The pioneering sites from over 30 years ago have developed over the past three decades and have made - and continue to make - truly significant contributions to the UK economy.
UKSPA Chief Executive Paul Wright sheds light on a new dawn for the plethora of environments that support innovative firms in the UK...
A significant milestone will be reached in 2014 when the United Kingdom Science Park Association (UKSPA) celebrates the 30th anniversary of its formation. This provides an opportunity to reflect on the role that science parks, innovation centres and similar locations have played as aggregation points for technology entrepreneurs and start-ups, alongside growing and more mature tech businesses. More importantly, it allows us to reflect on what else is needed to enhance the unique role undertaken by the sector and its contribution to further economic growth in the UK.
Over 100 innovation environments are now showcased, spanning incubators, innovation centres, small and large science and research parks. These innovation ecologies provide facilities and services for around 3,500 companies, generating 70,000 high-value knowledge economy jobs. 75 per cent of these ventures employ fewer than 15 people, with nearly half of them focused on R&D; and new product design. Such innovative, dynamic and responsive ventures are a vital part of the lifeblood of the future economy.
Whilst the science park sector has historically largely been associated with universities, with 70 per cent still having direct or close linkages, we are now witnessing the emergence of sector focused locations – large public sector specialist facilities are opening up; innovation campuses associated with long-established Public Sector Research Establishments (PSREs) and private sector research campuses.
It is the combination of talent, technology and access to funding around a supportive, responsive and locally relevant infrastructure that drives success. High-cost specialist facilities will attract tenants that cannot support such facilities off their own balance sheets, but the draw for entrepreneurs is the culture of the location – the very fact that relocating to the site enhances their chances of delivering their commercial aspirations. This is about management; delivering to meet local business needs; actively understanding clients by being intimately engaged with local economies; understanding and building on legacy strengths and helping to create complete innovation ecologies, and as such, differentiating themselves from business parks.
There are, we hope, some signs of increasing awareness from government and others of the work to support local and national growth and why for this success to continue, location managers need to remain engaged with their local ecosystem.
There are also increasing signs of a trend towards consolidation in the sector. Such consolidation must not break the local supportive relationships that have been developed over many years; in the same way as a national innovation agenda requires local interpretation, so management of multiple sites must blend economies with local character.
Recognising that location specific requirements limit the value of normal benchmarking best practice standards, the ASPIRE excellence award has been launched, a framework providing innovation locations with an independent review of strategy and operation to identify the locations’ critical success factors.
It draws upon extensive good practice and experience to deliver opportunities for the future and recognition for the operation and impact of the location. Experienced ASPIRE reviewers engage with management to help identify strengths and weaknesses in offerings, but it is aimed at testing local assertions and practices and driving new and improved thinking.
It is hoped that the ASPIRE accreditation will help to lobby for further support and recognition for the science park movement.
The increasingly global nature of all sectors of the economy and, as a consequence, global connectivity, is an essential element of all knowledge-based locations, so it is encouraging to note the increasing number of national science park associations showing interest.
The focus is on securing government recognition of the importance of these locations. However, added strength can come from unifying the diversity of offerings through collaboration. The growth of the association over recent months has seen a dozen or more new members join, and these range from innovation centres, such as Bridge Innovation Centre in Pembroke, which aims to act as a diversifier for the economy of Pembrokeshire to provide a unique environment for innovation and business growth, through to significant regeneration projects like the business-east Science and Technology (BEST) development in East London – a groundbreaking regeneration project that will breathe new life into a site that is less than 10 miles from the centre of London.
The pioneering sites from 30 years ago have developed over the past three decades and have made – and continue to make – truly significant contributions to the UK economy. Surrey Research Park, for example, began construction in 1984 and there are now over 140 high technology companies operating successfully from over 65,000 square metres of office and laboratory space. The total turnover of these companies is in excess of £500m.
At the time of writing we appear to be on the cusp of a new dawn for the plethora of environments that support innovative firms in the UK, yet a fully committed support and recognition of our sector by the government still remains to be fully realised. The importance of work to accelerate economic recovery should not be underestimated, and at all costs we must continue to both protect the current level of support offered at various locations throughout the country, whilst also working to ensure the many changing dynamics within our sector are managed.
This is no easy task, and there is no doubt that the pace of change in the sector will produce both success and failure. We must ensure we continue to capture and share good practice and stimulate collaborative activity to ensure the UK continues to compete on the global stage.
United Kingdom Science Park Association (UKSPA)
[This article was originally published on 10th
June 2013 as part of Science Omega Review UK