This week marks the anniversary of my first year at Discovery Park – 12 months in which we have seen tenant numbers grow rapidly and we have welcomed an exciting mix of innovative start-ups and established names to our thriving community of life science, neuroscience and industrial biotech companies

It has been an invigorating start and we have come a long way in a short space of time, implementing the first stages of a five-year plan designed to exploit the potential of this unique site and create a campus where collaboration and cross-pollination of ideas and expertise are helping to drive innovation across a myriad of scientific areas. 

I joined Discovery Park in the midst of the pandemic, when the whole country looked to life sciences to provide a solution to the health emergency we found ourselves facing. The speed at which the sector responded attracted huge interest as well as a new wave of investment. Despite the threat of recession, life sciences is still seen as a fundamental pillar on the path to recovery, with’ innovation’ at the heart of the economic solution. The sector continues to thrive.  Last year we welcomed  53 new companies to Discovery Park, with a substantial number of science and technology companies in the mix. This shows little sign of slowing down in 2022.

Discovery Park is thriving on the long-term commitment of its investors. This has included a new visitor centre; extensive upgrades to the infrastructure of the site; an ongoing programme of sustainability improvements and £5 million for our 50,000 sq ft Incubator facility, where start-ups and young companies are finding the space and support they need to scale at speed.

Further commitment from our investors came with the launch of  Discovery Park Ventures, an early stage fund providing seed money for disruptive technologies – with ambitions to expand the fund from £1m to £25m in just three years. 

A particular highlight from the last year has for me been strengthening our relationships with academia. Through partnership agreements with Canterbury Christchurch University; the University of Kent and East Kent College, we are working to deliver the strong pipeline of talent that our tenants require as they continue to expand. But we’ve gone beyond skills to identify areas where we can collaborate and create a meaningful knowledge exchange economy and strategic projects to support the burgeoning science and technology cluster that’s growing on site.

On my very first visit to Discovery Park I was overwhelmed by the sheer size  of the park, but I recognised that its rural, coastal location made it a natural site for industrial biotech. With 220 acres and vast amounts of laboratory space, we can provide not just for R&D, but also manufacturing facilities. The site was designed for medicines manufacturing and the strength of its infrastructure has allowed us to attract innovative new tenants such as HyPoint (developing hydrogen fuel cells for aviation) and an £80M investment in vertical farming from Grow Up – enhancing  and accelerating our industrial biotech cluster. Joining the Scottish-based  Industrial Biotechnology Innovation Centre has allowed us to further foster connections throughout the Uk to benefit our tenant community.

Prior to the pandemic, 90% of all health data was captured in hospitals. Now 70% is collected through tech enabled healthcare devices. No wonder that a recent YouGov survey suggested that over two thirds of biotech businesses were collaborating (or planned to collaborate in the next year) with a tech partner. 

Innovation is being driven by convergence and we believe we have a unique opportunity to connect Discovery Park with the tech base hub around central London. I can’t wait to share the details of a partnership we’ve just agreed to further facilitate the joining of these communities and with the new high speed train link being expanded to Thanet, the journey time between them will soon be shortened to an hour.

Working with Innovate Uk, we’ve been able to explore the development of a neuroscience cluster on the Park. Mental Health and ageing are still largely unaddressed challenges as academic research in these areas is slow to translate. Later this year, we’re planning a unique two day event to support clinicians and academics in transposing good ideas into good businesses. Our new wet lab incubator will be able to further support early stage companies to further their scientific discoveries.

At the outset our three specialisms may have seemed like a random selection, but the overlap between science, technology and engineering is growing more evident every day. Innovation is happening at the interface between these disciplines.

Prior to the pandemic I don’t think that I would have thought it possible to commute between my home in Edinburgh and Discovery Park on Kent’s south coast. But the distance and the travelling has provided the precise combination of close focus and the space that I have needed  to help unlock the potential of this huge site.  On a personal level I’ve been able to challenge myself, pull upon the experience gained from my previous science park roles and build a whole new network in the South East. I particularly enjoyed the opportunity to take part in last year’s BIA Parliamentary Day, when I was able to spend time at the Houses of Parliament and champion the work of our sector.

I’ve been lucky to benefit from a supportive Chair and CEO, who’ve backed my decisions and strategic vision for growth and the support of my team to drive that ambition and support the growth of this sector, where so many important breakthroughs are being made.  I can’t wait to see where the next year takes us!

 Jane Kennedy is Chief Business Officer of Discovery Park