Prof. dr. Jacques van Dinteren, Zjak Consult
“Many have come to view science parks as a type of ‘silver bullet’ with the capability of dramatically improving a region or community’s ability to compete in the global technology and innovation economy. The reality, however, is far more complex.”
IASP chairman Rick L. Weddle
Innovation is the key word in government plans to strengthen the economic climate. Numerous conditions will have to be created for a successful innovation policy. What cannot be overlooked in this process is the physical environment that businesses need in order to be able to successfully work on new ideas, products and services. These are usually very specific buildings that often require major investments. These could be offices as well as laboratories, clean rooms, small-scale (trial) production units, etc. Buildings that can usually be found at Science and Technology Parks. Science and Technology Parks (STPs) are growing in number and at an increasing pace since the first parks were built in the 1950s. Together with universities and other knowledge institutions, STPs, and especially the businesses established there, play a crucial role in the progress of science and the economy. These specialised business parks have become an essential part of local and regional innovative ecosystems.
The development of STPs is many times more complex than the development of a regular business park. While the emphasis early on was on the physical development, along the way developers started realising that STPs require an entirely different approach. Approximately two decades ago the adage ‘brains, not bricks’ was used to stimulate the process of creativity, interaction and innovation. The importance of this is increasing in fact as people realise that an attractive (physical) work environment contributes to creativity and competitiveness. And just as importantly: it helps attract and retain creative, well-educated employees in the War for Talent.
Nevertheless, the adage ‘brains, not bricks’ did not alter the fact that the developed environment is still of crucial importance. The development of an STP calls now more than ever for a well-grounded integrated plan on the area level. It also requires clear ideas for the park management, financing, guidelines for buildings, property financing, etc.
An analysis of the papers published during IASP conferences over the past years clearly highlights the success factors in setting up an STP. A distinction can be made here between the regional factors (on which the developer often has little or no influence) and the factors that concern the STP itself.
Important regional factors or conditions are:
- A well-functioning network of innovative/creative businesses and institutions: there must be a culture of intellectual interaction, creativity and entrepreneurship in the region. Strong, specializing economies with a good regional or local innovative ecosystem form a sound basis for successful STPs.
- A well-functioning job market of knowledge workers: technology and knowledge companies are even more dependent than other economic sectors on well-educated, creative workers. This condition is therefore essential. It is also important that the region be able to attract and retain these knowledge workers.
- An attractive residential and living environment: an attractive residential and living environment is an essential condition for attracting highly educated people and retaining knowledge workers already living in the area.
- The presence of tertiary education, universities and other knowledge institutions: in addition to the presence of these knowledge institutions, a large innovative company can also play a key role. Universities or other knowledge institutions do not necessarily need to be in the immediate vicinity of the STP, though this does stimulate informal contacts.
- Available sources of financing: innovative companies often need a long development period for their products. This requires, for example, specific financial arrangements, provided by cooperating regional banks, as well as access to other sources of financing, such as innovation funds.
The key factors for success for the science park itself are:
- Embedding: the development of an STP must be explicitly embedded in a regional or local innovation strategy to promote economic development.
- Market, vision and strategy: the development must be based on a thorough market survey. Working from this basis, the target group can be clearly delineated and a distinctive concept can be conceived of. This is set down in a clear vision and a long-term strategy for attaining the goals that have been formulated. It is precisely because a specific target group is chosen that the operating estimate takes a much longer time than for a regular development. Proposals for eliminating weak features of the regional economy are also important.
- Strong management: a science park distinguishes itself from a regular business park by the fact that the contacts do not stop once the business moves in, but in fact just begin at that point. A science park therefore has professional management. The management is responsible for high-quality housing and the concrete range of facilities on offer, such as laboratories, clean rooms, testing facilities, etc. At some STPs a great deal of attention is devoted to the set-up and management of incubator centres, in the thinking that this is where the future ‘residents’ of the park will be coming from. Leasing the buildings helps management to control the park and guarantees a future proof development.
- Broad package of services: the management ensures that the businesses located in the park can function optimally by offering a very broad package of services. This can include access to sources of financing, management and marketing advice, development of innovation strategies and the fostering of contact between entrepreneurs. The organisation of seminars, training, informal meetings, etc, is also important. Events, concerts, exhibitions and happenings are organised at some parks, as a way of contributing to a creative environment.
- Clear choice of target group: a clear choice must be made for a particular target group. This ensures that the site has a clear profile. The management is responsible for a clear admission strategy and must stick to this. In addition to the target group, there must be a possibility for complementary businesses to take up residence as well, such as consultancy firms and other specific (technical) service providers.
- A strong urban planning concept: on the level of the science park itself, a work environment that stimulates creativity and innovation is required. The services mentioned earlier play a role in this. The presence of consumer amenities, the architecture and the landscaping are also factors. There must be an overall urban planning concept and a coordinating urban planner who supervises the architecture of the individual buildings. In view of the long-term planning, flexibility in the concept is of great importance. Sustainability plays a significant role in all plans these days.
- A unique, distinctive identity: after making a clear choice in terms of target group and property concept, the management and stakeholders must subsequently ensure that the science park has a clear identity. This identity is fleshed out in, for instance, the name and logo and must be distinctive and consistently expressed externally by all the parties involved.
- Facilitating role for the government: there is usually a facilitating role reserved for the local government. The local government’s commitment is important and the municipality (in cooperation with other government agencies) can play a role in attracting businesses and improving national and international accessibility. Government subsidies will often be necessary, certainly in the starting phase. Government loans are also attractive because the term of these loans is often longer than those provided by financial institutions.