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      The Connective Tissue Underlying the Knowledge Economy

      Five part Q&A with Andy Martin, Andy Martin Consulting

      19 Feb 2022 Andy Martin, Andy Martin Consulting

      1. While CEO of BNP Paribas Real Estate UK, you were witness to an unprecedented maturation of the domestic property market. When did science and innovation-based real estate 'take-off', and why?

      To understand this question we really have to go back to the origins of the science park concept. We can look at the likes of Frederick Terman, Dean of Engineering at Stanford University in the 1950s, who put science-related real estate on the map by creating the Stanford Industrial Park. This was an early engine for commercialisation,of the university’s research and eventually led to what we know now as Silicon Valley. Bringing it closer to home, we can look at the first iterations of this in the UK such as Cambridge Science Park, a similar venture started by Trinity College Cambridge which allowed scientific researchers and academics to be part of commercial enterprises. Another example would be Surrey Research Park, a very successful model managed by the University of Surrey’s Enterprise Unit which feeds off the research the university does. Later examples such harnessing the Atomic Energy’s Authority at Harwell near Oxford, Daresbury in Manchester and Herriot Watt amongst other represented later maturations of the concept.

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      2. Start-ups and university spinouts, as well as more established international companies with a presence in the Oxford-Cambridge Arc, clearly desire to collaborate. What does it take to create an innovation ecosystem, and why is it important to consider community building from a real estate context?

      The best ecosystems are ones that are effectively growing on the foundations of a community that already exists. They’re almost impossible to create from scratch without having that core element, which takes time to develop (sometimes centuries!). As an example, where do ecosystems work in the life science sector? In areas with a strong Where these ecosystems are strongest they create a ‘vortex’ which effectively sucks everything valuable in, attracts vital talent, enterprise and business that support and feed off them, and doesn’t let anything escape from the magnetic pull of the academic clusters. When you become involved in this cutting-edge scientific research, it becomes so compelling that it has its own gravity. 

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      3. How is this informed by your research into other clusters internationally, particularly in the US? What did you learn about wants and needs, challenges and opportunities, involved in innovation ecosystem creation from the companies you interviewed?

      Research into placemaking is a central part of real estate consulting life. What drives and motivates people to move, and form and strengthen communities? This has always been a question of seeing how people work.

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      4. How important are chance encounters between innovators? How can we design buildings to maximise the opportunity to make these connections?

      This really goes back by to research done by the American sociologist Mark Granovetter at Stanford, and his concept of ‘weak ties’ between people and organisations. These are not necessarily strong familial ties or friendships based on mutual acquaintances, but are interactions that inform you, and help you become the person you are. These can be chance conversations, they might come from people you see occasionally, even someone who only see over coffee. Through these weak ties you see new ideas play out in practice; those chance conversations and the ‘what are you working on at the moment?’ question all build to create a more informed picture of a sector; you find relationships and a spark that is essential in a sector like life sciences, where much of the research is conducted behind closed doors. 

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      5. What is your advice for the growth of the innovation clusters within the Oxford-Cambridge Arc, and what could decision-makers do to maximise the region's innovation potential?

      The idea of collaboration is essential here: science is a competitive world, but we have to ensure stakeholders understand this is not a ‘zero sum game’, and we can all benefit from better understanding too. We also cannot ignore the major potential cluster of development in and its connection with other sources of innovation and enterprise in London. We need to position the Oxford-Cambridge Arc as a natural place to expand and grow from London and further afield to the growing clusters in the north west and north east. This all comes back down to finding the right sort of co-operative environment; building the necessary housing to develop it, building new facilities, and investing in connective capital through greater infrastructure and connectivity. 

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