 2018.

What you need to know:

  • Chairman and CEO quit Oxford spin-out fund
  • Fund has £600m of firepower, the largest of any university
  • Sources say that there has been “internal wrangling” over strategy for months
  • Fund invests in deep science and tech companies
  • Invests in companies founded by Oxford University academics

OSI is Britain’s largest and wealthiest university spin-out fund, with £600m at its disposal to invest in Oxford’s deep science and tech. When an Oxford academic sets up a company, or “spin-out”, the university takes a 50 percent stake. Half of that stake is given to OSI, in which Oxford University has a non-dilutable stake.

Oxford produced 62 spin-out companies in the years 2007-2016, ahead of Cambridge’s 46. OSI has 46 active companies listed at the time of publication.

During Pichette’s six month tenure, OSI has been subject to criticism and scrutiny over the emergence of Chinese tech giant Huawei as an investor. The Huawei funding, which closed last year, came in before Oxford University chose to cut ties to Huawei due to a political backlash

Sources say that there had been months of “internal wrangling over strategy”, linked to the emergence of a new largest shareholder, Braavos Capital. Braavos is backed by South Africa’s richest woman, Magda Wierzycka.

The fund, which first took a stake in 2015, has grown its holding rapidly over the past few months by buying up shares from Neil Woodford, who sold his £55m stake in OSI shortly before the suspension of his flagship fund last year, Invesco and IP Group.

Chris Chambers, an OSI board member, has taken over as chairman, but Pichette is still expected to be active in the Oxford start-up scene. He is the founder of the Oxford Creative Destruction Lab, set up to encourage academics into the commercial lab, and is thought to still be meeting with OSI portfolio companies.

Lois Heslop

Lois Heslop is the co-founder of The Oxford Blue and was Editor-in-Chief for HT20 and TT20. She is in her second year studying Physics at Lady Margaret Hall, and hails from South London. Her other interests include classical music and opera, and she is currently a choral scholar.