Success factors of science parks re-examined

Em. prof. dr. Jacques van Dinteren, president Innovation Area Development Partnership (IADP)

Innovation is the keyword 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 specific environment that businesses require to be able to work on new ideas, products and services successfully. Areas of innovation can provide such an environment. The development of areas of innovation is many times more complex than the development of a regular business park. Therefore, the development of such areas calls for a well-grounded integrated plan. It also requires clear ideas for, among others, park management, financing, guidelines for buildings, property financing.

Given the importance of innovation areas in supporting economic development, these areas are given due attention in research. This research will make it possible to identify success factors. Based on papers presented at various IASP conferences (International Association of Science Parks and Areas of Innovation), we have drawn up the first list in 2015. More research is now available and sometimes the success factors themselves are also the subject of research (see for example Faria c.s., 2019; Jansz c.s., 2019; Pancholi c.s., 2015; Poonjan c.s. 2019; Weng c.s.; 2019). These new publications provide the opportunity to refine and expand the list made previously. Once again, we make a distinction between regional factors and factors relating to the development itself. The focus here is limited to science parks.

Success factors: regional conditions

There is a clear relationship between a region and a science park. It is impossible for a science park (or any other type of innovation area) to get off the ground or function properly if certain regional conditions are not met. Important conditions on a regional scale are:

  • Incorporated in a national innovation policy.
  • The presence of tertiary education, universities and other research institutes.
  • Entrepreneurial culture.
  • A well-functioning network of innovative/creative businesses and institutions.
  • Industrial structure.
  • A well-functioning labour market of knowledge workers.
  • An attractive residential and living environment.
  • The degree of urbanisation.
  • Available sources of financing.

Incorporated in a national innovation policy

Proper interaction between the region (regional government) and the national government can influence success, partly because it is a form of recognition of the potential present in the area.

Figure 1: the Hoa Lac National Innovation Centre in Vietnam is directly linked with the  national strategy on Industry 4.0. to create a world-class technology start-up ecosystem in Vietnam (a project by Arup)

Entrepreneurial culture

Cultural aspects partly determine the innovative strength of a region. Perhaps because this is difficult to investigate or prove, researchers limit themselves to mentioning characteristics such as (mutual) trust, creativity, focus on cooperation and innovation. The region needs to “buzz and bubble”. In The Netherlands, regions such as Rotterdam and Eindhoven often already have such a profile. It sometimes leads to notable developments such as the Brainport Industry Campus in Eindhoven; a concept that originated from the manufacturing industry itself.

The presence of tertiary education, universities and other research institutes

Research shows that successfully establishing strong partnerships with university scientists leads to higher performance levels of science parks and more generally of innovation areas. This interaction is often mentioned, but it should be remembered that universities are also the ‘suppliers’ of highly skilled workers and have research equipment that can be used by third parties under certain conditions. A university that functions as an ‘entrepreneurial university’ is generally highly valued.

A well-functioning network of innovative/creative businesses and institutions

A reliable network of companies and research institutions is a frequently mentioned regional condition in the research literature and a unique aspect of the aforementioned entrepreneurial culture. Strong, specialised economies with an excellent regional or local innovative ecosystem form a strong basis for prosperous areas of innovation. Think of Dutch examples such as Foodvalley (Ede – Wageningen region) and Life Cooperative (in Groningen). An example where a regional branch of a financial institute took the initiative is RvN@ in the Nijmegen region.

Industrial structure

The industrial structure of a region must also be considered. After all, different industries have varying degrees of innovation orientation. The already existing regional industrial system is a common theme in research papers on success factors. The importance of a robust technological base is usually mentioned in the first place.

A well-functioning labour market of knowledge workers

Technology and knowledge companies and institutions depend even more than other economic sectors on well-educated, creative workers. The region must 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 employees and retaining knowledge workers already living in the area.

Degree of urbanisation

Large, diverse, metropolitan regions in established developed economies are one of the key factors influencing the success of science parks and other areas of innovation because of easy access to skilled human labour, financial investment, support institutions, face-to-face meetings and so on. The so-called conurbation benefits or economies of scale.

Available sources of financing

Innovative companies often need a long development period for their products. This requires, among other things, specific financial arrangements from cooperating financial institutions and access to other sources of funding, such as innovation funds. Availability of financial support is vital for the performance of companies and institutions located in innovation areas. In addition to a government grant and investment funds, regional development entities or business angels can be considered. However, there is still a lot to be gained in terms of cooperation between different financial parties (pooling of strengths; risk diversification).

Success factors at the science park level

It will be apparent that the developer or manager of a science park will usually have little influence on the regional factors mentioned above. Cooperation with local and regional authorities is therefore obvious. On the other hand, the manager/developer has more power (if not decisive) in the science park itself. Firstly, we list the success factors and will then detail the main themes.

The key success factors for the science park itself are:

  • Good embedding of the park in local or regional economic policy.
  • Thorough market research, resulting in an appealing concept and a long-term strategy with a flexible development framework.
  • A clear profile:
    • clear distinguishing concept, profiling, target group (degree of mixing of functions), admission strategy;
    • presence of anchor companies or institutions.
  • Attractive, target-group-focused design:
    • the scale of development;
    • quality of physical infrastructure (including communication networks);
    • attractive design/landscaping, including a variety of meeting places;
    • high-quality architecture.
  • Good service infrastructure for companies:
    • a strong mutual network of companies and institutions;
    • targeted advisory services;
    • shared facilities;
    • business-oriented events;
    • embedding in regional and (inter)national innovation networks.
  • Creativity stimulating working environment:
    • provisions for employees;
    • events.
  • Strong management organisation.

Embedding in regional policy

The development of a science park (or any other type of innovation area) must be explicitly embedded in a regional or local innovation strategy to promote economic growth. One of the reasons is – as mentioned earlier – that a science park is not a stand-alone development. Established businesses are interlinked, but they also have links with the region and more distant areas. A region with several interconnected innovation areas can have an added value. Think, for example, of Ann Arbor SPARK in the United States of America or the connected science parks in Heidelberg (Germany).

Market, concept and long-term strategy

One must base the development of a science park on sound market research. Based on this research, the target group can be demarcated, and a distinctive concept can be devised (figure 2). This must be laid down in a clear vision and a (flexible) long-term strategy to achieve the formulated goals. Because a specific target group is chosen, it should be taken into account that the development time is longer than in a more traditional development, such as a business park.

Figure 2: a functional concept for the Solvay industrial co-innovation park, Brussels (Zjak Consult, Caudata)

A clear profile

A clear choice for one or more target groups is the basis for a clear profile. The management is responsible for a strict admission strategy and must adhere to it. Such a policy has consequences for the turnaround time and therefore for the financial exploitation. Managers of science parks and innovation areas around the world give the impression of following a severe admission strategy.  ‘Focusing on innovation’ is the most popular admission requirement. ‘Technological orientation’ is the second most common answer. Nevertheless, research on eight science parks in the Netherlands showed that on average only 33% of the companies on these science parks were targeted.

In addition to the target group, there may be room for complementary companies, such as consultancies and other specific (technical) service providers.

Certainly, in the start-up phase, having an anchor tenant can have a positive effect on attracting other companies and institutions.

After making a clear choice in terms of target group and real estate concept, management and stakeholders must then ensure that the science park has a clear identity. This identity, for example, is elaborated in the name and logo and must be expressed distinctly and consistently externally by all parties involved.

Another point to consider when choosing a target group is the following. The trends also include the increasing interest of companies in crossovers, with entrepreneurs assuming that this leads to (better) innovations and better business results. This largely abandons the idea that innovations come about in a specialised cluster of companies. On the other hand, the idea of crossovers does not indicate a complete abandonment of an admission policy. On the contrary, companies and institutions should be selected based on another criterion, namely having a so-called common knowledge base. The keyword here is ‘related variety’. This concept assumes that regions and also science parks can benefit from producing a variety of products and services since more variety implies more potential for knowledge dissemination between industries. Knowledge from one sector is most relevant to and can best be absorbed by another industry that is related in the sense that companies use similar knowledge (about technology, markets, etc.). In this case, the regional setting should also be taken into account, as relations between companies and institutions are never limited to the science park itself.

Figure 3: Utrecht Science Park Bilthoven, The Netherlands, has a clear identity due to its strong focus on the entire vaccination chain (a project by Arup, Caudata, Karres en Brands, Proof of the sum and  Zjak Consult)

An attractive design, aimed at the target group

This concerns the scale of the development, the quality of the physical infrastructure, the layout of the public space, and urban planning and architecture.

The scale of a development will influence the effect. The larger the park, the more companies and institutions can be accommodated and the more opportunities for interaction. Moreover, a large area offers more support for additional functions, and even a mix with housing can be a consideration.

The infrastructure must be up-to-date, and the communication infrastructure must be state-of-the-art. Infrastructure also includes access to the science park. Due to the often-peripheral location of science parks on the outskirts of cities, car use is generally high. In English science parks, for example, we are now seeing increasing interest in improving public transport, and science park owners are also investing in this.

There should also be an overarching urban development concept and a coordinating urban planner who supervises the architecture of the individual buildings. Because of long-term planning, flexibility in the concept is crucial. Nowadays, sustainability plays an essential role in all plans.

Research has also shown the positive effect of landscape architecture on the mood of workers. Semi-natural, not too formally designed areas are particularly appreciated. Attractive landscaping can be combined with informal meeting places, fitness areas, etc. It also goes hand in hand, of course, with objectives relating to sustainable development. Green Park in Reading (UK) is an excellent example of sustainability combined with landscaping.

Renting out buildings by a single owner (or a minimum number), combined with tradable or flexible leases and competent property management, offers companies many growth opportunities on a science park.

Services for companies and institutions

Although no weight can be given to the various success factors, available services for companies and institutions may be an exception. Indeed, many researchers stress the importance of excellent facilities, especially sharing them. Facility sharing (including opportunities for knowledge sharing and synergy) is the reason why companies establish themselves in a science park. This factor is even more important than cooperation with the university, research among entrepreneurs based on Dutch science parks shows. These entrepreneurs also stressed the importance of the availability of information systems, laboratories and clean rooms. At a somewhat lower level, but still very much appreciated, are catering, meeting rooms and restaurants.

From an organisational point of view, there are two main options here, which will often co-exist. Firstly, private parties will take the lead. Think for example of Igluu OneSpace and Igluu DaySpace (office space). At Oxford Science Park you can rent laboratory space by the hour. Also, it is precisely the organisation around the sharing of facilities (the management as an intermediary) and possibly the development and management of these facilities that is a task for science park management.

Creativity stimulating working environment

In addition to the facilities for companies, there is increasing recognition of the importance of a good working climate for employees. Established companies and institutions have an essential role to play here, but the overall management certainly also has to be involved. More than two-thirds of the entrepreneurs based on Dutch science parks agree (entirely) with the statement that, “because of the increasing shortage on the labour market for highly educated people, a science park must offer an optimal working environment”. Such an environment involves extensive facilities (such as shops, a hairdresser, catering or fitness) and an attractively designed park with recreational facilities (such as walking and running routes, and meeting places). A concept such as Enjoy Work (Chiswick Park, London) is therefore not primarily about the target group, but about creating such a stimulating working environment. First of all, it is striking that the management of Chiswick Park mainly consists of people with hotel management training. In addition to facilities such as sports facilities, a range of services and a shopping service on the intranet, courses can also be followed at the end of the day, for example, and there are numerous events.

Spatial clustering of these services, together with a ban on own catering facilities and large meeting rooms, has led to a lively movement of people at the High Tech Campus in Eindhoven (The Netherlands). Such dynamism improves the quality of life and can lead to unexpected encounters.

The essential role of science park management

It has already been pointed out that a science park is distinguished from the development of a common working area by the strong emphasis placed on management. This distinction is first and foremost due to the idea behind a science park: to promote networking and interaction. With the latter, a distinction can be made between companies and institutions on the one hand and employees on the other. Two perspectives can then be distinguished in campus management, which in turn can be further subdivided:

  • area management (the physical area):
    • real estate;
    • public space;
  • ecosystem management (socio-spatial system of relations and activities):
    • network management (aimed at companies and institutions, including the provision of associated facilities, matchmaking, seminars, support with financing and patent applications, etc.);
    • community management (focused on employees; concerns facilities and events).

There are many ways to manage a business, and there are also many ways to run an innovation area. When analysing management concepts, ownership is an important starting point. A survey by IASP in 2012 shows that the public sector dominates: public parties, mainly local authorities, public universities and regional authorities own 55% of science parks in Europe. The owner can be a single party, but also an alliance of these public parties. 15% of the science parks are privately owned (private universities and foundations and private companies) and 31% have mixed ownership. In the latter case, local government, public universities and private companies dominate.

Generally, a modest attitude on the part of local government is seen as a factor for success. Indeed, the setting up and management of a science park requires very specific knowledge which is usually not present in a municipality. Moreover, there is a risk that a local authority with financial interests in science park development will be more willing to abandon the concept or make concessions than other parties involved if the land issue does not proceed at the desired pace. Hence the comment made earlier about the importance of more extended exploitation periods. On the other hand, local government is the ideal partner in the policy of creating conditions.

Finally, it can be noted that the activities of management are seldom evaluated. Such an evaluation can best be done by approaching established companies and institutions once every two years with a survey, whether or not combined with work sessions and in-depth interviews. An external party can best do this. Such an evaluation can provide a lot of valuable information that leads to adjustments in the set-up of the science park and its management.

Essential success factors in the management of a science park are then:

  • A mix of management objectives, looking at both the physical aspects and the socio-spatial aspects, the latter distinguishing between the companies & institutions and the employees;
  • close cooperation between the parties concerned;
  • a limited, facilitating role for local government;
  • a regular evaluation of the functioning of the science park through research among companies, institutions and employees.

The following figure summarises the success factors.

Figure 4: success factors

For more information: see also my article Considerations for science parks to remain competitive.

Quoted literature
  • Faria, Adriana Ferreira de, c.s. (2019), Success Factors and Boundary Conditions for Technology Parks in the Light of the Triple Helix Model. In: Journal of Business and Economics, Volume 10, No. 1, pp. 50-67.
  • Jansz, Sascha Naomi; Terry van Dijk; Mark P. Mobach (2019), Critical success factors for campus interaction spaces and services – a systematic literature review. In: Journal of Facilities Management.
  • Pancholi, Surabhi, Yigitcanlar, Tan, & Guaralda, Mirko (2015) Place making facilitators of knowledge and innovation spaces: Insights from European best practices. International Journal of Knowledge-Based Development, 6 (3), pp. 215-240.
  • Poonjan, Amonpat and Anne Nygaard Tanner (2019), The role of regional contextual factors for science and technology parks: a conceptual framework, European Planning Studies.
  • Van Dinteren, Jacques (2012), Science parks in The Netherlands. Stimulating innovation or just iconic for firms? Paper for the 41st Annual Conference of Regional Science Association, British and Irish Section. Galway, Ireland.
  • Van Dinteren, Jacques (2017), Success factors for Science Parks. IADP-website,
  • Weng, Xiao-Hai, c.s. (2019), identification of key success factors for private science parks established from brownfield regeneration: a case study from China. In: International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 16, 1295.

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