The United Kingdom Science Park Association (UKSPA) has a tagline which reads, “Proudly representing innovative knowledge based environments”. Doesn’t exactly trip off the tongue easily, but it is difficult to encapsulate the definition into one sentence. Without even trying a science park will naturally include companies that will have R&D tax credits eligibility with science and research and development going hand in hand.
Their three focus words are ‘Building. Technology. Business.’, which is perhaps a simpler summary, but it doesn’t mention ‘the science bit’. Basically, a science park is a purpose built building, usually in a green space location, designed for the shared use of universities, government agencies and private business. The idea is to support the development of commercially viable products by sharing cross-sector knowledge.
It is a global phenomenon with an international organisation at its forefront, the International Association of Science Parks (IASP). Their homepage describes the organisation as “A Worldwide Network of Innovation” and has a succinct description of their intent, “IASP is the worldwide network of science parks and areas of innovation. We connect the professionals managing science, technology and research parks (STPs) and other areas of innovation and provide services that drive growth and effectiveness for our members.”
What is in a Science Park?
Science Parks are usually attached to a university and have different purposes requiring different facilities. They are all uniquely designed to match the original intent, as will be illustrated with UK examples in the next section. People expect the latest technology from science parks, as well as the chance to work with experts in their field.
They are often built in green spaces so their users can benefit from natural surroundings and to maximise access from as many different routes as possible. Like many business parks, they usually have things to promote the well-being of their users, like a gym and restaurants. Parking is plentiful and access by other means of transport carefully considered.
Why would I use a science park?
Companies use science parks because of the physical and human resources that are available in one convenient place. They have become true hubs of innovation, with cross-pollination of ideas and real knowledge sharing to develop commercially successful products. So if your R&D projects are hitting a wall due to a resource issue, or because you need specific expert input, a science park could move you forward.
Where are the science parks in the UK?
According to UKSPA, there are over 100 ‘Science, Research and Technology Parks’ across the UK. This includes ‘Innovation Centres’ and ‘Technology Incubators’. Membership of UKSPA is not mandatory, so this is not a prescriptive number. They are used by around 75,000 employees of 4,000 companies to pursue their innovative developments.
Let’s look at three science parks in our surrounding area in a little more detail.
Lancaster University’s global reputation as a research university is applicable to business, as well as academic, development. They hold the Small Business Charter Gold Award, one of only three UK universities who do, and rank in the top ten universities for their involvement with SMEs.
Lancaster University has three separate sets of facilities:
InfoLab21: This is focused on the development of Information and Communication Technologies. Business users include Orange, Ford, BT Labs, Microsoft and Nokia.
cTAP: Chemistry is the focus of the Collaborative Technology Access Programme (cTAP). Businesses can benefit from this £11.3m facility and technology worth nearly £7m, including: Mass Spectrometry and Separations,Microscopy and nanofabrication, Optical Spectroscopy, X-ray and Magnetic Resonance Suite. Whether you have a one-off project or need an ongoing contract, there is an amazing breadth of equipment on offer and labs that are fully staffed by qualified technicians.
Lancaster Environment Centre:
The LEC is a hub of research and innovation into all things ecological, working in partnership with the university’s Centre for Ecology and Hydrology. It is in the top 20 UK agri-science and agri-tech institutions, and tops the charts for working with gas and oil industries. In the last 10 years it has been involved with the R&D projects of over 1,000 SMEs and large companies like Unilever.
Gateshead Technology Park
This particular science and technology park goes against the usual out-of-town location and is right in the middle of the Gateshead Quays. It has the University of Northumbria’s innovation campus within it, which drives innovation in design, business management and technology. According to UKSPA, it “works across all sectors” and “is a well established innovation ecosystem that enables collaboration, knowledge-sharing and commercialization of ideas between our tenants, partners, public sector and academia”. This is endorsed by an impressive client directory and work with household names like Berghaus and Unilever.
There is a plethora of services available to support a variety of R&D projects, with plans for a new Emerging Technology Centre in 2018. ‘PROTO’’s first focus will be on the development of immersive technology and speeding up its practical application in industry.
This is an exciting new development in Liverpool that has been constructed in collaboration with the University of Liverpool and John Moore’s University. It was opened by Business Minister Greg Clark, who said (as reported in the Liverpool Echo), “Sensor City is a brilliant example of our industrial strategy in action, a hub that will bring together the best academic minds and entrepreneurs with businesses, large and small, to explore opportunities and foster collaborations that will turn innovative ideas into scale-up businesses”.
The emphasis for this particular science park is sensor technology, which is fast becoming a key component of most technological advancements in the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Many sectors will be able to use this brand new, high spec facility to realise their R&D plans and get new sensor technology products on the market.
Any business using a science park undoubtedly benefits from an up-scale working environment that is purpose-built for innovation. But, on reading the reviews, it seems that having a genuine hub of expert thinkers is the thing that is valued most by science parks’ users. Gathering the academic, technical, business and research minds all in one place to focus on your R&D project is an amazing opportunity that few companies can create independently. Maybe it’s time to consider if you are missing out on opportunities for your business’s innovation? Check out UKSAP’s directory to see which science park is near you.