Broadening Digital Innovation Across The North

Innovation across the nation

At first glance, it might seem strange for a commercial property company to invest in the tech and science scene. But what better way to attract promising, innovative businesses than to create an environment that encourages and enables their development?

With over 100 buildings across Manchester, Leeds, Liverpool and Birmingham, property firm Bruntwood has taken precisely this approach. Following the acquisitions of Alderley Park in Manchester and Innovation Birmingham, the company embarked on a science and technology venture. Headed up by Phil Kemp, Bruntwood SciTech was born.

Property with purpose

Created in partnership with Legal & General, the SciTech network aims to contribute to UK PLC, and to broaden innovation across the country. Bruntwood itself aims to collaborate with the universities, city councils and local communities in the areas in which it operates. This, explains Phil Kemp, is part of a bigger purpose: contributing to social and economic improvement. For example, one of SciTech’s aims is to create 20,000 jobs over a 10 year period. But purpose, as businesses are quickly coming to realise, also means profit.

“We talk about creating a network of thriving innovation districts, and part of thriving is performing financially,” says Kemp. “It’s only if you perform financially that you can then reinvest that money and grow. What we’ve found, with some of our acquisitions, is that some innovation districts have stayed relatively stagnant because they haven’t managed to crack that financial barrier and then reinvest.”

Building a national network

Bruntwood SciTech focuses on cities of a certain size with a proactive city council and high ranking universities. One of Bruntwood’s tech hubs, for example, was recently set up in Leeds and is home to DISRUPTIONHUB itself. Across their locations, SciTech offers a combination of incubation and acceleration programmes dependent on business and region.

“In a place like Alderley Park, which is predominantly biotech, we have something called the accelerator programme. When pharmaceutical company Astrazeneca decided to move its R&D headquarters to Cambridge, a lot of the people on site didn’t want to leave the area. We realised there was an opportunity to help them form their own biotech companies,” Kemp explains. “We got them to produce a business plan, sat them down with mentors and funders, and put them through a boot camp. If they exit the process, they’ll take lab space and office space at Alderley Park.”

While Alderley Park targets startup organisations, SciTech has partnered with Cisco at the Manchester Science Park to offer a different type of accelerator called ‘Mi-Idea’. Cisco works with SciTech to identify companies with a viable end product who are looking to scale. Due to SciTech’s broad strategy, the startups and scale ups that exist within the SciTech ecosystem span a range of technologies and techniques.

“You could almost pick any one of the emerging technologies and find a company working on it in our portfolio,” says Kemp.

Despite a clear focus on the north, SciTech hasn’t ruled out more southerly locations… Namely, of course, the capital.

“We don’t currently have any presence in London but we’re not ruling it out in the future. Our intent isn’t to develop exclusively outside of London,” says Kemp. “We think the strength of UK science and technology comes from having different specialisms in different cities. We do see value in the differences between these cities and universities, instead of having a broad innovation district that tries to do everything, everywhere.”

Don’t underestimate the power of collaboration

Even though big businesses operate in multiple different countries, their teams have often remained internal and their intellectual property is jealously guarded in an attempt to ward off competition. After decades of working for the likes of Nokia and Regus, Kemp believes that companies are now more willing to work collaboratively. By bringing companies together in shared spaces, tech-minded commercial property companies are encouraging corporate behavioural change. In the long run, building collaborative networks is hoped to improve the economic potential of the UK as a whole, rather than relying on a specific region. But how competitive is the UK on a global scale?

“We have an entrepreneurial spirit and the ability to develop new ideas, irrespective of what’s going on at a political level,” he says. “In my role I come across fantastic companies who, if successful, will make fundamental changes to the way that we live and work.”

As testament to this, Kemp explains, a German diagnostics company has chosen to settle at Bruntwood’s genomics campus at Citylabs instead of a location in Germany. This is representative of changing attitudes to collaboration, and a continued willingness to engage in international partnerships. Bruntwood SciTech certainly isn’t the only science and technology focused venture to come out of a commercial property company, though… So what makes SciTech stand out?

“What differentiates us from lots of organisations is that we’re trying to bring a number of locations together and get the benefits of collaboration and cooperation across our sites. We are unusual in the way that we apply partnership, the fact that we take a longer term view, and the fact that we invest to support startups, scale ups, and corporate innovation.”

The success of the SciTech network goes hand in hand with the wider economic and social development of the UK. Staying competitive at a global level relies on a country-wide appetite for collaboration, network building, and cross sector communication. As such, encouraging businesses, councils, universities and communities to work together is central to the company’s approach. And, in the same way that organisations are increasingly expected to partner up and share expertise, so are geographic locations. And, with such strong regional talent, it might be time for London-bound businesses to look north.

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