What would the world’s best innovation park look like? Insights from Antibes and Berlin, Singapore and Stockholm

July 5, 2017

Innovation parks are scattered across the world. Usually they focus on technological R&D, often adjacent to an academic institute, and in reality an excuse to attract large number of tech businesses to locate together. There are some obvious benefits in having similar kinds of business close by, particularly if they can share knowledge and skills, or form an ecosystem of partners or suppliers (horizontal or vertical).

Clusters of specialist businesses emerge. “A business cluster is a geographic concentration of interconnected businesses, suppliers, and associated institutions in a particular field. Clusters are considered to increase the productivity with which companies can compete, nationally and globally. In urban studies, the term agglomeration is used.”

Silicon Valley is the most obvious example, emerging in the hinterland of Stanford University, but eventually with high tech businesses sprawling across a vast area that used to be famous for little more than orange trees. Digital Media City in Seoul is a more planned example, a dedicated space for media, entertainment and gaming companies to live together. It includes conference and cultural centres, the Korean Film Academy, and companies like LG.

What is important is that these locations bring together more than core technologies. University-type R&D facilities will do great research, but it is the commercial application of technologies – aka “innovation” – that matters most. That is achieved by having a broader mix of companies, and also a place to meet (conferences, coworking),  socialise (restaurants, sports), learn (seminars, workshops), extend (agencies, investors), and promote (showcases, shops). In turn this needs to be supported by infrastructure (roads, parking, wifi), and a good place to live nearby (homes, schools, town).

Examples of innovation parks in Europe include:

Kista Science City, Stockholm

15 mins from Arlanda airport and Stockholm city centre, Kista is Europe’s largest ICT cluster (and second biggest in the world after Silicon Valley). Sweden’s largest company Ericsson has its HQ located here, alongside global names like Microsoft, IBM and Sun. Some of the nation’s major business institutions are based here too. Residential (for 30000 people), shopping (the largest mall in Sweden), and entertainment facilities are located nearby.

WISTA Science and Technology Park, Berlin

Over 800 companies are based in Berlin-Adlershof, the largest science park in Germany. Science City sits at its core, alongside Media City, supported by 6 departments of the Humbolt Berlin University and the BESSY Synchrotron.

Finnish Innovation Center, Otaniemi

Science and engineering location, supported by Aalto University (a combination of three of Helsinki’s universities for tech, art and design, and economics. Business at the centre specialise in fields such as pulp and paper, nanotechnologies and measurement science. Technopolis is a business incubator which offers business development and incubation services, financing services, in addition to premises and related services. The business development services consist of Innolinko Pre-Incubator, giving advice and guidance in company establishing, Spinno programmes, consultancy, mentor network, and more.

Andalusia Technology Park, Malaga

The Parque Tecnológico de Andalucía was conceived as a technological nucleus to stimulate industry in the region. 600 companies come together in IT and telecoms, including Oracle, Ericsson, BM, Accenture and Huawei. It has become one of the most significant tech parks in Southern Europe, and also global HW of the International Association of Science Parks. It also includes MIT School,  an innovative plurilingual school, supported by the latest technology, for students from Reception to High School.

Sophia Antipolis, Antibes

Created in 1970-1984, the French park is the location of companies mainly in IT and pharma. Several institutions of higher learning are also located here, along with the European headquarters of tech institutes W3C and ETSI.  The “human factor” is what the Science and Technology Park seeks to achieve better, leading to better innovation, through creating an international specialist community. This means focusing on tenant interaction, networking and cross fertilization of ideas. The concept was that bringing together people from different intellectual horizons and “making” them meet, would bring added value and generate innovation. Professional clubs were one of the ways to achieve this, including Sophia Business Angels Club, Nordic Link, Art Sophia, and Telecom Valley.

Reggio Emilia Park of Innovation, Italy

The local authority and Iren Rinnovabili have together developed this abandoned industrial area, that represents the evidence of an important chapter of the Italian industrial history. It is located very close to the historical city centre, between the railway line and the airport, directly connected to A1 motorway and the new high speed railways Mediopadana station. These are the reasons why this area is the ideal place to host the great project of developing the distinctive local proficiencies, based on the knowledge economy.

Where can I find more detailed research and insights?

What can we learn from these examples?

  1. Have a distinctive proposition … why are we doing this, where is the focus, what are the benefits?
  2. Give it a central point … create an axis, a hub, a centre  – architecturally, communally, actively
  3. Beyond an academic centre … link to nearby university R&D, but go beyond to focus on innovation
  4. Get anchor brands … crucial is to attract a few lead brands early, like the anchors of a shopping mall
  5. Attract national institutions … creates permanence, credibility and non-profit stability
  6. Good infrastructure … obviously good transport links, but also eating, meeting and socialising
  7. Education matters  … from schools, to university, to ongoing skills and knowledge for business
  8. Create regular activities … it needs to be a living place – seminars, conferences, meetings, workshops
  9. Provide business support … be it a business incubator for start ups, specialist agencies and consulting
  10. Have a bigger vision … look beyond the location, make it a thought leader for the region, continent

What might it look like?

Conceptually (maybe even architecturally?), an innovation park might be designing like a pyramid. It addresses the need of the local area, in terms of supporting local businesses to grow and providing support, whilst also attracting inward investment, i.e. outside companies choosing to locate there. This delivers outputs in terms of jobs and economic growth, but also local facilities and building the city’s reputation.

The design of the park is ultimately to find ways to make it work together. It is not just a field, which offers subsidised locations for business. It is an environment that is supported and connected. This requires presence, facilities and collaboration. And it requires the ongoing active management of the park to spark these collaborations, to bring the environment to life, and add meaning to the buildings.

Imagine creating an innovation park in your city …

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