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      Looking Outward

      Five part Q&A with Sebastian Johnson, Head of Innovation and Inward Investment, OxLEP

      22 Feb 2022 Sebastian Johnson, Head of Innovation and Inward Investment, OxLEP

      1. How important is international investment to the Oxford-Cambridge Arc's success as a regional cluster?

      It would be difficult to overstate how important international investment can be. Recently we’ve seen tangible evidence of the impact it can have: Singapore’s GIC recently made a landmark investment into Oxford Science Park, where there is  a clear masterplan for extending the existing science park to provide the space necessary for ground breaking science and research to take place. Global investor Brookfield Asset Management have also had a real impact in the joint venture with Government at Harwell Science and Innovation Campus in Oxfordshire, supporting some of the region’s most promising innovators with access to world leading research facilities, offices, labs and talent. Over the 18 months they’ve been there, we’ve seen dramatic positive investment, growth, and commitment in the cluster development already present. 

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      2. We talk a lot about the global interest in the Arc's leadership across life sciences. In which sectors does OxLEP see international investment having the greatest impact? 

      The life science sector is crucial as a vital strategic industry for the UK. In the last decades we’ve see the growth of medtech and life sciences in Oxford and across the Arc: the world-class facilities in the region have the power to drive results, with the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine collaboration the most recent innovation to have a genuine global impact.  

      From the Oxfordshire perspective, we have one of the largest space clusters in Europe at Harwell including open-source resources like the Satellite Applications Catapult. The National Satellite Test Facility is going to be vital for British based businesses looking for proof of concept for their research and development in the space sector, and businesses will want to be close to this facility to benefit from its utilities and the potential for positive spill-over and collaboration between organisations. We’ve seen foreign direct investment be particularly strong in both the life sciences and space sector.

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      3. Are we advertising the opportunity? How can we better internationalise the importance of innovation occurring within the Arc?

      We are doing a lot better than we were historically, but we could still do a lot better. As a private sector business, Brookfield Asset Management is certainly investing both in brand and in place, and working on their business development to shout more loudly as to why people should be investing and bringing businesses both to Oxfordshire and to Harwell. Collectively there have been some good pieces of work: accessible videos and explanations around the key sectors of space, life sciences and the future of mobility. We need to be stronger in partnership with central government, utilising their investment and trade officers based across the world. There is a real chance to help them to understand what opportunities exist across the Arc, why it’s such an area of global significance for innovators and collaborators, so they can continue to broadcast the message of the Arc effectively abroad. 

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      4. How do we share the rewards of inward investment across the whole of the Arc?

      The Arc has real potential to contribute to levelling up elsewhere in the country. Ipsen Bioinnovation, located at Milton Park in Oxford, employs around 100 researchers but also contributes to the operations of a drugs manufacturing biopharm in Wrexham in the Welsh borders, providing vital jobs in a rural area. This strong relationship is mirrored many times over across the supply chains and manufacturing opportunities that the Arc produces. This gives us the basis for how we should be operating across the whole of the Arc, and above that the whole of the UK.

      Space and satellite technology expertise we have in the Arc is partnering with launch capabilities being developed elsewhere in the UK; and the Fusion cluster and expertise we have in Oxfordshire is working on a cluster of clusters across the country in developing knowledge, supply chains and the UK’s Spherical Tokomak Energy Production plant.    Another example is Arrival, who have made strong use of innovative micro-factories. Although their research and development may occur in Oxfordshire, Arrival’s ambition is to create a range of micro-factories across the UK where they can manufacture products for the immediate market. This is all part of the positive spillover the Arc can have across UK regions. 

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      5. What are the opportunities and barriers to attracting investment from overseas?

      We need to understand that we are working in an incredibly competitive global environment, competing with old and new ecosystems and clusters around the world. How do we articulate what is different and unique to the UK: the Arc provides the backbone for the UK to drive the science superpower narrative and with it the message that we are at the forefront of finding solutions to the globe's greatest challenges through our research capabilities, our innovation and creativity and our talent.

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