Innovation Districts: ‘’Geographic areas where leading-edge anchor institutions and companies cluster and connect with start-ups, business incubators and accelerators. These innovation hubs are physically compact, transit-accessible, and technically-wired and offer mixed-use housing, office, and retail.’’ – The Global Institute of Innovation Districts
Innovation districts have long been recognised as a way of reshaping and regenerating cities and towns, attracting talent, investment, creating high quality jobs and driving economic growth in the process. Amongst businesses working across different industries, there’s something to be said for providing areas where they can converge.
By creating environments where they can collaborate, share ideas and network, uncommon partnerships are often formed that drive innovation, especially within the science and tech sector where new ideas are constantly forming, tech is advancing, healthcare is improving and where collaboration sparks new investment and jobs.
So let us take you on a journey from Leeds to Cambridge, and everywhere in between, to delve into where these innovation hubs and districts are, why they’re so important and what’s happening within them…
The Yorkshire Region
Technology and innovation have a long heritage in Yorkshire. It’s a place where science and technology meets the creative arts, and where Rolls Royce, Boeing, McLaren, Nestle, Siemens and Channel 4 have all come to the region to take advantage of its large talent pool and fair rent prices.
The Leeds Innovation District brings together the Leeds NHS Trust, University of Leeds, Leeds Beckett University, Leeds College of Art, Leeds City Council and other key city partners to create a world-class hub for research and innovation across health, creative and digital, data, gaming and advanced infrastructure.
Centred on the city centre’s North West quadrant, where the main civic, education and health institutions are based, there’s a real focus on helping people to start and grow their businesses in Leeds. The city also has 10 Enterprise Zones with a contribution of £45million Growth Deal funding to provide high standard premises for expanding and new businesses in the region.
Add to that the fact that Leeds is one of the fastest growing UK cities, plus responsible for a digital sector which contributes £6.6bn to the economy, it’s no wonder so many innovative startups and entrepreneurs flock to the city. It’s unsurprising that the last 5 years alone have seen over £75million invested in Emerging Tech in Leeds.
The city’s support network offers everything from help and advice to startup loans and funding, with new partnerships being forged weekly under the shared ambition of growing innovation and businesses.
For example, in February 2021 Bruntwood SciTech and Leeds Beckett University announced a partnership to boost the long-term sustainability, growth and success of businesses in the region by helping startups and SMEs get access to academic consultancy, student and graduate work placements. On top of this, businesses can also get established expert business support services and mentoring provided by Leeds Beckett and Bruntwood SciTech over at Platform – the city’s dedicated tech hub and innovation centre that is already home to over 70 digital and tech businesses.
Leeds also has a growing reputation as the UK’s gaming hub and Big Data specialists. Over 27 gaming companies contribute more than £11m GVA to the economy, whilst organisations such as Data Mill North, the Open Data Institute and Leeds Institute for Data Analytics are harnessing the power of big data and opening up new opportunities to understand health and human behaviour and casting light on the action required to tackle a wide range of social and environmental problem.
With 126,000 companies generating a total GVA in excess of £69.6 million, the Leeds City Region and its busy innovation district is clearly an emerging global economic powerhouse to watch out for.
The North West Region
Innovations coming out of the North West have always stood out on a world stage, and one factor important to the region’s success is the amount of dedicated support available here for science and tech companies. From Alderley Park in Cheshire and Citylabs in Manchester through to Liverpool Science Park and Sensor City in Liverpool, businesses looking to grow need look no further than the North West.
Manchester has long been known for its world-leading discoveries and mancunian culture, so it is unsurprising that this city’s Innovation District is a global blueprint for cities across the world.
Stretching out south from St Peter’s Square in the city centre along the Oxford Road Corridor, Manchester’s Innovation District is home to the likes of Circle Square, Citylabs, Manchester Science Park, The University of Manchester, Manchester Metropolitan University, The Graphene Institute and Manchester Digital as well as cultural hotspots such as The Royal Northern College of Music, The Whitworth Art Gallery, Palace Theatre, Manchester Museum and HOME theatre (to name a few).
This innovation district alone is home to 63,000 workers, 70,000 students and a weekly footfall of 85,000 people – all together generating £3 billion GVA per annum.
If that wasn’t enough, more recently the announcement of ID Manchester, a partnership between The University of Manchester and Bruntwood SciTech, will deliver a new £1.5 million extension to the city’s already booming innovation district, located adjacent to Piccadilly Railway Station,
ID Manchester will be a place that supports national and international investment into science and technology, where valuable discoveries today, are tried, tested and developed into the technology, buildings and commerce of tomorrow. But what’s more, ID Manchester represents a bigger force in the region – collaboration.
ID Manchester will complement the likes of Citylabs – located on the largest clinical academic campus in Europe, Manchester Science Park – where world-leading scientists and tech businesses come together, and the recently completed £400 million Manchester Engineering Campus Development (MECD), which will be the largest home for engineering in any UK university.
These collaborative developments and unique collection of institutions and businesses makes Manchester one of Europe’s most important innovation ecosystems.
Knowledge Quarter Liverpool, is another important place in the North West that brings together the city region’s key partners to collaborate in a creative environment, with over £1bn of new developments currently underway.
Home to Liverpool Science Park and the newly opened £35m Spine, which will be home to the Royal College of Physicians, KQ Liverpool is home to a dense cluster of science, tech and healthcare businesses that contributes to the region’s high value knowledge-based economy and strengths in health, infection, medicine and engineering.
As with all powerful Innovation Districts, these places aren’t born out of chance. KQ Liverpool is a deliberate collaboration between Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, the University of Liverpool, Liverpool John Moores University, The Royal Liverpool and Broadgreen University Hospitals NHS Trust, Liverpool City Council, Liverpool Vision and The Hope Street Community Interest Company which all share the same vision in raising the ambition of the city, creating more opportunities and attracting more investment.
KQ Liverpool’s commercial spin-out, Sciontec Liverpool, collectively owned by Liverpool City Council, Liverpool John Moores University, the University of Liverpool, and Bruntwood SciTech further underpins a commitment to growing the region’s strengths in fighting infection and disease, digital health, personalised medicine, materials chemistry, robotics, big data and artificial intelligence.
The West Midlands Region
From automotive technology and digital media to edtech and coding, the West Midlands has been reinventing itself from an area of industrial towns to the place for diverse technology, a young and vibrant population and a range of growing sectors.
In a city ranked ‘startup capital’ for seven consecutive years with over 3000 tech businesses generating around £2billion for the local economy, and where more than 30 medical facilities and research institutions work on the next breakthroughs, Birmingham is leading the way when it comes to life sciences and digital technology.
Birmingham’s Knowledge Quarter is an area home to over 11 of the city’s world-leading academic, clinical and cultural institutions such as Aston University, Birmingham City University, Innovation Birmingham and the National College for Advanced Transport and Infrastructure.
This Innovation District signifies an important alliance to grow the city’s knowledge economy, creating a guiding force to orchestrate activities that promote knowledge gain, exchange and application which ensures entrepreneurs do not find themselves isolated or uncertain where to turn for support.
The Knowledge Quarter catalyses the translation of academic research from the universities, making access to research and development more readily available for commercial companies and attracting inward investment to the area.
The region is also currently piloting a new government programme to roll out 5G mobile networks, with ‘5PRING’ acting as the UK’s first 5G commercial innovation centre, launched as a partnership between WM5G, O2, Deloitte, Wayra and the Digital Catapult.
In the heart of the Knowledge Quarter is Bruntwood SciTech’s Innovation Birmingham Campus – the region’s home for digital tech which is home to over 150 disruptive digital and tech businesses.
Here, start-ups, scale ups and SMEs are connected to and co-located with large commercial and public sector partners such as the West Midlands Academic Health Science Network, Balfour Beatty, Bouygues and HS2, working in a challenge-led environment where market needs spark innovation requirements to create and deliver new products and services.
The recently announced development of Enterprise Wharf will provide an additional 120,000 sq ft of new workspace to the campus, supporting more inward investment into the region and providing space for large digital and tech businesses specialising in AI, VR, edtech, sporttech, fintech, legaltech and others.
On the other side of the city, the creation of the Birmingham Health Innovation Campus (BHIC) in Selly Oak, co-located with the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Biohub Birmingham, Birmingham Women’s and Children’s NHS Foundation Trust and University of Birmingham will provide a new focal point for connected healthcare technologies, bringing together leading experts in medical devices, data, genomics, diagnostics, healthcare technology development and evaluation and clinical trials and when complete will help to create an additional 10,000 jobs in the wider region.
The Oxford-Cambridge Arc
Part of the UK’s ‘Golden Triangle’ of economic growth and innovation, the Oxford-Cambridge Arc is a globally significant area between Oxford, Milton Keynes and Cambridge. The Arc already supports over two million jobs, adding over £110 billion to the economy every year, with specialisms in AI, advanced manufacturing and life sciences.
The East of England has played a central role in many discoveries and innovations that have helped to shape the modern world. In 1953, James Waton and Francis Crick at The University of Cambridge first established the 3D double helix structure of DNA. Since then, personalised medicine and genomics are a strong hold in the region, home to institutions such as the UK Stem Cell Bank, The Precision Medicine Catapult and Babraham life sciences campus.
The recent acquisition of Melbourn Science Park by Bruntwood SciTech signifies another exciting step forward for the region to develop a new masterplan for the 16.4 acre site, helping to establish the park as a leading science and technology cluster in Cambridge.
Located nine miles south of Cambridge city centre, Melbourn Science Park is already home to TTP, as well as companies including AstraZeneca, SPT Labtech, Cellular Highways and LEX Diagnostics.
The new strategic partnership will see Bruntwood SciTech and TTP, which has many years of experience of working in life sciences, combine forces to support the further growth and development of the Park and establish a new Innovation Services programme which will provide businesses here with additional access to venture capital, new markets, products and prototyping opportunities.
On the other side of the arc, Oxfordshire is also a city at the forefront of developments in precision medicine, drug discovery, medical devices and diagnostics.
Over 160 digital health companies and 430 stakeholder organisations across industry, academia, the National Health Service (NHS) and the third sector.
This region is a potential major growth cluster for developing and demonstrating high income, technology-based healthcare solutions. Therapeutics R&D is at the heart of Oxfordshire’s life science industry, supported by a group of world-class contract research and manufacturing organisations.
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