What’s the skinny on your local science park?

Local knowledge networks can have a significant impact on the innovative capacity of firms in the area. The examples of Silicon Valley, “Silicon Fen” (the hub of companies in and around Cambridge, UK) and many others have highlighted this point several times.

A new study published in the International Journal of Technology Management suggests that the “science parks” that are a common feature of such hubs have many benefits. These benefits offer synergies that assist the development of companies and ultimately the success of their products and services and their bottom-line profitability. There are countless examples of internationally renowned companies that emerged initially as small startups with low-key premises on a science park.

Among those benefits, explain Isabel Díez-Vial and Ángeles Montoro-Sánchez of the Universidad Complutense de Madrid, Spain, are shared resources, machinery and other facilities, testing laboratories, and an overarching perception of legitimacy. Moreover, it is the flux of well-educated, innovative and motivated people who manage and work for these companies that contributes enormously to the effect. Science park companies that develop from startup and are still in business after three years are among the greatest beneficiaries of the science park setup. By virtue of their location and assuming they are outward looking, they will inevitably benefit from taking part in the local network and gain greater innovation due to the knowledge provided by others. To benefit the most they are obliged to invest time and effort in the development of new links between companies and with academia and to increase centrality and strengthen relationships within the hub.

However, the study also shows something of a downside to the science park culture after this initial boost to residents. Díez-Vial and Montoro-Sánchez have found that as companies get older and as a consequence spend longer in a given location whether or not they upgrade to bigger premises on the science park or extend their buildings, the benefits decline as the years go by. It is therefore important for new companies and entrepreneurs heading for the science park to recognise the initial buzz may well fade as their company matures.

“Science parks have been increasingly considered as a nurturing environment for business start-ups and lead to the development of growth-oriented firms,” the team reports. That said, now is the time to investigate how the pros and cons affect companies, both young and old, with a view to providing entrepreneurs and company managers with a clearer perspective on whether they will be better off in or out of the science park.

Díez-Vial, I. and Montoro-Sánchez, Á. (2017) ‘From incubation to maturity inside parks: the evolution of local knowledge networks‘, Int. J. Technology Management, Vol. 73, Nos. 1/2/3, pp.132-150.

Author: David Bradley

Award-winning, freelance science writer based in Cambridge, England.