Mix together different disciplines and technologies, theory goes, and the sparks of creativity and innovation will fly; but many science parks (like incubators) have been more like property companies than crucibles of alchemy. So I have been keen to explore the success of a new “science park”, the Daresbury Science and Innovation Campus, a Phoenix that has arisen over the last seven years out of a laboratory whose heart had been ripped out by the loss of a contract for the big new Synchrotron Radiation facility (evidence for another theory: that there is no opportunity like a crisis!) Does Daresbury work; and if so, why.
Daresbury Science and Innovation Campus is a new centre of innovation and enterprise with an interesting model ( – centres of excellence in three fields of science (accelerator science, computational science and sensor/detector technology) beside a large number of hi-tech small businesses, all glued together by an ethos of openness and collabor-ation); it can show excellent metrics of success, and just now is about to enter a more challenging but potentially yet more rewarding phase (ie attracting the interest of large corporates).
The campus and its several special components
The Daresbury Science and Innovation Campus might be described as a ‘third generation’ science park – it is an open and collaborative community of research and hi-tech businesses. Opened in 2005, it now houses four entities: theScience and Technology Facilities Council’s Daresbury Laboratory, formerly home to an earlier Synchrotron Radiation facility, the Cockcroft Institute of Accelerator Science and Technology, an Innovation Centre that houses nearly a hundred hi-tech small businesses, and a “grow-on” facility Vanguard House accommodating larger technology companies both from the Innovation Centre and off-campus. It has strong links with many UK universities and the local council.
The campus is run by a public-private joint-venture bringing not only the expertise from the Science and Technology Facilities Council, Halton Borough Council but also private sector property developer and investor, Langtree. The Campus is supported by what would seem like an ideal combination of experience: a Business Support Manager whose background is hi-tech small business and a Business Development Manager whose background is sales and marketing in international blue chips.
The science component’s special areas of scientific research are particle accelerators and high-performance computing, where the laboratory has just been awarded a £40mn government grant.
The campus’s policy is to admit only hi-tech businesses; and these are attracted to pay the relatively high cost of space on the site by virtue of the value added in terms of relationships with other businesses already on the site; and by the science facilities and research on the site. They have been funded in more or less equal proportions by venture capital, IPOs and family and friends; and several have already been bought out by larger enterprises.
The atmosphere of openness and collaboration – maintained by collegiality
The most distinctive characteristic of the whole site, which would be the envy of every university, is this open and collaborative ethos – epitomised by partnerships and relationships among the tenants – in their close proximity. This ethos is generated by regular meetings aimed at introducing people to each other – firstly inside the campus, and secondly those from outside the campus who may be useful to the former.
There are four kinds of these meetings:
· monthly breakfast meetings, which regularly attract some 150 people. The managers of the site make themselves aware of the needs of as many as possible of the businesses on the site, and seek to introduce them to other businesses that may have knowledge, experience or contacts that fit their needs, both on the site and from the area round about;
· in a session that follows this meeting, a corporate will have been invited to have the floor for an hour – to expand on its needs and interests, and/or its potential contributions;
· twice a year, the Innovation Centre holds networking meetings for tenants of the site – which attract from 25 to 30 participants. The first hour is spent in a pitching process; and the second hour is devoted to networking;
· the fourth kind of meeting, a slightly different kind, has just kicked off: six MDs of companies on the site have elected to meet – to see what they can do for each other. (If successful, this may be replicated with MDs of other companies on the site; and it might be added that it could herald a stronger element of mutual support among senior people in businesses on the site and/or in the area.)
In addition to this there is an e-network of people and organisations interested in the campus, its work and its activities, called Newshub, which currently has 3,500 members and is growing at the rate of some 500 new members per annum.
Just one or two other tenants on the site – providing services
While most companies on the site are small, IBM has a strategic base on site – for two reasons: its interest in the research on high-performance computing, and secondly its software, which is very often vital to the small hi-tech companies on the site. Likewise, UK Trade and Investment has an office; and a representative is present every week to advise and help with export markets, as many of these hi-tech businesses, though small, have international markets for their products.
The metrics indicate success
The Innovation Centre has made a comprehensive assessment of its performance on a large number of criteria, but has found that there is a lack of comparable data from other similar science park or incubator locations. However the response of BIS to these evaluations has been that the campus is one of the most collaborative of all such organisations in the UK, and that it is among the best in terms of survival and growth rates, and on innovation. John Leake, the Business Development Manager for the Innovation Centre, has found the Science Parks Association very valuable and he has contacts with leading science parks, such as those at Manchester, Birmingham Aston, Surrey, Cambridge and Tamar; and he would like to learn more about counterparts overseas.
Growth expected from corporates, but the ethos of collaborativeness will be more difficult to maintain
He foresees the continuing growth of the science park, firstly through the presence of more big corporates, that may start with a small presence, as has IBM, and then grow (eg Intel, Microsoft, even Chinese); secondly through the interest of big corporates who may become users of the technology being developed on the site (eg Unilever); and thirdly through the continuing addition of small companies taking space (and there is an almost endless potential supply of space).
This will of course add enormously to the opportunities for collaboration, but it will make it increasingly difficult for anyone cast with the role of creating useful connections between the tenants – where the campus has been so outstandingly successful. It will stretch the resources for connectivity, and require the need for new and innovative solutions (probably through technology) to resolve this.
The Centre for Leadership in Creativity February 2012
in association with Nesta