The UK Science Parks Association is dedicated to raising the standards of science parks provision through an inclusive membership policy and improvement of membership services, ensuring that the brand of Science Parks in the UK is maintained as a distinct property and business development offering, not just a real-estate initiative
Science Parks are also known as Research Parks, Technology Parks, Technology Centres, Technopoles, Innovation Centres, Technology-based Incubators and Bio-Incubators. It is possible to name a property development a ?science park? even if there is no technology transfer or support for tenants. The UK Science Parks Association?s (UKSPA) role is to support the maintenance of high standards of science parks provision in the UK through initiatives for members that help them to develop their knowledge and understanding, grow their networks and share good practice.
UKSPA aims to raise the standards of science parks provision through an inclusive membership policy and improvement of membership services to ensure that the brand of science parks in the UK is maintained as a distinct property and business development offering, not just a real-estate initiative.
Innovation locations supporting high-tech companies such as Science Parks and Incubators offer a specialist product to high-tech companies. From a property perspective, the fact that the market is specialist has meant that property companies in the 1980s and 1990s had to make a positive choice to invest time and money to developing knowledge of the sector. Those companies who, for whatever reasons, chose to invest, are key stakeholders and key players in the science parks movement today. The majority of these companies are members of UK Science Parks Association.
However, the story did not start with property, but rather with the process of ?commercialisation?, whereby a discovery made through research can, given the right business advice, be developed into a start-up company able, over time, to generate income from the commercialisation of the idea. 1986 was the year when universities were given ownership of the intellectual property generated within their institutions. As companies began to spin out of universities and the private sector, it became obvious that there was a need for physical space to support them.
SCIENCE PARKS FACTS AND FIGURES
The public sector, in the form of Local Authorities, Regional Development Agencies and Devolved Administrations, initially viewed science parks developments as property developments. Public-sector funds have been invested in capital build in an effort to provide the facilities required to retain or grow commercial activity within a particular region. By the turn of the century, the public sector recognised that this was not enough and so incubation policies were created that recognised the value of an incubation support process. The debate over the value of a ?process? strategy over a ?property? strategy ensued. Would a focus on process rather than property be the answer?
Analysis has shown that a focus on process alone was not sufficient. A new strategy merging the two elements of property and process has already emerged and hopefully will be increasingly evident in RDA and Devolved Administration enterprise and innovation strategies in the coming years. Science parks continue to recognise the value of support mechanisms for their tenant companies and also regard the presence of an incubator service as a way to attract new companies to the area.
At the same time, it has become clear that successful incubator tenants require grow-on space. So what was once a clash of ?property? versus ?process? is now emerging as a new era of property-process-economic development-partnership.
In the 1990s, partnerships between universities, the private sector and the public sector were rare and, where they existed, they were not necessarily effective. Today, many science parks are made up of partners from all three key sectors, all bringing their skills and agendas to the table.
Analysis of the formative years of partnership working in the sector revealed that there was a need for improved communications between partners by recognising the occurrence of miscommunication resulting from the differing cultures and expectations of the three sectors. Many of UK Science Parks Association?s Business Affiliates involved in science parks developments start with partnership development work, which in their view is critical. Given the right property, partnership and process, how should the product be managed to best effect? It was during the first half of the ?noughties? that the results of many different and disparate analyses started to reveal some of the critical success factors.
This is the beginning of a new stage in the science parks evolution and UKSPA?s role is to support its members who are operating in this arena and are beginning to benefit from these new insights and developments.
Recently, there has been much comment and debate regarding ?third generation? science parks. ?Third Generation? (3G) science parks are recognised as an integral part of the infrastructure that supports the growth of regional research-intensive clusters (RICs). The extent of the impact of science parks on their regional knowledge economy is governed by factors outside their control, such as the calibre of research in their local university, the attractiveness of their city or region to the most talented people, the availability of risk capital throughout the lifecycle of technology-based businesses and the efficiency of local networks connecting players in the triple helix of business, academia and public sector.
In short, building science parks in a region won?t necessarily guarantee the emergence of a RIC, but it?s quite difficult to identify one that doesn?t have successful science parks. The most obvious contribution of science parks to the innovation system is physical ? science parks provide a variety of often specialised accommodation on flexible terms. Certainly in the initial stages of cluster development, private developers won?t take the risk of building speculative laboratories or data centres for an unproven market. Even in more mature markets, there need to be innovative public/private sector partnerships to fund the provision of innovative facilities to small companies with limited cash and a short trading history.
In some cases, shared technical resources can be provided to all tenants by science parks. Examples of this include expensive software development platform technology, clean rooms or sophisticated testing equipment.
At the opposite end of the scale, the UK government is supporting the development of science parks around Daresbury and Harwell, recognising that major national science facilities should be accessible to high-tech firms ? start-ups can?t afford their own synchrotron.
A less tangible but equally important contribution by science parks is often one of image and brand. The global competition between regions for talented people and innovative firms is fierce, and successful science parks bestows an added advantage to a region that is trying to develop its knowledge economy through foreign direct investment. The image of science parks can also act as an attractor to talented individuals whose concerns are not just the first job offer but subsequent ones for them and their partners. A third area where 3G science parks play a role in the innovation system is in acting as a focus and stimulus for the multiplicity of networks that are integral to their success.
Sometimes described as ?optimising serendipity?, management of science parks involves creating opportunities for interaction between the key players ? entrepreneurs, academics and investors. This may be achieved through social or professional events organised by and held on the science parks premises but it is also a guiding principle in building design ? using the space of science parks to encourage innovation.
So, today?s science parks and technology-based incubators are critical ingredients for a successful ?knowledge-based economy?. Science parks provide:
As to the future of science parks, well, nothing is certain. The economy has begun to ease out of a recession where capital was increasingly difficult to access as financial institutions attempt to recover from poor lending decisions in the property sector. We have no real feel for the extent or nature of this economic downturn, and at the time of writing there is still speculation about the shape of this downturn, and whether or not economic recovery will be a very different shaped curve according to where you are in the world.
SUPPORTING COMMERCIALISATION ?SCIENCE PARKS AND INCUBATORS
But one thing is clear ? investors of any nature will be looking very carefully at their returns from their investment in the property sector, which is why I am delighted to report that UK Science Parks Association are currently looking at a project that will create a new asset class for science parks, so that over time we can prove to the world that technology incubators and science parks are an excellent investment proposition.
Today, there is no better place than science parks to locate a firm wishing to undertake research or develop a new technology, and UK Science Parks Association members are seen to be providing the safest environment in the country for this type of firm.
For more information, contact Paul Wright:
Added the 27 April 2010 in category Innovation UK Vol6-1