Developing the Arc’s High-Tech Clusters
Seven part Q&A with David Williams, Commercial Director at Harwell Campus
1. What does your role at Harwell entail?
My role as Commercial Director within Harwell’s real estate team involves engaging and brokering with organisations interested in locating to Harwell. Also, being part of our real estate team means we need to keep pace with the demand for space, having the right buildings ready at the right time.
Harwell is home to over 200 organisations from the public, academic and corporate sectors and open access national research facilities underpinning our four clusters of health, space, energy and quantum technology. As such, we have organisations from around the globe using Harwell creating a vast community of organisations at the forefront of science.
Being on campus opens up opportunities for many of these organisations and our task is to unlock these opportunities by bringing together the science and real estate narrative; ultimately this means delivering flexible buildings and infrastructure to suit their requirements.
2. What kind of effect can a lack of infrastructure have on start-ups and small enterprises in the research and development space?
The simple answer is that without infrastructure, enterprises of all shapes and sizes won’t flourish. They need the full range of support, in every sense.
Infrastructure supporting start-up and early-stage enterprises comes in many forms. First and foremost, being part of a community of like-minded people facing similar challenges and opportunities provides the important social infrastructure. Furthermore, University spin outs benefit from the incubation and nurturing those academic institutions provide. Other essential infrastructure includes having a network to access sources of funding, legal and other professional services, and of course scientific research facilities. Physical infrastructure will of course cover housing, good transport and places in urban or campus environments to bring people together and foster relationships.
3. What are the benefits for start-ups and SMEs in locating themselves in a campus environment as opposed to bespoke laboratories and offices elsewhere?
Harwell exists to enable scientific endeavour. We are a science community spanning life and physical sciences. At 700 acres, Harwell has the scale to provide the scientific, business and physical infrastructure to support small, fast-growing enterprises, as well as giving access to national facilities, academic and corporate bodies in one place.
Innovative companies are most successful when they are part of a thriving community that features, a critical mass of research institutions and talent, agile investment, different sized businesses from start-ups to multinationals and collaboration.
At Harwell we have a diverse network of 200+ organisations, grouped into four main clusters where research, innovation and commercial know-how are fuelled by some £3 billion of public investment that’s unmatched globally.
4. How do you cater to quite diverse requirements in the real estate environment?
The real estate supports the growth of our four clusters. By 2027 we will add a further 1.5m sq ft of new laboratories, R&D, offices and advanced manufacturing, in both speculative and bespoke development.
Organisations within each of these clusters demand very specialist requirements from our buildings and we achieve this by designing sufficient flexibility within each typology. For example, our speculative multi-unit R&D/light manufacturing buildings have occupiers from across our clusters doing anything from CL2 labs to building satellites next door to each other.
It is also important that we offer the full size range, from 1-2 person rooms to 500,000 sq ft bespoke builds.
5. What are some of the challenges you have faced in your role at Harwell in providing space and infrastructure for R&D enterprises to use and grow?
I think the main challenge is building to keep pace with demand, having the right buildings available at the right time. You have to keep up to date with your markets, interact with your potential customers; you have to stay up to date with what’s happening in these industries generally – and of course Harwell has a global lens, and the conversations we’re having and the organisations we’re dealing with from are international, calling for a few late nights.
6. How can government support the real estate needs of innovation in the UK?
The government has invested heavily into Harwell, with over £3billion of funding into the open access national research facilities. Investment into world-class research facilities across UK is the cornerstone of our innovation economy. At Harwell we have over 10,000 visiting researchers each year from across the UK and worldwide. It is exciting to see the collaboration happening between locations across the UK. The space sector is a very good example of this.
7. What do you think the key challenges for science and technology real estate will be in the next few decades?
This is all about vision and ambition. The market opportunity is huge. The UK already has mature world-leading innovation eco-systems, and the government has set out a clear ambition for the UK’s science and technology economy to tackle our planet’s greatest challenges. The opportunity for the real estate industry is to create world-class places for innovation, which must happen in partnership with public and academic investment to provide the physical and research infrastructure. This is a team effort.
I feel hugely positive about this, but there remains work to done, and for the Arc’s perspective it needs to communicate globally with what the Arc is and what it does, to achieve its own identity.