Innovation blog: In the spirit of enterprise

Dr David Hardman

In the last Budget, the Chancellor announced several new Enterprise Zones (EZ) and extensions to existing Zones across the UK.

EZ are part of the government’s long term economic plan to support business growth and indeed a number of our members’ parks have either been designated as Enterprise Zones, or contain sites with such status.

The UKSPA Board has suggested to BIS that the EZ concept should be taken a step further, in order to pick up another key governmental objective of promoting innovation. It has been proposed that science parks as a whole should be designated as ‘Areas of Scientific and Technological Innovation’ (ASTI); they are, after all, generally targeted at stimulating the creation/attraction of many more innovative companies to contribute to UK plc.

The recommendations relate the same EZ concepts to science parks, but look specifically at scaling up and accelerating our proven models of business support with high economic impact. Science parks act as aggregating points; capturing and amplifying local strengths in order to secure economic growth and high quality jobs for the UK. The benefits that ASTI status could bring – linked to other initiatives supporting skills and investment – if applied across the UK’s science park movement, would rapidly deliver innovation-led economic growth.

This then is our ask to Government, along with a desire to see the true value of our innovation ecologies recognised and linked into current and new initiatives that play into the space we already successfully operate in. This would aid the integration of science parks into the local and regional economic growth strategies; something that has been lost during the reorganisation of the regional economic structures.

Our innovation ecologies also need to be complete to be able to address the vibrant, diverse, creative and commercial communities we support. Our communities are composed of people with ideas that are moulded into commercial concepts, which are delivered to the marketplace through commercial ventures. UKSPA has recently welcomed a significant number of new incubators into its membership - adding to the 23 that were already members. As such, we can now much more readily claim to encompass the complete innovation ecosystem.

Whilst I currently head-up an innovation campus that focuses on stimulating innovation by promoting cross-sector application of digital technologies, I was previously working in the life sciences sector. The bio-incubators are a highly successful component of the UK’s innovation ecosystem, but it is interesting to see how many of the successful bio-incubators have grown to such an extent that they are now more readily described as biotech/life sciences innovation campuses.

Perhaps this is a consequence of the need for critical mass to create sustainability. In other words, incubation as part of a larger activity is the route to commercial viability – oh… then they are components of science parks?! So, I am delighted that UKSPA now unites the two very different property plays, in recognition of the essentially holistic offering.

‘Holistic’ offerings brought about at single locations is though I feel becoming increasingly difficult; innovation opportunities may be stunted if we continue to create our ponds of activity. This is not to go against what I have said above, but it demands us to evolve our models further to join-up ponds to create lakes and oceans; to deliver ‘connected real estate’ and ‘connected geographies’.