New London Architecture

Incubator space as an accelerator for innovation

Tuesday 10 May 2022

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Robert Gibbons

Associate, Fund Management
Bidwells

The UK is one of the major science and technology hub’s in the world with its success aligned to world renowned cities such as Oxford, Cambridge and London which form the ‘Golden Triangle’ full of innovation and new ideas developing from their world class universities. These Hubs and others like them are key to developing new technology such as the Astra Zeneca COVID-19 vaccine and keeping the UK at the forefront of science and technology innovation. 

So why is incubator space so important for innovation? 

In short, incubator space provides an environment for emerging companies which is flexible for their use, provides access to business support and investors and access to university tie ups benefitting from the knowledge centres they offer. This combination makes for a knowledge cluster which can grow a company from start-up size to a £1bn valuation in a handful of years benefitting the local economy through employment and wider skill development. Without innovation and new ideas, the UK will stand still in what is a fast paced, dynamic environment which is evolving as quickly as the technologies being developed by these spin outs.  

The UK is limited in the incubator space it provides with a handful of facilities in Cambridge, Oxford and London. Strathclyde University in Glasgow is developing a new innovation hub linked to the University and in partnership with Scottish Enterprise emphasising the importance of Government support. The same goes for Harwell Campus in Oxfordshire which receives significant financial support from central government.

This Government support and collaboration is important to providing funding and creating opportunities for investment. DIT for example can act as a conduit to international markets introducing investment opportunities and promoting innovative companies overseas. 

One of the major challenges to innovation is creating this ‘incubator space’ as there are limited options for companies to choose from; landlords have typically adopted a traditional approach to offering commercial space to the market. This limitation is very acute in Oxford and Cambridge, which are home to some of the most important spinout companies in the world. 

OSE (Oxford Sciences Enterprise) established in Oxford, is a university aligned company which supports Science and Technology businesses from early stages with an ever-growing requirement for incubator space. By affiliating with such a prestigious university, the spinouts which are supported by OSE retain much of their university contacts and access which brings a significant wealth of knowledge and further expertise. 

As a city, Oxford has excellent connectivity with amenities and resources on its doorstop. By occupying space in a central location, and with the university tie up, it has allowed OSE to go from an average of 5 spin outs a year to 20. This has had a knock-on effect to their investment, increasing the overall investment fund to £600m.

Vaccitech, (co- creators of the Oxford Vaccine) YASA motors and First Light Fusion are examples of companies OSE has supported allowing them to develop technologies which will ultimately benefit global populations and economy. 

The importance of central locations is connectivity; bicycles, public transport and walking are a typical method of transport for students and professors to arrive at work making an out of town location unworkable for these innovation centres. By locating in an environment with central amenities and service offerings, like a café, it creates a collaborative environment for knowledge sharing between companies. 

Creating the right sort of space which fosters innovation is equally not straightforward. There is a move away from segregated workspace with communal areas being prevalent breaking down social barriers encouraging collaborative working. 

Strathclyde University’s innovation hub is a prime example of how building design has an integral part to play in creating a collaborative environment. Shared work benches and communal spaces are fundamental to how spinouts work as companies have the opportunity to share equipment and knowledge at early stages of growth when they may be financially limited. 

With all this talk of further development and creation of space, we find ourselves considering how this impacts the environment in which we live. Cost of resources is increasing at a significant rate with an ever-growing emphasis on creating ‘green’ buildings and building sustainably. There is no golden bullet answer but ensuring the right space is created at the outset from renewable and sustainable materials is a step forward.  

Read more about the importance of the knowledge economy to the UK in Bidwells’ Radical Capital Report: https://radical.bidwells.co.uk/

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Robert Gibbons

Associate, Fund Management
Bidwells


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