The sunshine, the wine, the surf — these aren’t the only elements of California that the U.K. has fallen in love with. And unlike these Californian traits, there is one element that the U.K. can replicate at home: the innovation hub.
Silicon Valley and the wider Bay Area have become renowned for creating innovation hubs for the digital tech sector. The impact of the businesses that have developed out of a relatively small geographic area, including Google and Facebook, is almost unquantifiable. It is unsurprising that cities and districts are seeking to learn from the cluster approach that has driven Silicon Valley’s success.
The U.K. is a clear example. The growth of innovation hubs is increasing in pace, such as the development south of Manchester of an innovation district set to become one the top five in Europe by 2020. Its success is spurring others on, including the establishment of "connect to town" sector-specialist clusters such as Alderley Park. Today, the park's owner, Bruntwood SciTech, is implementing an extensive investment program.
The Appeal Of The Innovation Hub
In 2014, a research paper by the Brookings Institute, Rise of the Innovation Districts, detailed numerous elements that are crucial to the success of an innovation district. It places particular importance on geographic locations where anchor institutions and businesses cluster to connect with startups, business incubators and accelerators.
The paper states: “Innovation districts are the manifestation of mega-trends altering the location preferences of people and firms and, in the process, re-conceiving the very link between economy shaping, place making and social networking.”
There are many reasons why entrepreneurs, researchers and investors want to be co-located. These communities thrive off the philosophy that ideas are contagious. By sharing a physical space, people can brainstorm and share ideas face to face, without having to work across computer screens. An innovation hub or district aims to provide all the amenities a startup and its employees need to thrive — workspaces, food and leisure operators and sports facilities often sit alongside residential.
Innovation hubs differentiate themselves from traditional office parks through their proximity to talent. Many work closely with nearby universities to link students searching for jobs and internships to employers looking for new talent. These partnerships help drive collaboration and encourage professional relationships across communities.
An innovation hub defines its success by its growth — more companies, creating more jobs and contributing more gross value add to local, national and global economies. Key to the successful and sustainable growth of any hub is the growth of the companies located there.
The Growth Of Alderley Park
Alderley Park, south of Manchester, is an example of how the U.K. seeks to follow the U.S. in its creation of innovation hubs. The park has long held an international reputation as one of the world’s leading full-spectrum bioscience campuses and the home of global pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca, but that is changing.
Working with the ScaleUp Institute, Bruntwood SciTech is developing the park to offer the property infrastructure that science and technology businesses need to succeed, as well as other key ingredients for success — access to talent, an experienced mentor network, and access to markets, finance and risk capital.
By carrying out a $202M investment program, Bruntwood SciTech’s aim is to expand Alderley Park further. It is already home to more than 2,000 life science and digital tech professionals, offering 1M SF of office and lab space, and will add 50K SF of lab space this year. Another 100K SF of lab space will be developed over the next two years, designed for larger companies as tenants scale up.
The design of the 150K SF Glasshouse building reflects what early stage businesses need — to be surrounded by other like-minded peers. The central atrium is structured to house single-person startups and entrepreneurs as well as small, fast-growing scale-ups and aims to stimulate collaboration.
Alderley Park’s management team has been learning from the success of other innovation hubs about what growing businesses need to succeed. For example, having seen the approach successfully used by LinkedIn, Alderley Park’s mentor team is helping scale-ups to predict and understand their current and future growth requirements. Leadership and development programs are on offer, as well as access to finance. A growing network of 200 highly experienced pharma professionals is offering specialist science seminars.
Bringing Creative Minds Together
These programs, along with informal opportunities to network and collaborate, are vital to the success of an innovation hub such as Alderley Park. However, to drive spontaneous interaction, they need to be managed accordingly.
On a recent panel hosted by California State University and the Fort Ord Reuse Authority, Mary Jo Waits of the National Governors Association said encouraging interaction, furthering innovation, offering services to support companies in the area and encouraging cross-industry partnerships are essential to creating an innovation hub.
As such, the physical design of facilities at an innovation campus is essential. Business lounges and coworking spaces with atriums and cafés provide an opportunity for people to socialize and network. Alderley Park’s 400 acres offer restaurants, sports fields, a lake, running routes and a gym alongside on-site housing. As the park grows, architecture will play a key part in its success.
If the U.K. is to achieve the sizable economic growth that it is targeting, the success of innovation hubs such as Alderley Park are crucial. The world is being shaped by companies that emerge from these facilities, and there is now every reason to believe the next tech giant could be home grown in the U.K. rather than brought in from the Golden State.