HOLIDAY makers passing through airports this summer will expect to have their luggage checked.

But few will realise the firm behind the device which scans liquids and gels is based in Harwell.

Cobalt Light Systems was snapped up by US technology giant Agilent for £40m last month.

It is the latest in a long line of successful science-based Oxfordshire start-ups.

But its invention might never have made it from the lab bench to the real world, if it hadn’t been helped by Harwell Campus-based Rainbow Seed Fund.

Set up to help British scientists and academics commercialise inventions, the fund uses government cash to support fledgling firms and ideas.

Eight of the 40 firms Rainbow has put money into are based in Oxfordshire.

These include Milton Park-based Tokamak Energy, which is developing a nuclear fusion reactor to produce ‘clean’ energy the same way as the Sun and Oxford Space Systems, which makes parts for satellites,

Others are OxSensis, Cytox; Mirico, Keit and The Electrospinning Company.

Cobalt Light Systems is Rainbow Seed Fund’s first big success.

It began investing in 2007 and 10 years later has made 10 times its money.

Rainbow investment director Dr Andrew Muir said: “We invested before the company was even formed, when it was just an idea.”

“They had some ideas about using their technology to look at identifying counterfeit whisky but we didn’t like that so much.

“They also had the idea to look at packaged pharmaceuticals and funded early experiments to see if the technology was up to it.”

“That went on to be the mainstay of revenues for the first few years.”

Rainbow is backed by the Department for Business, Energy, Industrial Strategy and works other public bodies including the Science and Technology Facilities Council, the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory and Public Health England.

The profits made from Cobalt and others are reinvested into starting up new companies.

A major aim is to support promising ideas and technologies to the point where they will be picked up by private investors.

Based on £10m injected across its portfolio, the Rainbow firms have gone on to raise more than £250m from private investors.

Research found 70 per cent of companies backed by Rainbow would not have been started without that early cash injection.

Dr Muir pointed out: “We are very much a science-driven fund, so we look for really cool science.

“Cobalt was a dream team but they weren’t all there on day one.”