Professor Peter Smith is advancing the University of Southampton’s global presence after more than two decades directing world-leading research in Physical Sciences and Engineering. He serves as an Associate Pro Vice-Chancellor International for the institution and manages a busy research schedule in the Optoelectronics Research Centre (ORC). Peter is a passionate advocate of University spinouts, having founded two of his own companies during his academic career.
He was raised in Croydon, London, and attended the University of Oxford. After completing a PhD in Atomic Physics, he spent a year in the City of London broadening his financial experience as a Management Consultant at Natwest. “It was really good training as I learned a lot about corporate finance which has been useful to me since,” he says. “l missed doing science though and moved to Southampton to work on a postdoc with Professor Rob Eason [an academic whose commercial applications in portable medical tests feature in Future Worlds’ Discover section].”
Peter’s academic research has covered the breadth of the Faculty since his arrival in 1993. In the years after establishing his first research group in 1997, his brief has changed several times and ranged from developing applications in telecoms to his latest explorations of quantum technology. Peter is an active researcher in optical waveguides and fabrication, with particular interests in planar Bragg gratings and nonlinear optical materials.
Peter served as an Associate Dean for Enterprise and has spun out two successful companies from the ORC. The first, Stratophase Ltd, was formed in 2003 and develops patented hardware and software for the biotechnology industry. Covesion Ltd followed in 2009, and has become a leading manufacturer of nonlinear optical materials. “I get a real buzz out of seeing science and technology getting used,” Peter says. “Spinouts are really exciting. They take a huge amount of attention and energy but are something l would recommend any academic should look at doing. They come with a number of challenges but I think it’s really important that University research makes an economic impact.”
Since August 2015, Peter has supported the University’s wider agenda as Associate Pro Vice-Chancellor International. “We live in a global world,” he says. “Our students are going on to work in multinational companies and our world class research has international reach. We have to collaborate around the world and it’s exciting to be working on the University’s internationalisation. We want everyone in the world to know how good we are and form lasting partnerships.”
Peter is available to advise academics seeking to develop the impact of their research. “There are two areas where I can contribute most,” he says. “I have a good track record with spinouts and would be very happy to support new business ideas. I am also well placed with the University’s international links and can advise on who we can be engaging with there.” You can get in touch with Peter using the contact form on this page.
Peter challenges his colleagues to be daring with their business ventures. “One thing l would tell my younger self would be to take more risks,” he says. “I think it is very important commercially to get out there and give technology a chance to fail quickly. One of the big lessons l’ve learned from my spinouts is that you have got to really think about your market as much as your technology. l think l am much wiser in that now.
“It’s also really important that researchers think about the value of their intellectual property and how they can protect it. You need to have patents because your investors will want to see something tangible.”
Peter wants to help build an entrepreneurial culture in the University through Future Worlds. “When l heard what Reuben [Wilcock] and his team were doing, l was excited and wanted to learn more,” he adds. “What is really powerful with Future Worlds is its network. We have got some fantastic alumni out there and connecting them with our staff and students is creating an excellent entrepreneurial eco-system.”