Science parks like the Cambridge Science Park or Harwell, and business collectives like MEPC Silverstone Park, work like a chemical catalyst in supercharging the growth of start-ups, spin-outs and other science and technology enterprises.
Catalysts are used in chemistry to increase the rate of a reaction, and sometimes just a very small influence of a catalyst introduced at the right time can cause a colossal change in speed. The same ethos is true of the knowledge catalysts that exist within the Arc, those being the institutions which foster a culture of collaboration and innovation through the concentration of high-growth enterprises. Science parks like the Cambridge Science Park or Harwell, and business collectives like MEPC Silverstone Park, work like a chemical catalyst in supercharging the growth of start-ups, spin-outs and other science and technology enterprises.
The idea of academic and research co-location is nothing new: this is the model that built Oxford and Cambridge, through the Epicurean monastic tradition that saw academia as something enriched and propelled by the presence of a sympathetic and like-minded community. The halls of the medieval universities were the original knowledge catalysts for Scholasticism, Humanism, the Renaissance, and the Enlightenment, and the model of new knowledge catalysts in key areas of growth for the UK and regional economy in the form of science parks builds on this simple idea of spatial co-location and mutual collaborative support as a recipe for growth and success in business and in research and development. By taking businesses at the cutting-edge of research and development and giving them the necessary space to form relationships, test ideas, and make chance encounters with potential partners, we maximise their opportunity to grow and apply their talent.
The Arc is already home to some of the best examples of this clustering model in the world.
The Harwell Campus was producing world-leading scientific research like the creation of CADET, the world’s first transistorised computer, as far back as the 1950s. And just as post-war generations were allocating space and building such spaces as Harwell and the Cambridge Science Park which emerged in the 1970s, the birthplaces of research and scientific advance which has revolutionised the lives of everyone in society and contributing to the Fourth Industrial Revolution we are now living through, we need to match their ambition in creating new space and allowing for future growth.
Now newer initiatives like the MEPC Silverstone Park, offering innovative solutions for small business and new start-ups with irregular growth patterns such as virtual tenancies and small serviced offices within the Innovation Centre, to workshops and R&D facilities ranging from 1000 sq. ft. to headquarter-style stand-alone buildings. By drawing together enterprise in a way that echoes the spatial dynamic of the wider Arc, this concentrated approach to clustering research and development and creating communities and ecosystems can produce real results.
On-site facilities at Harwell include a hairdresser, dentist, two nurseries providing childcare and even a Post Office. In addition to these amenities is a gym and space and time for workers at Harwell to engage with sports teams and competitive leagues. Interactions in such an environment between those that work at the apex of scientific research help to build the atmosphere and ecosystem of mutual support and collaboration between enterprises of all kinds. Start-ups and spinouts feel like they have the support of larger organisations, just as established enterprise is energised and invigorated by new talent and ideas that, through the clustering science park model, is co-located. Through initiatives like its Nxt Gen programme, Harwell brings those in the early stages of their careers in STEM research and development and provides them with social and professional gatherings and networking opportunities, building links and dialogue and fundamentally strengthening research and development in the UK. Science parks like Silverstone, Harwell and the Cambridge Science Park go beyond simple space and real estate for businesses to succeed – although this is a vital component – but are instead committed to the holistic creation of research communities, ones which through their proximity become far more than the sum of their parts.
The archetypal science park, located in rural or peri-urban environment, should not constrain the planning or visualising of new clusters in city centre areas that require development, especially in parts of the Arc less constrained spatially as Oxford and Cambridge. The city centre Old Cavendish Laboratory was once the site of the discovery of the neutron, the electron and the structure of DNA: and the continued success of the New Museums Site as a mixture of Victorian and contemporary buildings in the centre of Cambridge demonstrates the ability and utility of developing science parks not just in a classic semi-rural model. In areas such as Bedford, Luton, Nottingham and Milton Keynes, city centre land for development could easily help to provide a solution to the drastic lack of laboratory space for new science and technology research and development enterprises.
Science parks work as microcosms of the wider Arc model by offering a nurturing environment for business to work together to succeed. Just as an incubator in a laboratory can create the ideal environment for a chemical reaction to occur, science parks need to act as incubators for the talent and expertise that the Arc is home to.