Do Incubators and Science Parks need to raise their game?

With more disciplines involved in R&D projects, with team-working and connectivity increasingly significant, co-working spaces are a recognised model for successful development work – with their intimacy, allied to a penumbra of support – Tech City a prime example. So it goes sharply against the grain for R&D facilities to be run by facilities managers: they need experienced facilitators, not property managers.

A lack of entrepreneurial impetus was the feeling given off by a visit to a recently established incubator. Does its Board need some additional heavy-weight entrepreneurs, I asked myself.

While some of the incubatees were working on projects with excitingly good prospects with widespread applications and/or national interest, others were using their occupancy as a convenient office while their royalties or consultancy income supported the desultory development of their project; and their projects were more like past-times than full-time work, directed at recreations and isolated applications.

There was no significant cadre of mentors with the commercial and entrepreneurial experience and the will to support new businesses that would provide the necessary commercial impetus. Where some incubatees had previously had contact with mentors, they no longer did so. But they did value the contribution they received towards the support from other scientists on the site.

With its design of individual offices (as opposed to open plan) occupants seldom met other incubatees (there was no kitchen or cafeteria) and so lacked opportunities to get ideas from each other and from outside their field.

There was no pressure upon incubatees to find investors, and potential investors were only occasional visitors to the site.

Consideration is being given to setting a limit to the time you may remain an occupant of the incubator, and this will add pressure to making effective use of that time.

Push and pull are both essential elements in a culture of entrepreneurialism, but without them there is a danger that progress may slow to the point where little of value comes out of the process.

John Whatmore                                                                               April 2014

The Centre for Leadership in Creativity

London

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