Like most industries, UK science parks have witnessed substantial changes in recent years. Long regarded as a world-leader in science and technology, a lot has changed in the UK science and tech sector since 1970, when the first science park opened in Cambridge and the university academics and local consultancy firms established the first knowledge economy digital and life science businesses. Phil Kemp, Chief Executive – Bruntwood SciTech, looks at these changes and discusses what the future holds for the sector.
Anyone around in 1970 will attest that the UK has since changed beyond recognition. The same is true for many of the country’s industries, not least its science and technology sector.
Science parks were established 50 years ago, often by local universities to support the sharing of knowledge between industry, academia and government, The first UK science park launched in Cambridge, followed a decade later when other universities like Heriot Watt, Aston and Manchester Universities established their parks. As the years passed large tech, pharma and more latterly, property companies started to take stakes in science parks and shape their future.
There’s more than 100 science parks now across the UK and their role as centres for the translation of innovation into commercial products and services is as crucial as ever and shows little sign of changing.
The default setting for most science parks over the past half century has largely been ‘out of town’, but we’re seeing that trend shifting, and with it, increased momentum towards the innovation district model made famous by the likes of Kendall Square in Boston. More cities with world-leading universities are recognising the need to attract talent to drive the local economy. Excellence in research, but equally, recognising the importance of proximity to and collaboration with the private sector to achieve success is being given a bigger focus. It’s in these types of environments that science and tech businesses want to base themselves.
However, it’s not enough for science parks to just be physical locations providing world-class infrastructure and facilities. We need to support science and tech businesses to form, scale and grow, more so now than ever before. The Scale-up Institute’s Scale Up Report, outlines the five pillars to successful growth with Infrastructure being just one of these; the others being talent and skills, leadership capability, access to markets, and finance. In our annual impact survey with over 500 science and technology businesses from across the Bruntwood SciTech portfolio, over 60% said they have access to the infrastructure and skills that their business needs. Mentoring, access to universities and the NHS, marketing & PR support, and access to professional advisors were all identified by companies as having the potential to provide the biggest benefit to their business.
So what else can we do? We need to create the conditions for collaboration – physically and virtually. The current coronavirus crisis has illustrated what can be achieved when companies from different industries and areas of expertise come together and willingly pool knowledge, skills, talent and resources. In Manchester, two Bruntwood SciTech based customers, global diagnostics company QIAGEN and Affinity Biomarker Services are collaborating with the University of Manchester on a combined biomarker translation service, whilst a rapid response research group has also been set up which brings the top clinical and academic minds together from The University of Manchester, Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust and the Northern Care Alliance NHS Group to find new treatments, understand disease mechanisms, and incorporate data science modelling to tackle COVID-19. It’s through focussing on building sector-specialist clusters that we can foster collaboration and avoid cannibalisation. It’s crucial that as providers of specialist space to the sector that we do this; as we see a shift in ownership models driving consolidation and rationalisation into a smaller number of providers.
The government outlined in its Industrial Strategy the importance of the science and technology sector to the economy and as the UK’s leading property company dedicated to driving the growth of the science and technology sector, Bruntwood SciTech has a responsibility to help it succeed. Bruntwood SciTech’s network of innovation districts is a direct response to support UK cities in unlocking the potential of science and tech assets; working in partnership with local authorities, universities and NHS trusts to create jobs, fuel innovation and increase GVA. We’ve been immensely proud to develop the Lighthouse Lab at Alderley Park working in partnership with the Medicines Discovery Catapult to establish one of the UK government’s three new diagnostic testing centres in support of the fight against COVID-19. Phase 1, built in just three weeks facilitates the testing of 15,000 samples per day, whilst Phase 2 due for completion at the end of the month will provide capacity for the testing of a further 50,000 samples per day, supporting the achievement of the government’s target of testing 100,000 samples per day and most importantly helping to get key NHS workers back on the front line.
It’s this ambition and passion for the sector that led Bruntwood SciTech to join UKSPA and if the last 50 years in our science and technology industry are anything to go by, then the next 50 years look set to be an exciting place to be.
For more information about Bruntwood SciTech and its network of innovation districts, visit bruntwood.co.uk/scitech