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Science Parks: The Importance of Science Parks in Growing our Knowledge-Based Economy

Science Parks will play a key role in attracting talent into our cities to create innovative new industries as a key part of the government’s strategy to grow our economy. An effective way for cities with universities to attract entrepreneurs in desirable science and tech industries is to provide affordable, high-quality space and the chance to work in close collaboration with both industry and academics to achieve success on a wider scale. In this blog, Procure Partnerships Phil Osborne explores why science and tech start-ups are increasingly looking to base themselves at Science Parks and the benefits they can expect to find when working in such a collaborative environment.

The History of Science Parks

The first Science Park opened in 1970 in Cambridge. Established by university academics and local consultancy firms, the concept was to facilitate the sharing of knowledge between industry, academia and government. 10 years later, other universities including Heriot-Watt, Aston, Manchester and Southampton Universities had also established their parks, reflecting the successes which had been achieved from knowledge-sharing and innovation.
At a Science Park (sometimes also known as a research park, technology park or innovation centre) businesses, start-ups and entrepreneurs in a range of science and tech fields can access purpose-built office spaces, laboratories, and meeting areas, all of which are designed to support research and to facilitate growth. Managed by specialist professionals who help stimulate and coordinate the flow of knowledge and technology amongst universities, R&D institutions, companies and markets, Science Parks has been proven to successfully convert innovative ideas into commercial products and services.

As these successes became clear, large tech, pharma and more recently, property companies began to take an interest and bought into Science Parks, and there are now more than 100 across the UK.

The Importance of Science Parks to the Local Economy

Science Parks are an effective way to stimulate a culture of innovation and to grow associated, knowledge-based businesses. The infrastructure creates an ecosystem of industry specialists who feed into a ‘knowledge economy’, which in turn attracts and supports world-class talent.

Science Parks were initially intended to support economically depressed regions and cities of the UK through regeneration, contributing to economic growth by attracting new businesses and start-ups and increasing their productivity.

This was a particularly appealing prospect to Local Authorities and Development Agencies, who saw the powerful regenerative possibilities of a Science Park via the companies they attract, the extended supply chain required, and the employment opportunities for local university graduates.

A thriving Science Park also requires additional services and amenities to meet the needs of many businesses, employees and students all in one place. The economic benefits extend to the local cafes, shops, gyms, childcare settings and accommodation providers, improving employment opportunities in the local area.
Growing a Knowledge-Based Economy.

To grow and compete on a global stage, there is a huge requirement for industry to access and apply knowledge and technology, and so encouraging new enterprise and innovation is essential. As a way to maintain economic growth, many cities are keen to expand their ‘knowledge-based’ businesses in fields such as bio-medicine, ICT or electronics. From their research into innovative technologies, these industries have the power to strengthen both economic and social development through more efficient methods of producing goods and services.

An evaluation of the economic contribution of UK science parks, commissioned by the UK Science Park Association (UKSPA) found that businesses benefitted extensively from location at a Science Park, growing faster than similar companies at other locations and launching significantly more new services. New technology-based firms based on Science Parks were also able to attract a greater proportion of qualified scientists and engineers than similar companies at other locations.

The support on offer from Science Parks helps to propel business start-ups forward. For example, Southampton Science Park provides intensive levels of support to new ventures via their Catalyst Programme, which equips business leaders with not only high-quality specialist facilities like pay-as-you go laboratories, but also with flexible leases and access to grants, funding and investment, enabling them to quickly scale up.
Due to the guaranteed availability of skilled resources, businesses are keen to be in the area and students in the science and tech fields are also attracted due to the tangible career opportunities. Creating a ‘centre of excellence’ in specific fields provides a mutually beneficial environment which allows both businesses and individuals to flourish. Maintaining a high-quality, collaborative environment to allow these knowledge-based businesses to thrive, will support the economy on both a local and a national level.

A Focus on Research, Innovation and Technology

In January 2017, the Government recognised the importance of improving economic growth by investing in science, research and innovation. The Industrial Strategy Green Paper detailed 10 ‘strategic pillars’, the first two of which directly address the promotion of science, technology and engineering, stating we must invest in these fields and develop the skills needed to help people and businesses to thrive in order to become a more innovative economy.
Technology-enabled innovation has the power to help us ‘work smarter’, transforming traditional processes to improve productivity and efficiency. Investing in a ‘future-proof’ economy is important to ensure the UK has the technology and knowledge required to compete in a global market and deal with some of our most pressing challenges.

The current COVID-19 crisis has illustrated the importance of working collaboratively and having these systems set up in advance to quickly enable companies from different industries and areas of expertise to come together and pool knowledge, skills, talent and resources. SciTech companies have worked extensively to help develop solutions in the pandemic, such as global diagnostics company QIAGEN and Affinity Biomarker Services who have collaborated with the University of Manchester on a combined biomarker translation service.

Science Parks Connect Universities with Industry

The benefits that Science Parks bring to business and the economy are clear, however, a Science Park also brings vital benefits to the affiliated university by providing a strong connection to the world of industry and commerce. These relationships provide a route to send their technology out into the world for the benefit of communities and in some cases as an investment which will gain a financial return.

Other benefits to a university of being involved with a Science Park, include contact with knowledge-based SMEs and a location for international companies who want to work closely with the university. While the modern university continues to have teaching and research as its primary missions, the Science Parks provide the opportunity to get involved with regional economic development issues, with a chance to effect change.
As we navigate through the pressing political, social and economic issues we are currently faced with, the government must find new ways to bolster the economy and stimulate growth, this is where Science Parks have a vital role to play.

“In the past ten years, we have witnessed the number of science and technology parks across Europe expand significantly. Localised clusters of public and private sector organisations generate new technologies, and when physical proximity concentrates innovation, the sharing of knowledge and ideas is accelerated. Due to these positive effects, the number of science parks in the UK has increased from just two in 1982 to over a hundred today. The UK is a world leader in research and development. This continued focus drives economic growth, increases productivity, and creates high-value industries, jobs and a skilled workforce. As a physical assets management and construction consultancy driven by innovation, Currie & Brown is passionate about the science and technology sector and is highly experienced in the successful development of science parks.” Chris Webb, Director, Currie & Brown

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