Picture L-R, David Grindrod, Mark Tock and David Rowe

As the University of Warwick Science Park celebrates its 40th anniversary this year, it has a successful history to look back on.

It has come a long way since its relatively humble beginnings, with a myriad of cutting-edge companies having been through its doors and several expansions up to the present day.

We look back at the success of the park through the eyes of founding Director David Rowe and his late successor David Grindrod, while current COO Mark Tock looks ahead to the next 40 years.

The University of Warwick Science Park’s reputation as a hot-bed for innovative companies began in the 1980s, at a time of rapid growth in the private sector and high demand for innovative ideas.

It was established in 1982 by the University of Warwick’s Vice-Chancellor at the time, Lord Butterworth, as a joint venture between the university, Coventry City Council, Warwickshire County Council, and the-then West Midlands Enterprise Board.

It was founded as a way of encouraging innovation in the private sector within the Midlands by having access to the University of Warwick’s resources and talent, while fostering a community of forward-thinking businesses.

Officially opened by former Prime Minister Rt hon Margaret Thatcher MP in 1984 when it only had a handful of tenants, the Science Park’s growth was overseen by its original director, David Rowe, who would head up its operations for almost 30 years.

David was responsible for helping businesses develop and grow while based at the Science Park, and not be afraid to take risks on cutting-edge, yet unproven business ideas.

In the 1980s, Coventry and the Midlands’ reputation as the automotive centre of UK drove innovation in associated technologies, such as CAD/CAM computer design for OEMs, and the growing influence of computers meant there were plenty of businesses springing up to cater to the industry, such as microprocessor manufacturers.

These businesses were among the first ever tenants at the Science Park, and as technology changed, so did the tenants.

In the 1990s, the Science Park began to attract more companies in telecoms as the Internet began to become a fixture in modern life, while more and more companies in e-commerce came in throughout the 2000s as broadband became the norm rather than the exception.

Throughout this time, one constant remained. David was always keen to try and help its tenants turn a great idea into a successful business.

Key to this was the Science Park’s focus on not only innovation, but incubation and business support.

It provided small office space at a very attractive rate compared to market values, and offered tenants a chance to expand within the Science Park instead of having to move away.

Dedicated business support programmes were also made accessible to tenants, who may have had very innovative ideas but may not have known about the basics of bookkeeping, investment, or marketing.

This offering lessened the risk for small, ambitious companies looking for their first base, and meant hundreds came to the Science Park throughout its existence.

David’s incredible work in growing the Science Park and nurturing new business was recognised in 2006 when he was given the Queen’s Award for Enterprise Promotion – Lifetime Achievement.

Upon retirement in 2011, David Rowe had helped grow the Science Park from the Venture Centre to a multi-site enterprise with several new buildings off Sir William Lyons Road next to the University of Warwick campus, innovation centres at Binley in Coventry, Gallows Hill in Warwick, and Blythe Valley Park near Solihull.

At the time, David said: “The University of Warwick Science Park has put into place a whole host of facilities and programmes that make it easier for business to grow.

“And our record in the region certainly suggests that it is working.”

He was succeeded by the late David Grindrod, who continued David Rowe’s 29 years of success despite the challenges of a pandemic deep into his tenure.

In a previous interview when talking about the future of the Science Park during the pandemic, David Grindrod was prescient about the challenges and opportunities facing it.

He said: “We are 42 acres and 20 plus buildings that were mainly built in the 1980s and 1990s, so we will see them adapt to the future needs of innovative tech-based businesses.

“These businesses will evolve and develop to be more flexible, agile and more sustainable, driven by the 2030 and 2050 climate goals.

“Working practices are changing faster than ever. I don’t think the pandemic has introduced many new things, but it has accelerated trends that were already developing momentum.

“The work-travel and work-life balance were in train but, certainly, the reaction to the pandemic has accelerated them enormously. Those companies that were addressing the changes were well placed to adapt when lockdown happened, and I think many managed the switch relatively smoothly.

“Longer term I think companies will still require a central location. They might not need as much space, and how they utilise the space will be different, but there will still be a requirement.”

Following heavy disruption from the pandemic and the passing of David Grindrod, Mark Tock took over the running of the Science Park and is leading it into a new future as its COO.

“Considering the challenges faced by the Science Park in recent years with Covid and falling commercial occupancy across the UK, it’s in a great place in its 40th year,” he said.

“Since I took over 18 months ago, it’s been a real whirlwind. Occupancy across our sites has increased markedly, we’ve seen the number of companies here grow, while many of our current tenants have been able to expand into further space.

“Our tenants are working on incredible things, whether that’s advanced battery technology for EVs, cutting-edge medical tests for humans and plants, devices for animal health, and suppliers to some of the most incredible projects in the world like the Large Hadron Collider at CERN.

“Not only that, our support programmes such as Ignite for start-ups, Minerva for business angel investment, and Business Ready for ongoing, tailored advice, are making tangible differences to so many innovative companies looking to move forward.”

Mark is also looking at the Science Park’s own carbon footprint and how it can be even more attractive to future tenants.

“Sustainability and decarbonisation are very much on our agenda over the next five to ten years,” he added.

“We have a number of tenants based here working in those sectors, and there is something to be said for us looking within our community for solutions to improve our environmental footprint as well.

“Not only that, we want to make the Science Park as vibrant and welcoming as it can be to not only the people who work here, but for those working or studying at the University to increase that collaboration even more.”

While Mark is focussed on the future, there is no doubt that the original values of the Science Park remain.

“We are here to help start-up businesses with a truly great idea, companies looking to scale, and corporates looking to innovate by engaging with University of Warwick research and talent. It’s especially rewarding when companies join us early, grow within the Science Park, and eventually outgrow the available space.

“The flexibility and the tailored expertise we offer has always set us apart from commercial space providers, and this is something we will continue to offer in the years ahead.

“It’s fantastic to be celebrating 40 years of the Science Park, and I’m hopeful of another bright 40 years ahead of us.”