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The key ingredients to a successful science park
What a science park represents depends on the person you ask. To the tenants residing within, a science park is an area rich with knowledge, blooming with scientific research and innovation. To funding partners and investors, the ecosystem found within a thriving park only means one thing: stable tenants and the promise of success to all those invested. So, what exactly constitutes a science park? And what aspects does it include?
The first science park was established in 1951 at Stanford University – later evolving into Silicon Valley – and the concept has since spread to all four corners of the globe. Other renowned science parks include:
- Kendell Square – a mammoth zone in Boston in the US bursting with innovation.
- Trinity College – the first science park in Europe at Cambridge University, UK.
- Heidelberg Technology Park – the first science park to open in Germany in 1984.
They are often defined as specialist areas comprising multiple scientific and technology-driven businesses, usually in related disciplines. Although they are known by many different names, such as research park, technopole or life sciences and technology real estate (LSTRE) – which we believe is the best description – they share four main elements that ensure their success:
They are almost always established close to a university or research institution, ensuring a steady supply of specialised talent for recruitment. They also play a vital role in bridging science with business, supporting the transfer of knowledge from academia to industry. In fact, it has even been shown that start-ups close to a university or research centre generally have a higher number of – and more complex – innovations, and hold more patents.1 Therefore, the relationship between academia and industry is symbiotic: talent feeds innovation, and the promise of innovation attracts talent.
Science parks contain diverse spaces – from wet and dry laboratories to production warehouses, logistics areas, offices and showrooms – which are delivered by the specialists managing the facility. These spaces often have complex requirements, for example, a biosafety level 4 laboratory – where research poses a high risk to individuals and the environment – may need cascade airlocks, decontamination services for liquid and solid waste, and a dedicated air supply and ventilation. These dedicated, high quality spaces attract entrepreneurs and science and tech companies of all sizes – often from all over the globe – which, in turn, promotes regional economic prosperity.
Campus feeling, comprising a dominant industry or technology
Successful science parks are centred around one dominant industry, which then is complemented by a variety of additional services. This collaboration helps to nurture scientific and commercial activities, and gives the location the feeling of a university campus, where innovators can meet and exchange their ideas. The networking and collaboration occurring in these environments are crucial for enhancing operations and driving business success.
This beneficial ecosystem promotes long-term ‘sticky’ tenants, making them more inclined to stay longer than their signed leases. Furthermore, scientific and technology-driven businesses often require vast supply chains and logistics networks, as well as local and regional permits, making moving undesirable once established. Finally, the proximity to a university supplies specialised talent, which also make tenants ‘stick’ to a specific location.
Variety – the secret spice
These four ingredients are the driving factors behind a successful science park, but a dash of variety is also crucial to serving up an extraordinary location. Not so much in terms of the companies residing in a science park; one sector usually dominates, which encourages networking and collaboration between peers. Variety, in this sense, relates to the type of companies residing within, and it’s important to strike a balance between large, established corporations and smaller start-ups – and everything in between – to establish a fully-fledged, thriving ecosystem.
Finding personnel is often cited as the most challenging part of running a business, and this is only amplified in scientific industries, as companies often need everyone from microbiologists to commercial officers to operate. Therefore, having variety is important to attract individuals from all backgrounds, by offering a wide range of positions and opportunities. Some people prefer to work for large companies that offer a clear and stable career progression pathway, while others are drawn to small enterprises and start-ups for their increased responsibility and being there, in the trenches, when the next innovation is discovered.
Looking into the crystal ball…
Investment in scientific industries – life sciences, green technologies and digital transformation especially – has been on the rise for decades. The COVID-19 pandemic increased funding in these sectors massively, enabling scientists to make the breakthroughs needed to return to normality. And although this sudden – and enormous – input of capital has somewhat subsided, these industries continue to bloom, driven by the promise of the next scientific advancement. This makes the race to find dedicated space as tight as ever, which will drive both the development of new science parks and the expansion of existing ones. For the specialists managing LSTRE, applying the ingredients discussed here can help to ensure economic success and, importantly, assist the companies within to make their next breakthrough.
- Romijn, H, Albu, M. Innovation, Networking and Proximity: Lessons from Small High Technology Firms in the UK. Regional Studies, 2002;36(1) 81-86. 10.1080/00343400120099889
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