Innovation Area Development Partnership (IADP)

Considerations for science parks to remain competitive

Prof. dr. Jacques van Dinteren, Zjak Consult / Innovation Area Development Partnership (IADP)

Paul Jansen MSc, Arup / Innovation Area Development Partnership (IADP)

 Paper for 36th IASP World Conference, Nantes 24 – 27 September 2019


During the fourth industrial revolution there could be competition between science parks and innovation districts. The latter seems to be a better answer to changing demand by innovative companies and knowledge workers. However, the science park concept is not static. We think the science park has its own position amidst industrial innovation campuses and innovation districts. But (old, depreciated) science parks need to adjust to the new era. Management of science parks might find inspiration in the characteristics of innovation districts. We propose three considerations that might help science parks to remain competitive:

  • Consider adding housing (including an impact on service level and reachability);
  • Consider a shift towards multiple target groups;
  • Consider to lay more emphasis on community management.

Especially with regard to the first two considerations one has to keep in mind that a science park is not a closed entity. Setting out new strategies also requires a re-orientation of the position and role of science parks in their urban and regional context.


Disruptive technologies and new developments such as robotics, virtual reality, the ‘Internet of Things’ and artificial intelligence are changing the way people live and work. These changes are having such an impact that there is talk of nations entering the fourth industrial revolution era (Schwab, 2017). This era stresses the importance of geographical areas of innovation where companies and institutions find the right conditions to be creative and to attract the (often scarce) workforce they are looking for. Although information is shared worldwide, local networks are still vital and even seem to be gaining in importance. That is why specific geographic areas remain important for innovative companies. Spatial clustering makes it easier to get access to information, to collaborate, to use specific services and to create an environment that stimulates creativity and well-being.

In general three types of innovation areas can be distinguished.

  • The science park that creates a business environment for innovation-oriented companies, knowledge institutions and support services. Many science parks have been formed around a university or another knowledge institution (sometimes located at a greater distance).
  • The industrial innovation campus that is comparable to a science park, but where the companies and institutions do not have a knowledge institution or university as a pivot, but a leading innovative company (think, for example, of the DSM campuses in The Netherlands).
  • The innovation district that has a strong mix of functions (knowledge institutions, innovative companies, housing and facilities) and that can usually be found in or around city centres. In many cases, the realisation of such a district coincides with a restructuring of the urban environment. The concept is emerging in Europe (already more established in the United States) and currently has 22@barcelona and Knowledge Quarter in London as examples.

The innovation district is a relatively new concept. It might be a competitor, especially for science parks, as the innovation district often seems to be a better answer to changing demand by management of innovative companies and knowledge workers, especially the young ones, in this fourth industrial evolution. This is not to say that the science park will be less successful and companies and institutions might choose other options. If only because some companies have specific space requirements or possible environmental impacts that make them unsuitable for city centre locations. Innovation districts and science parks could be considered as different segments in the market of innovation areas. Nevertheless, science parks have to adapt to new requirements by their clients. Even if no innovation district is available in the region, managers of a science park have to interrogate the qualities of their park and must pose themselves the question if and how their park has to change to remain attractive. A number of science parks are already adjusting their existing plans in such a way that a more multifunctional, innovation-oriented living and working area is created. Examples are the plans for the Sydney Science Park (Australia) and Lindholmen Science Park in Gothenburg (Sweden). In the Netherlands, Kennispark Twente could be moving in the same direction, given the strategy that has recently been presented.

In this paper we will focus on discussion of the opportunities science parks have to remain competitive in the new era. We first analyse the innovation district as an assumed competitor of science parks. The attention paid to this new development suggests that it fits much better with today’s demand by the innovative industry. Based on that analysis we will suggest three considerations management of science parks can make to keep up with the changing requirements by (resident) companies and institutions.

Innovation districts as competitor

Innovation districts have been gaining a lot of attention in recent years. With a small adjustment, we can use the definition of Sanz (2016) for an innovation area for that of an innovation district: “A designated zone with its own specific management team, whose main objectives include economic development through the promotion and attraction of selective innovative business for which specific services are provided, and that may also include residential and cultural areas or facilities, or are embedded in urban spaces with such facilities, and with which the economic aspects of the area of ​​innovation interact. ” Just as with the other two concepts (science parks and industrial campuses), management is of importance in an innovation district, but functional mixing is a relatively new element here. The link with a university (or other knowledge institution) may be less strong, but can be partly offset by an annex (Van Dinteren & Jansen, 2018).

Until recently innovation districts seemed to be a phenomenon that was strongly represented in the United States of America. Although no research has been carried out into this, it could be assumed that the donut structure that had arisen in many cities in the USA and the revaluation of the old central districts contributed to the emergence of these districts. Cheap buildings and land were available for new developments thanks to the decades long neglect of these old areas. The spatial-economic changes in Europe and perhaps elsewhere in the world have to a lesser extent turned away from those central parts of cities. That does not alter the fact that outside the USA something of a catch-up effort seems to be coming: in many cities – and mainly in its central parts – plans for innovation districts are developed or areas are under construction. Recent research in western Europe alone identified at least 70 innovation districts, with some being quite mature and others only just emerging, according to Julie Wagner c.s. (2019).

Characteristics of innovation districts

One of the characteristics of innovation districts often is its centrality to active urban environments. As the economy becomes more specialised and knowledge intensive, companies increasingly appreciate the way city centres achieve a high degree of face-to-face contact and informal meetings. The prediction that thanks to new communication technologies “distance is dead”, has not come true.

The innovation district is also characterised by an ‘open’ structure. There are no sharp borders and if borders are defined it is just for reasons of coordination. The Knowledge Quarter in London, for example, describes its territory as an area within a one-mile radius of King’s Cross railway station.

Moreover, these central locations give access to a broad pool of skilled and creative employees, who themselves appreciate the liveliness of inner cities, especially when it comes to shopping and leisure offers, cultural facilities and places to meet with others. Centrally located innovation districts can be reached easily by different modes of transport. But it is not necessary to travel or commute, as the district and its immediate surroundings offer a great variety of housing opportunities. This mix of functions makes the district dynamic and attractive for especially young knowledge workers. They seek a vibrant, small community with a mix of living, working and recreation.

From an innovation point of view networks, offer of services, availability of space, information  – among others – are important and make it necessary to have an organisation that takes care of the creation of such a specific work environment and business climate. In the case of an innovation district this will be an organisation of companies and institutions established in the area, maybe with (some) involvement of the municipality or other relevant parties (Chamber of Commerce, for example). Focus will be on network and community management. Real estate (property) management is no issue. In an innovation district management in general is much more about coordination than it is about control.

Finally, the innovation district might have a mix of target groups. There are no statistics available that can prove this, but looking at the plans for innovation districts one gets the impression that creating a strong focus has no high priority. Research revealed that innovation districts in the United Kingdom “are seeking to build strengths and develop linkages across a range of different sectors, recognising the benefits of interaction between them. They have all succeeded in amplifying cross sectoral activity’’ (Arup / UK Innovation Districts Group, 2018). In this study is demonstrated that management organisations coordinate linkages between different industrial, educational and research activities. “In London’s Knowledge Quarter, examples of cross-thematic collaborations include:

  • A strategic partnership between the Public Collaboration Lab at Central Saint Martins and Camden Council. The lab explores the potential for, and value of, strategic collaboration between design education and local government and how design research and teaching can contribute to service, policy and social innovation in the local government context.
  • Through the Digital Music Lab project, City, University of London’s Machine Learning Group is working with UCL and the British Library, alongside Queen Mary University, to develop research methods and software infrastructure to explore and analyse large-scale music collections.
  • London Metropolitan Archives worked with the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine on an activity with school children about the spread of infectious diseases” (Arup / UK Innovation Districts Group, 2018).

There is no admission policy in an innovation district. People and companies can establish themselves rather freely (within the limits of law). This is of course due to the mix of ownership structures in such a district. On the other hand, science parks often focus on a specific group (or groups) of companies and institutions. The IASP 2018 survey shows that 61% of the science parks and other areas of innovation describe themselves as specialist or semi-specialist.[1]

Using these characteristics as a starting point we now can present a table that shows differences between innovation districts and science parks (Table 1), although we immediately have to add that this does no right to the many differences one will find in practice!

Table 1: differences between science parks and innovation districts (simplified)

Characteristic Innovation district Science park
Geography Central Away from central areas of economic activity, often at the edge of a city
Reachability Multi-modal Car-oriented
Functions Mix, including living Mono-functional
Services Great variety Limited
Cultural events and facilities (employee related) Wide range No events or incidental
Business related events On a regularly basis On a regularly basis
Atmosphere Dynamic Neutral
Urban design No master plan

(Existing) urban environment with the addition of new buildings

Master plan

New buildings and landscaping

Area No specific borders Clearly bounded area
Ownership Complex: many owners One owner or a limited number
Management focus Focus on economic networks and the community


Focus on economic networks and real estate


Target groups Mix Often a limited number
Characteristics of companies Small or medium scale, easy to mix with other functions Small, medium and large scale companies. Limited environmental risks accepted.

In many plans for innovation districts it is also assumed that such a development will have a positive impact on its neighbourhood and the surrounding neighbourhoods (in terms of inclusive growth). It is often stated that these neighbouring quarters are characterised by low incomes, lower education, et cetera. It is imaginable that the development of an innovation district can create new jobs, but it is questionable that this will be limited to the surrounding neighbourhoods. It is also questionable that the creation of an innovation district will have an impact on the education level of the people in its direct environment by offering courses and having libraries open to these people[2]. Negative effects are also conceivable as the establishment of an innovation district can lead to a pressure on the housing market, hence higher prices and the displacement of low-price rented housing. This has happened in and around Kendall Square in Cambridge (USA).

Changes in locational requirements by personnel

As the demographics of the workforce continuously change, work conditions, workplace and workplace environment have to change as well. Companies and senior management teams that are most aligned with the new generations of workers in terms of purpose, culture and professional development are likely to attract and retain the best millennial talent (Deloitte, 2018). At the same time companies have to take care of employee experience, including fitness and wellness programs, balancing financial and non-financial benefits and so on (

Many studies show shifting interests by young employees. According to a study in the USA, generation Y wants a workplace that offers – among others – flexibility and fun. They ask for modern and edgy workplaces that also stimulate communication and collaboration (Steelcase, 2011). Changes not only affect the inside of buildings, but also the outside, including geographical location. Some twenty interviews with entrepreneurs established in Science Park Amsterdam showed that they estimate that the quality of the working environment on the functioning of their employees is determined for 70% by the workplace and layout of the building. In addition, 12% will be determined by the physical environment and 18% by the facilities in the immediate vicinity. So, the immediate environment has a share of 30% and this outcome suggests that the immediate surroundings of a building do matter. In that same project in The Netherlands the following statement was presented to entrepreneurs on eight science parks: “Given the increasing shortage on the labour market for highly educated people, it is essential that a science park offers the optimal working environment for those employees. This involves extensive facilities (for example shops, hairdresser, catering, fitness, etc.) and an attractively designed science park with recreational facilities (walking and running routes, meeting places, etc.).” 45% of the respondents agreed and 24% strongly agreed (Van Dinteren, 2012).

Young employees seem particularly interested in a dynamic environment . “The work environment, so far largely contained in the corporate building, has begun to spread. Today, the city is the office. Work enters public space, third places and homes, challenging the boundaries between private and public lives, work and free time, and leading to new questions about different cultures, practices, aspirations, and more” (Gall and De Benoist cited in in Leyk c.s., 2010). But also a natural environment can play a role. Outdoor space, in particular nature, can have a positive effect on the well-being and work satisfaction of the employees and reduce sick leave (Kaplan, 2007; Terrapin, 2012; see also Bouwmeester, 2010). Moreover, the quality of the work environment can stimulate productivity. 96% of the employees working in Chiswick Park (London, UK) state that the “enjoy-work environment enhances my productivity” (

Although a stimulating work environment with good facilities is highly appreciated, it has to be recognised that these aspects are seldom decisive when it is about choosing a job, but it will help people to be more creative, more productive, enjoy work and make them stay longer in the company. Based on case studies and literature Pancholi c.s. (2015) state that the new generation of innovation areas are increasingly becoming more people oriented, diverse, open and collaborative. “Major facilitators for place making […] are to have a supportive and accessible management environment; vital and collaborative economic environment; vibrant, open and creative physical environment and a well-networked and eventful people environment.”

Changes in locational requirements by companies

Companies not only take the requirements of their personnel into consideration. The ones that have a strong focus on innovation in particular are continuously looking for the right networks to operate in and to be established in. Over the last century, many researchers have suggested, or came to the conclusion, that firms have a tendency to geographically cluster because information and ideas move badly over space. Although it was believed for some decades, technology has not caused the death of distance. Entrepreneurs are working both globally and locally. Hence, proximity still plays a role, especially in the cases of knowledge and innovation.

Apart from specific qualities of the region, entrepreneurs working in Dutch science and having an above average interest in knowledge/innovation stress locational factors such as the closeness of a university and the presence of networks between companies and institutions (Van Dinteren, 2012). Based on a limited number of interviews with entrepreneurs settled in Canadian science parks Castonguay c.s. (2018) determined the following factors (without ranking): linkages / sharing knowledge between companies (agglomeration effect), the availability of premises and equipment, the availability of skilled human resources, financial incentives, the reputation of the park, the geographical proximity with specific actors and the geographical positioning of the park. Answers by managers of science parks around the globe also point at the importance of proximity to other companies and institutions. 59% have the opinion that the quality of resident companies is a very important factor for the competitiveness of science parks and areas of innovation (IASP, 2018).

The above show present requirements. We haven’t been able to detect research, based on surveys focussed on entrepreneurs, that gives a clear picture of future requirements and that can help to design strategies for the (re)development of science parks. Nevertheless, it is clear from the changing requirements by personnel that this will influence the locational choices of innovative companies, as attracting and retaining talent is crucial. Although ‘talent’ is a regional characteristic, the possibilities of attracting talent will also depend upon the location chosen in that region. Among others, multifunctionality, dynamism and an environment that stimulates encounters and creativity seem to be important.

Moreover, from a sustainability point of view companies might be interested in locations that have multi modal accessibility. It is our impression that during the last two decades locations that have no multi-modal access were less appreciated by management. This might have contributed to a revaluation of the qualities of central areas by a part of the business and can be of relevance with regard to future location choices by entrepreneurs.

Another trend that is worth exploring is a growing interest by companies in crossovers. In the recent past companies seem to cluster with other companies in the same or adjacent sectors. Pancholi c.s. (2015) suggest that newly emerging knowledge and innovative areas seek diversity in terms of industries, firms and also in terms of knowledge workers for their long-term viability and knowledge exchange. A study by Gwebu c.s. (2019) concludes that firms residing in science parks with more co-located complementary firms demonstrate better sales and sales growth performance. These research outcomes are consistent with a trend in which crossovers between industries are emphasized, assuming that this leads to innovations and better business results. A paper by Sharp c.s. (2011) argues why the convergence of life sciences, physical sciences and engineering is of great importance, especially with regard to the future of health care. They see convergence as a blueprint for innovation and state that such a convergence will provide a new knowledge base.


Looking at today’s science parks in general, there can be a conflict between the expectations of managers and employees on one side and the qualities of a science park on the other. Changes in demand can put the market position of (older, depreciated) science parks under pressure, whereas innovation districts seem to be successful, although hard evidence seems to lack so far. Looking at Table 1, we might find inspiration here to modify the science park concept by transferring some of the assumed success factors of innovation districts to that concept. We like to suggest three considerations that might help management of science parks to adjust to the present and near future demand by the people working in these innovative companies and the companies themselves:

  • consider adding housing (including an impact on service level and reachability);
  • consider a shift towards multiple target groups;
  • consider laying more emphasis on community management.

Especially with regard to the first two one has to keep in mind that a science park is not a closed entity in a region. It is part of that region: an ecosystem within an ecosystem. Setting out new strategic lines for a science parks also asks for a re-orientation of the position and role of the science park in the region.

Consideration 1: adding housing

Innovation districts offer a variety of housing options. Can that be realized in a science park? An interesting aspect is that building houses and (student) apartments will broaden the economic base for services on the estate. That includes the reachability by public transport. It is also often suggested that adding housing should bring more liveliness and might help to create a community of knowledge workers, entrepreneurs and students. But the liveliness (especially in evening hours) should not be exaggerated: it will be the same as in every other neighbourhood….

Talking about the opportunities for housing on a science park starts with the question about the amount of space available. Since a science park can only function properly if there is ‘mass’, in this case plenty of room for the establishment of companies and institutions that can interact with each other, it is relatively easier to think about housing when a science park is large (in terms of hectares) and – of course – has sufficient space available.[3] Allowing housing on land that can also be used for innovative companies and knowledge institutions requires a sound underpinning of the added value. If that is only on the financial level, that added value is up for discussion. Think off adding housing (sometimes not even aimed at knowledge workers) to get a healthy financial exploitation. This is the case, for example, in the Alderley Life Sciences Park (near Manchester, UK) where “the funds are released from that [residential] development to be used to deliver the desired Life Science Park.” A link between who lives there and the science park is not laid in the plans for that science park. Something similar also applies to residential construction in Hong Kong Science Park and Dubai Science Park. Housing plans of the BioScience Park in Leiden (The Netherlands) have a clearly different approach. 1,000 homes will be realised that are intended for students, graduates and employees of knowledge institutions and companies that are located in the park. With this, one hopes to create a residential climate that meets the requirements that are set today. The High Tech Campus in Eindhoven wants to house expat families. In 2013, the High Tech Campus conducted research among companies to gauge the need to live in the technology park. At that time, there was hardly any demand. But in the meantime opinions have changed, according to a recent survey among the largest companies.  Expats who now come to Eindhoven sometimes have trouble finding suitable housing. Then they end up somewhere in a neighbourhood too far away from the campus, at a much too high rent. By offering them temporary housing (2 – 6 months), expats will have more time to orientate themselves and find the right accommodation. Other examples of including housing in the concept can be found in Manchester (UK) and Berlin (Germany). In Adlershof Science Park in Berlin, 1,600 rented houses and apartments are now being built, as well as 400 apartments for students. A hundred homes and apartments are being built in Didsbury Science Park in Manchester.

In these latter examples the development is connected with the science park development, but it is not clear whether this is accompanied by a strict admission policy, so that only the intended target group will actually settle in the science park. So, if one chooses to add housing specifically for knowledge workers or students on the estate, management has to keep control over the type of households that are admitted. This can be done by renting the houses and apartments instead of selling them. This broadens the activities of management, which is not always desired. Higher price levels can also have a selective effect, but it is still uncertain whether this leads to the desired group of residents.

Although creating living quarters on a science park might seem an interesting opportunity, one has to keep in mind that not everyone will be interested. A science park might serve a certain market segment, but it is possible that specific target groups are much more interested in another offer elsewhere in the region. The care for a sufficient and sufficiently varied housing supply for knowledge workers is primarily a focal point at the regional level. From numerous discussions with knowledge workers and entrepreneurs it is clear to us how important the quality of residential and living environment is. However, there is not one ideal living environment for the knowledge worker. The residential environment sought by knowledge workers partly depends on the stage of life in which the household is. A region must therefore have a housing policy that takes account of the requirements of knowledge workers. Within such a varied regional offer, the science park can take a specific, distinctive position.

Consideration 2: shifting towards multiple target groups

Given the mix of activities in innovation districts, one could conclude that possibilities for cross-fertilisation seem to be valued by knowledge workers, institutions and companies (assuming that short distances do matter). If this mix of industries in innovation districts is a success factor, it might be interesting for strongly specialised science parks to investigate the added value of broadening their scope with regard to the companies and institutions they admit. Of all parks in the IASP survey of science parks and areas of innovation 25% is specialised and 37% says to be semi-specialised (IASP, 2018). So, 38% of science parks have a broad scope. This doesn’t necessarily point at a  base for successful crossovers, for it is not clear what the admission policy is. In a study focussed on eight science parks in The Netherlands one of the outcomes was that on an average only 33% of the companies established on these parks belonged to the target group (Van Dinteren, 2012). However, managers of science parks and areas of innovation around the globe give the impression of following a very serious admission strategy. Being focussed on innovation is the most popular admission requisite (92% of all). Technology is the next most common answer (86%; IASP, 2018).

Given the growing interest in crossovers / convergence the search for companies that have the same knowledge base, might be more rewarding than the choice for specific sectors. We have described the trend here above. It is interesting to see that a comparable idea can be found in regional economic geography: the concept of ‘related variety’. This suggests that regions may benefit from producing a variety of products and services, as more variety implies more potential for inter-industry knowledge spill-overs (Frenken et al., 2007; Content & Frenken, 2016). Knowledge originating from one sector is most relevant to, and can most effectively be absorbed by, another sector that is related in the sense that companies draw on similar knowledge (about technology, markets, etc.).

So, if science park management wants to stimulate diversity and inter-industry relationships one has to keep in mind that this is probably most successful if companies and institutions involved, although having different activities, do have a similar knowledge base. That could be the leading principle for an admission policy. However, also in this case we have to keep in mind the regional setting. Linkages are never limited to the science park itself.

We present the hypothesis that the larger a science park the better it is to have a broad range of activities, using the same knowledge base, as the size of the park offers many opportunities for interactions and possibilities for cooperation. The smaller a science park, the better – probably – the creation of a specialised cluster that is very well connected with companies and institutions in the innovative region. This is not to say that large science parks shouldn’t be connected with the region, but maybe to a somewhat lesser extent.

When thinking of knowledge bases it is interesting to mention the hypothesis by Van Winden & Carvalho (2016) that activities that more intensively rely on symbolic knowledge (e.g., media, design) tend to have a stronger preference for urban settings, while this is less the case for activities based on analytical and synthetic knowledge (e.g., biotechnology and advanced engineering). This hypothesis can be seen as an invitation to think about a division of tasks between centrally located innovation areas (often innovation districts) and non-central suburban innovation areas (as is the case with many science parks).

Consideration 3: laying more emphasis on community management

Good integrated management is a characteristic of a science park and a very large part of management activity is focussed on networks and resident companies. Think of business development, incubation and acceleration, setting up international relations, investor relations and knowledge transfer. When looking at management activities, we would like to make a distinction in network, property and community management. Our argument is that more attention should be given by science park management to community management to create a high quality working environment. The atmosphere, the events, the availability of ‘third spaces’, the retail services, and so on, make an innovation district distinct and attractive and probably a competitor of science parks.

Apart from the possible competition with innovation districts, we think that community management is relevant because of the type of working environment knowledge workers are seeking today and the impact it can have on the functioning of companies. But first: what are we talking about? The focus here is the community, defined as the total group of people working in the estate. The question is how to create a working environment that helps the community to be creative and productive and that creates a healthy and creativity stimulating work environment. Here we can make a distinction in tangible and non-tangible services. Among the tangible services are services that can be found in buildings or have a specific physical infrastructure. Think of sports facilities, pubs, nursery, restaurants, dry cleaning, shops, and so on. Management can at least facilitate these services, but in many cases they even have full control. When it is about leisure services about half of these are owned by the science park. In the case of social services about one third is owned by the science park. Half of both these services is run by a third party (IASP, 2018). However, the successful offer of these services is dependent upon the size of the consumer base. Hence, management has limited power with regard to this kind of offer.

The creation of a nice, creative atmosphere (design, landscaping), the organisation of social networks (including meeting, parties and the like) and the offer of events and sport games are clear examples of non-tangible services. In a somewhat broader context the availability of bikes and courses and fitness and wellness programs could be considered as non-tangible. And although the consumer base plays a role here too, there might be more opportunities here, given the changes in the demographics of the workforce, and hence the requirements by knowledge workers. We do know that if high quality community management is among the assets, as is the case in Chiswick Park (London), it is highly appreciated. 91% of the workers on Chiswick Park say that events add value to their work life; 63% states that summer sports add value; 95% says that the physical environment and 67% says that health & wellness activities add value to their work life (

Tangible and non-tangible services can have a positive impact on the people working in a science park, but can also stimulate informal meetings, exchange of information and the creation of networks, all of which are important inputs for the functioning of a science park. In the case of High Tech Campus (Eindhoven, The Netherlands) landscaping is supposed to stimulate this: lots of green, hiking trails and many benches near the central lake and along the paths. Concentrated parking facilities and services (The Strip) makes it necessary to make short walks and stimulates meeting other people. The same design concept can be found in other science parks, for example GreenPark (Reading, England). But there is more at the High Tech Campus: companies are not allowed to have their own company canteen. In-company meeting rooms are allowed till a maximum of 25 people. For food and larger meeting rooms people should move to The Strip where all services are concentrated.

Open for discussion

During the past sixty years science parks have been very successful and were able to adapt to new demands and requirements over time. Science parks have changed from a real estate concept towards an important innovation and network concept that contributes to the success of companies and regions. Science parks now have management organisations that are aimed at removing concerns about daily, irrelevant matters among their resident companies and institutions and connecting these with other companies and institutions in and outside the park.

In the Fourth Industrial Revolution science parks probably no longer will be the most prominent concept. Demand by companies and knowledge workers is changing and new concepts, like innovation districts, are coming up. This is not to say that science parks are at the end of the life cycle. Especially the older ones need new investments and programs to keep up with the changes. Taking the assumed success factors of innovation districts as a starting point, we have presented in this paper three considerations that might help (older) science parks to become more competitive. These are early ideas to open up the discussion about new requirements for science parks in the coming decades.

Looking for research outcomes during the writing of this paper it became clear that much is argued by authors and scholars, but less is researched well. There is a serious risk of taking arguments from conventional wisdom and not robust analysis. A research agenda for the coming years could be based on:

  • the future locational demands by the managers of knowledge intensive (innovation oriented) companies and institutions;
  • the importance of the elements of a creativity stimulating work environment for knowledge workers;
  • the possibility of a division of tasks between different types of innovation areas and the way such a variety can stimulate regional development.


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[1] For science parks (in a strict sense), there may be slightly different figures here. Science parks and other areas of innovation are all involved in the IASP survey. The last category makes up 14% of total respondents.

[2] This is an argument on the ‘neighbourhood-level’. On a regional level, looking at the economy on a larger, economic scale, inclusive growth can help people to get (better) jobs and can drive innovation and greater productivity.

[3] Here we neglect several Asian science parks that have the size of a city and where housing is a natural part of that city.

The emergence of innovation districts in the United Kingdom: progress and lessons

Paper for the 36th IASP World Conference: The 4th Industrial Revolution: areas of innovation and science parks as key boosters for a successful transition
Nantes 24 – 27 September 2019

  • Tom Bridges BSc, MSc, MRTPI, Leeds Office Leader, Director Cities Advisory, Arup
  • Paul Jansen MSc, Cities Market Leader Europe, Arup / Founder Innovation Area Development Partnership (IADP)
  • Prof. dr. Jacques van Dinteren, director Zjak Consult / Founder Innovation Area Development Partnership (IADP)


Innovation districts are urban areas with networks of knowledge-producing organisations such as universities, research bodies, teaching hospitals, cultural institutions, and knowledge-intensive businesses. Innovation districts are becoming the locations of choice for spin-out, start-up, and scale-up science and technology driven firms, as well as for larger businesses undertaking research and development.

There has been previous work on innovation districts in the US and London, but the UK story is less well-known. This paper looks at the progress and lessons from the six innovation districts that form the UK Innovation Districts Group. Whilst these projects are at different stages of development, their success to date and future potential is clear. Through major investments in new campuses and cultural buildings, public spaces, physical and digital infrastructure, and proactive curation of social, research and business networks, innovation districts are emerging as some of our most significant and productive economic locations.


In the 1980s and 1990s ideas about the West European economy changed from service economy or post-industrial society into knowledge-based economies. Innovation was considered crucial to be able to compete worldwide and, by doing so, to prosper economically. From that moment on the generation of knowledge, the establishment and growth of networks of business and knowledge institutions and the availability of high-quality education (and in the end a high-quality workforce) were considered to be essential to hold or strengthen economic positions. Information and communication technology play an important role in the networks needed: the exchange of data, information and knowledge. But this technology seemed to make distances disappear. That is why three decades ago the concept of ‘death of distance’ was introduced. It questioned the necessary proximity of persons in the case of knowledge exchange. The concept did not hold. Areas of innovation, such as science and technology parks, still had a reason for existence. However, it was realised that, as the economy became more knowledge based, it was both spatial proximity and high densities of face-to-face contact as well as being well incorporated in global networks that makes the exchange of information and ideas, and hence innovation, successful. Knowledge driven firms value being in locations where they have wide access to a skilled workforce, and which can provide the spaces and networks for people, firms, researchers, clinicians, entrepreneurs, creatives and investors to collaborate, compare and compete.

Thanks to agglomeration effects it is the cities and urban agglomerations that have the best opportunities for companies and institutions to innovate. Within these urban agglomerations the areas of innovation, where innovative firms, universities and other institutions cluster, still play a role. In recent years the typology is even broadened. Initially areas of innovation consisted of science and technology parks and industrial innovation campuses, but in the 1990s a cautious, new development was detectable. There was a steady growth of start-ups and for most of them science parks were too expensive or (still) had too much a focus on real estate instead of managing and stimulating the local networks. Former manufacturing districts and city centre fringe seemed to be more attractive for this group of entrepreneurs thanks to the low rents. The real estate market saw new opportunities and started to create ‘creative factories’ in old buildings. Restaurants, copy shops and other service activities detected the new opportunities and new, unplanned developments occurred. Examples in London are Old Street Roundabout (also known as Silicon Roundabout) and Shoreditch. These kinds of developments made local governments curious and made them think of helping to create such districts – now known as innovation districts – to stimulate the economy and, at the same time, rehabilitate old (industrial) areas in their cities.

Poblenau Quarter in Barcelona used to be a very important, large industrial district and is generally considered to be the first government led development of an innovation district in Europe. Almost at the same time comparable developments started in the United States. Members of the International Association of Science Parks (IASP) noticed the trend and it eventually led to changing the name into the International Association of Science Parks and Areas of Innovation (still abbreviated as IASP). But for somewhat unclear reasons a publication by the Brookings Institution ensured that the concept of innovation districts came to the centre of attention in 2014.

Many innovation districts in the United States have since then been standing in the spotlights, but the UK story (with London as an exception) is less well-known, despite the success achieved by the first wave of innovation districts and the huge potential of others. As a result, there is a risk that the UK will not grasp this opportunity fully. We need to ensure that innovation districts secure the investment and support necessary to maximise their success. Arup have worked with the UK Innovation Districts Group to assess the progress made by innovation districts, factors for success, issues to be overcome and the priorities and opportunities for the future. The research has included a review of literature and interviews with those involved in innovation district projects. This paper describes some intriguing developments in the UK. Based on these and other developments (which can be found in the full report; Arup, 2018) a series of recommendations to make the most of the opportunities innovation districts offer is set out.

The six innovation districts that were the focus for the research

Manchester: Oxford Road Corridor

Co-located on the Corridor are two universities, five specialist hospitals, local government, entrepreneurs, global businesses, cultural assets and an Enterprise Zone. The Innovation District is underpinned by world-class research and has particular specialisms in advanced materials and health and life sciences. An ongoing series of transformational investments has created an environment that has seen exceptional jobs and GVA growth. This pro-active approach to place-shaping has supported the development of a wider mix of uses and has seen improved public realm and shared spaces; the introduction of ‘Dutch cycle lanes’ and traffic restrictions; development of new cultural facilities; and the integration of leading-edge smart city technologies. Targeted business interventions have focused on accelerating innovation, commercialisation and improved health pathways.

Glasgow West End and Waterfront Innovation District

This area is an ideal environment for innovation. It boasts one of the world’s largest hospitals, a top 100 research-intensive university as well as cultural facilities on the banks of the River Clyde. With the main partners – Glasgow City Council and Scottish Enterprise – and the support of the Scottish and UK Governments and the wider business community, Glasgow University is establishing an innovation district that will help push Glasgow into the top rank of global innovative cities. Within the innovation district, Kelvingrove Art Gallery & Museum and the Riverside Museum combined rank 10th in all UK visitor attractions. Glasgow also boasts one of the most successful music venues in the world – the SSE Hydro. The West End and Waterfront area also hosts the BBC, STV and other media companies, together with the University and its own significant art and museum collections. The redevelopment of the city’s historic Kelvin Hall, believed to be the first place in the world to combine major collections with health and wellbeing linked to sport under one roof.

London: Knowledge Quarter

Within a one-mile radius of King’s Cross (approximately a 10-12-minute walk) is a remarkable cluster of organisations spanning research, higher education, science, art, culture and media.

Individually, they offer resources for specialists in numerous fields, from architecture and the arts to biotechnology and veterinary science. The Knowledge Quarter brings together over 85 cultural, research, scientific, business and academic institutions both large and small under one umbrella. The Knowledge Quarter fosters knowledge exchange and collaboration between staff and users of cross-disciplinary communities to exchange ideas, expertise and evidence. Developing networks to encourage collaborative projects, training, commissioned research and access to funding, engaging a wide variety of audiences and benefiting the local research community.

Leeds: Innovation District

The Innovation District will be focused on the academic and economic strengths of the city, particularly health innovation, engineering, financial and business services, data analytics and digital technologies. Digital pathology innovation is the core of the development as Leeds is a globally leading centre in this field. The development boasts the largest online pathology repository in the world. The collaboration between Leeds Teaching Hospitals Trust and the University of Leeds has created a number of novel spin out technologies and applications. For example, their strategic partnership with Leica Biosystems has led to full digitisation of their pathology lab and establishment as the Leica Global Centre of Excellence in Digital Pathology. Digital Pathology provides significant opportunities to apply artificial intelligence and machine learning to increase the speed and consistency of cancer diagnosis.

Liverpool: Knowledge Quarter

In the heart of Liverpool’s Knowledge Quarter are two University campuses, the School of Tropical Medicine and the Royal University Teaching Hospital, as well as Sensor City and the Materials Innovation Factory. Interesting to see that also the Liverpool Science Park is established here (two buildings). Eye catcher, among others, is the Centre of Excellence in Infectious Disease Research (CEIDR), launched in 2017 by the University of Liverpool and the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine and focuses on translational partnering in infectious diseases. CEIDR provides a single point of access for the industry into a broad infectious disease expertise base in Liverpool for translational activity and helps to develop relationships with industries. Apart from innovative firms and institutions and learning Knowledge Quarter offers a mix of cultural activities, theatres, cafés, restaurants and the likes.

London: Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park

In this area, where the Olympic Games have been held, a new Culture and Education District will be developed, focussing on education, innovation and enterprise. Already two universities are established here (including the Advanced Propulsion Centre and the High-Speed Sustainable Manufacturing Institute) and three more will be located here soon. Based in the former Olympic Press and Broadcast Centre, Here East provides space for start-ups and companies, offering a high-quality work-environment. Special attention is given to programmes that support these entrepreneurs and help building linkages between companies and universities.  For Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, the Knowledge Quarter at King’s Cross is an inspiring example. It is even suggested to create a link between the two developments, as they are only seven minutes away by high speed rail link.

Main Features and Typologies of UK Innovation Districts

The research identified the main features of UK Innovation Districts, which are set out in Figure 1. There are three main categories of actors.

First, there are knowledge producing anchor institutions such as research universities, major teaching hospitals, and other research bodies. In some UK innovation districts this includes cultural institutions. Professional bodies such as the Royal College of Physicians (in KQ London and Liverpool) are also important. Many of these organisations are investing significantly in new buildings and campus developments, and in doing so seeking to reflect an increasing importance of supporting local economic growth as part of their mission.

Second, there are knowledge intensive firms that value proximity to the knowledge intensive anchor institutions as well as each other. These firms range from start-ups and spin-outs from universities and other publicly funded organisations, fast-growing technology-driven scale-up firms, to larger corporates who locate part of their research and development and intrapreneurship functions in innovation districts. The engagement of angel investors and venture capital is also a necessary feature for success.

Third, innovation districts require the development of the right type of physical spaces: workspaces; collaboration space; infrastructure; and public spaces.  A range of workspace is needed to accommodate and facilitate the growth of knowledge intensive firms of different types. This may include specialist physical requirements for lab space. Formal and informal spaces are needed to foster collaboration and interaction between organisations and their people, including co-working space, spaces for met-ups and conferences, as well as cafes, bars and restaurants. Increasingly, high quality public realm, good physical and digital connectivity and a strong amenity offer and vibrancy is needed to support informal interaction and networks, as well as creating an environment that is attractive to knowledge workers and occupiers. The management, programming and curation of activity in these spaces is important, in addition to the physical design.

A proactive and coordinated approach to building the right softer networks and relational infrastructure between the different actors is essential for a successful innovation district.

Government is also an important stakeholder.  At a national level UK Government directs research spend in the context of its National Industrial Strategy, and there is scope to focus and join-up this investment more effectively within places, including Innovation Districts. National and local government also have research intensive departments or agencies that contribute to the success of innovation districts. Example include NHS Digital in Leeds, the Financial Conduct Authority or Transport for London at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in London. City Government also have a significant role in the planning, promotion, leadership, governance and public sector investments necessary to make innovation districts a success.

It is possible to identify a physical typology of UK Innovation Districts, as set out in Table 2.

Increasingly knowledge intensive jobs are clustering in the CBDs of UK cities. Several cities such as Manchester, Leeds, Bristol and Newcastle are expanding the physical size and economic contribution of their city centres through regenerating and connective city centre fringe innovation districts.

Others are creating or enhancing separate new urban quarters that are well connected with the CBD and other economic assets. The most high profile example is the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in East London which has benefited in huge transport infrastructure investment to connect it to central London and Canary Wharf, as well as to surrounding centres and neighbourhoods. Other examples include the Glasgow West End and Waterfront Innovation District where recent and current investments in a major expansion of the university campus, a new hospital, and new conference and exhibition facilities are being brought together to create a coherent urban district. In Knowledge Quarter Liverpool, new campus and commercial development is creating a vibrant urban district.

There is still a role for out-of-centre science and technology parks, particularly for land-hungry uses such as manufacturing and transport technology.

Figure 1. Main Features of UK Innovation Districts

Schema 1

Table 2. A locational typology of UK Innovation Districts

Schema 2

Progress and Lessons

This paper looks at the progress and lessons from the six innovation districts that form the UK Innovation Districts Group. These projects are at different stages of development. Some projects, such as Oxford Road Corridor and Knowledge Quarter Liverpool are well-established. In these cases, there are ambitious plans to build on the achievements to date. Other projects, such as Knowledge Quarter London and Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, are building on the growing networks of knowledge producers in their areas, with a focus on enhancing collaboration, securing investment and promoting their areas’ strengths. Projects such as Glasgow’s West End and Waterfront Innovation District and the Leeds Innovation District are at early stages of development with huge potential.

All innovation districts are seeking to build strengths and develop linkages across a range of different sectors, recognising the benefits of interaction between them. They have all succeeded in amplifying cross sectoral activity. This is based on an understanding of particular areas of expertise, informed by evidence (including Science and Innovation Audits). This approach combines a broad-based approach along with a focus on specific strengths, seeking to increase agglomeration and knowledge spill overs. There are also similarities and potential linkages between innovation districts, and the potential to build on collaborations between academic institutions.

There are differences between innovation districts in the way in which they seek to support entrepreneurship. Providing incubation and collaboration space and support is an important focus of most (but not all) of the projects. There are differences in the extent to and the way in which these spaces are curated by research-intensive organisations. In some cases, the approach to supporting business start-ups and scale-ups is integrated within wider approaches to business support in relevant cities and city regions. However, in other cases there is not a structured approach to attracting and growing firms within the innovation district. There is a view amongst some of the stakeholders interviewed for this project that more could be done to build the wider ecosystems of support for commercial spin-outs, start-ups and scale-ups.

Cultural institutions and attractions are becoming increasingly important component of innovation districts. Several innovation districts include, or are close to, significant cultural or visitor attractions, and they are securing new investment from cultural bodies which want to move into these areas or upgrade their existing facilities. Several also include arts and cultural academic institutions and departments. This adds to the offer of innovation districts. It provides an important area of academic research for some, one of which is relevant to the economic trend of increasing synergies between technology and the arts. Cultural institutions also create a buzz, vibrancy and activities in evenings and at weekends, helping to retain the student population post-graduation.

Innovation districts are supporting inclusive growth. Some innovation districts are involving partners and organisations in initiatives to forge links with schools and young people in the surrounding areas. This increases awareness of, and access to, the range of learning and career opportunities available to them, providing mentoring, advice and work experience. Innovation districts are creating new public spaces and amenities for residents of nearby areas, and through physical investments are linking these residential areas to education and employment opportunities.

Successful innovation districts require substantial capital investment in infrastructure and place shaping. A feature of well-established, successful innovation districts has been large-scale capital investment in public realm and infrastructure. More investments are asked for by digital infrastructure. This is an important ingredient for success. Several innovation districts are developing strategies for investment in advanced digital infrastructure, including fibre to the premises, 5G, and sensors and Internet of Things systems, and are putting in place frameworks for exploiting the research and economic potential of the data that will be generated from this. They are becoming exemplars in the context of the smart cities agenda and are creating new platforms for testing and developing advanced urban services. And talking about investments, it is obvious that a proactive and enlightened approach to development is required to build the right type of business space to attract and accommodate the right type of occupiers. More attention is paid to the way the design of buildings can help to create linkages and an image of openness. Whereas previously buildings and spaces between them faced inwards, increasingly the design of new buildings and campuses are facing outwards. The aims are to attract people into these buildings and spaces, encourage and facilitate interaction between people and animation, and improve connectivity with other assets and areas.

As said before, the concept of an innovation district initially was a spontaneous one, without any governmental meddling. Given the potential of such developments, that seem very well to fit new demands by companies and institutions, leadership and coordination are essential to successful innovation districts. A feature of all the projects considered for this research is that they are being championed and steered by the relevant university Vice Chancellors, NHS teaching hospital trust chairs and Chief Executives, and local authority/development corporation Leaders and Chief Executives. The successful projects have been prioritised for investment at a city or city region level.

Good leadership and coordination need a clear vision and plan, which can flex over time. Many of those interviewed stressed the importance of setting a clear vision and masterplan and embedding this in planning policy to provide a clear and consistent framework for development. Whilst it is important that this can flex over time, several interviewees identified the risk of allowing or bringing forward development that offers a short-term commercial gain, which may not be in the long-term best interest of the core mission of innovation districts.

Several of those involved in the interviews and discussions through this research spoke about the importance of linkages between innovation districts and wider networks as economic assets in their cities and city regions. The general view is that innovation districts can provide a useful focus for promoting innovation across the economy of a wider city or city region area.

Conclusion and recommendations

Government should prioritise support for economic growth in the places and initiatives where it has the greatest chance of a return on its investment. Innovation districts are enabling our cities to create the new products, processes, technologies, and high growth firms that will drive productivity growth. They are supporting the creation of new, high quality jobs in accessible locations, regenerating parts of our cities, and supporting inclusive growth. A clear conclusion from the research is the importance of development the right softer networks and relational infrastructure between actors in innovation districts alongside the approach to developing the right buildings and physical infrastructure.

The main conclusion from this research is that government should prioritise place-based investment in innovation districts to boost productivity, support inclusive growth, and to deliver the Industrial Strategy.

Innovation districts and knowledge quarters are emerging as transformational projects which are driving economic growth. Knowledge intensive jobs and firms are increasingly clustering in or near city centres where innovators, entrepreneurs and R&D intensive businesses can benefit from access to a wide pool of skilled people, university researchers, healthcare clinicians, and knowledge spill overs. This is a result of people and organisations collaborating, comparing and competing across different sectors. Cities, universities, teaching hospitals, cultural and professional institutions are supporting and capitalising on this trend through significant investments in new buildings, campuses, workspace, and public realm which are creating new urban districts and engines of more productive growth. These projects are at different stages of development in different locations, and there are a range of approaches and areas of focus. Generally, the focus on innovation has emerged in response to a physical regeneration opportunity and reflecting how new infrastructure and place-shaping has attracted innovative organisations into areas.

Universities, hospitals and cultural institutions are recognising their role as anchor institutions for economic growth. Cities are recognising the need to support initiatives to boost productivity and to attract and grow the firms that will create the new products and processes to create, and sustain, wealth in the future. And enlightened developers are recognising the opportunity to support new patterns of working, living and leisure in urban areas.

The full potential of innovation districts will only be realised if there is stronger support from different tiers of government, and if all cities and innovation district projects ensure there is a clear focus and sufficient resources (both in developing and delivering these projects), and by working more closely together. Through a renewed focus on support for innovation districts, the UK and devolved governments and cities can help deliver against the aims of the Industrial Strategy, secure accelerated productivity, support inclusive growth, continue to reshape and regenerate our city centres, and build the networks of collaboration to create the firms, products and processes to drive forward our city economies.

We would like to end with the following recommendations (details can be found in the report; see ‘further reading’):

  1. Government and cities and city regions should prioritise innovation districts to support the delivery of the Industrial Strategy;
  2. Innovation districts should build on their existing work to help lead the way in increasing productivity through inclusive growth;
  3. Innovation districts should work together more closely as a national network;
  4. Cities, city regions and innovation districts should continue to secure capital investment in public spaces, physical and digital infrastructure, and new buildings in innovation districts;
  5. Government, LEPs and Combined Authorities, and cities should invest in developing the hard and soft networks to support business growth in innovation districts.

Further reading

  • UK Innovation Districts Group & Arup (2018), UK Innovation Districts and Knowledge Quarters. Driving more productive growth. London.
  • Van Dinteren, Jacques; Paul Jansen (2018), The university as a catalyst in innovation district development. Paper for IASP World Conference 2018.

The university as a catalyst in innovation district development


In this paper, we focus on the role of universities in innovation districts. Regarding the growing interest in innovation districts, the question arises if an innovation district can do without a university. Or, the other way round, can a university campus be a good starting point for an innovation district? Can an innovation district be successful without a university? In which way can a university function as a catalyst in innovation district development?

 The outcomes of research and recent developments suggest that it is relevant to have a university or an annexe of a university in an innovation district, as distance does matter. However, there are yet no hard research outcomes that make it clear that the success of an innovation district is dependent upon a university. Apart from that, the cases described here, in short, suggest that the establishment of a university or annexe can help the development of an innovation district by creating trust and contributing to a positive image of the development.


Looking at different types of innovation areas[1] a distinction can be made in four crucial drivers:

  • networks & community,
  • entrepreneurial dynamism,
  • infrastructure & facilities and
  • a comprehensive business case (figure 1).

Until the 1990s there has been a strong focus on the physical aspects, mostly real estate, when developing innovative working environments. This focus was typical for the first decades of the, quite often mono-functional, science & technology park (STP) concept. Nowadays we very clearly understand that developing an STP or another type of innovation area is not (solely) a real estate operation. We – and others – like to stress the importance of the functional linkages between companies, institutions and universities enforced by strong management of these networks. The added value of an innovation area is in these networks, but also in the creation of a working environment that stimulates creativity. Altogether also known as the ‘software’.

So, in today’s innovation areas, the development of a knowledge network of companies and institutions is essential. The same goes for the creation of a community (which is more focused on personnel, organising activities and an excellent working environment). All together this forms the ecosystem. Although this doesn’t alter the fact that ultimately businesses and institutions located in the innovation areas also need modern real estate, adaptive infrastructure and attractive public spaces. Given this, specific requirements can be placed on buildings, particularly respecting the needs for community building and networking. For instance, pedestrian flows, the creation of meeting points, the concentration of catering and restaurant facilities where pedestrian flows meet, creative work environments, etc. For the successful management of any area of innovation, it is crucial that the different layers in the social-spatial structure of a site or area are recognised and respected: the networks, the infrastructure and the buildings.

But first of all, the ‘guests’ in the estate (companies, institutions, others) are central. In many cases it can be observed that one guest is ‘leading’ or – better said – is considered to be the ‘anchor’ of the development. That is often a university in the case of an STP and – per definition – a large, innovative company in the case of an industrial innovation campus. But what about the upcoming innovation districts? The available literature points out that in general one has the opinion that a successful innovation district needs at least one anchor firm or institution. This can be a research university, another institution working in the field of research and innovation or a (large) company.

Figure 1: IADP-model to create a successful R&D work environments ( nieuw 2018

The leading question for this paper

Given the great importance of innovation and the exchange of information between stakeholders involved, (research) universities and leading, innovative firms probably plays a crucial role in the development of innovation districts. “Probably” because, as far as we know, there are not yet research outcomes available that make clear what exactly that impact can be. Until now it is more about expectations.

In this paper, we particularly focus on the role of universities in innovation districts. These districts are characterised by their embeddedness in the city, innovation, a dynamic mix of functions and good public transport. It seems that for a growing number of firms and institutions, active in the fields of science and innovation, the innovation district is the working environment of the future. Such an environment might also (or maybe specifically) attract the millennials in the war for talent. Given the link of STPs with universities, this raises the question if an innovation district can be successful without a university in the district? Or, in case of an already established university or university institution: can such a university be the starting point for an innovation district?

The latter question is posed by the University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands. This university is very well established in the city with three of their four sites located in Amsterdam. An ‘interconnected concentration’ of specialised clusters, which together constitute a network of knowledge and individually function as catalysts for their immediate surroundings. One of these clusters is situated in the inner city, and the university intends to create an innovation quarter (‘University Quarter’) here, consisting of university buildings and the surrounding area. It is the opinion of this university that a modern university is no longer an ‘ivory tower’. It stands in the middle of society and in front of that society and is a crucial member of a modern, knowledge-oriented society. Against this background, the question arises how the University Quarter can be turned into a success. The aim is to create added value to the university, the environment and the city and what role the University Quarter plays in this respect. Also, the surrounding area is important to the university: the space between the different buildings, but also between the clusters, needs to stimulate the interaction between inhabitants, students, companies and knowledge institutions. At the sub local level (University Quarter), that space must also provide a pleasant working environment that stimulates creativity and innovation. The key question is: how can we shape this area into a successful whole, involving all stakeholders and stimulating innovation?

In this paper, we will focus on the question of which way a university can function as a catalyst in innovation district development. To get a preliminary answer to this question we have used the available literature, news items and some interviews with representatives of universities in existing innovation districts.

Relevant trends

Many different developments have been recognised that, positively or negatively, elucidate the growing interest in and success of innovation districts. At IADP we think that the following main trends are relevant.

A response to the trend of deconcentration – In Europe in the sixties of the 20th century, apart from some centuries old universities (Cambridge for example), many universities tended to concentrate their activities in areas at the edge of the city where sufficient space was available. The upcoming phenomena of STPs at that time and the link these parks sought with the university also led to favouring isolated areas at the edge of the city. For both developments, STPs and universities, there is growing criticism about this spatial pattern and the way it functions. Too mono-functional, too much focussed on car accessibility, too far away from the inner city, not well connected with or embedded in the city, and so on. Some STPs try to find solutions for the problem (if it is perceived as a problem) by developing living quarters on the park, which also helps to ease the threshold for facilities and services in the park itself.

Companies are looking for ‘density’ – It seems that the aforementioned developments of STPs have stimulated the rise of innovation districts. The changing functions of inner cities and the mass re-allocation of traditional industries from the inner cities and surrounding old quarters give room for new developments such as innovation districts. Innovation economies reward urban density because of the agglomeration effects. Open innovation stresses the importance of working in close proximity, being able to share ideas rather than invent in isolation.

Companies are revaluing vibrancy and authenticity in (inner) cities – This trend is an extension of the former one. It is well-known that artists, people working in creative industries and researchers value a sense of place, including coffee shops, art galleries, and so on. A work environment that encourages creativity and innovation, and offers a balance between life, work and play. This is more important for millennials, which is an important target group for innovative companies and research universities in their competition to get the best talent.

Cross-overs instead of specialisation – In the worlds of innovation and areas of innovation the clustering of companies and institutions working in the same field was the adage for a long time and still is. On some STPs, we see a shift in the concept from specialisation towards crossovers. We have the impression that it is expected that especially the innovation district can offer the right environment for a functional mix of innovative companies and institutions and hence an environment or a seedbed very well suited for crossovers.

When looking at the possible (anchor) role of a university in an innovation district the following two trends might be relevant:

The ‘opening up’ of the university – According to Goddard & Valance (2013) universities have to become civic universities, meaning that they have to turn into an urban ‘anchor’ institution, being of significant importance to the economy and the wider community life of the cities in which they are based. Or, as Goddard & Valance put it, institutions that are of the city not just in the city. Universities try to do this in different ways by appointing innovation officers (linked to the industry), setting up incubator centres, organising specific education programs for the city population, and so on. The ‘opening up’ is sometimes also stimulated by taking the initiative to settle between the population in an innovation district or by starting an innovation district by itself.

From triple to quadruple helix – It is not surprising that this interweaving of the university with the city led to a shift of the triple helix concept towards the quadruple helix. It is the cooperation of university, (local) government, firms and inhabitants. This might have to do less with innovation, as far as the local population is involved, and points at – among others – education, continuous learning, living labs and other forms of co-production with citizens. Several authors state that universities should go to or settle next to deprived areas to encourage developments there.

Although these trends can explain the upcoming phenomena of innovation districts, we do not suggest that this is the end of STPs. STPs will continue to exist, but the concept has to be adjusted to new standards. The innovation district is just another concept in the realm of innovation areas.

Moreover, it is important to consider STPs, innovation districts and innovation campuses as focus points within an innovative region. It would be a serious mistake to think that such a cluster or set of clusters will in itself determine the innovation power of a city or region. Also, because too many relevant, innovative firms and institutions are established outside these innovation areas.

Figure 2: distance of European STPs to their closest university (EC, 2014)Afstand

The university, the networks and the ecosystem

Given the trends above, a university might choose to move (partly) into an innovation district which seems to be more open to the city than a campus at the edge of a city. Will that make it easier for a university to become a part of that ecosystem? Let us first have a look at the relationship between a university and an STP. It is often stated that universities play a crucial role in the development and success of the networks and the ecosystem on an STP. Proximity to a university is generally believed to be helpful (if not crucial) to establishing and maintaining a working relationship. Figure 2 shows that 84% of STPs are within 5 km of their closest university and 66% are either on or adjacent to the university campus (EC, 2014). This suggests that proximity of a university is crucial to the development of an STP. With regard to the new concept of innovation districts, the question arises whether an innovation district can do without a university. Or, the other way round, can a university campus be a good starting point for an innovation district?

A study of six STPs in The Netherlands (Van Dinteren, 2012) revealed that such a relationship with a university can cover a lot of activities and is not solely limited to knowledge linkages. It even appeared that other aspects/facilities were generally seen as more important by the entrepreneurs established on the STP (figure 3). The most important are the availability of graduate students, the access to libraries and data systems, and the access to laboratories and clean rooms. Only after that come the aspects more directly associated with research such as the opportunities for joint research between the company and the university and the presence of relevant research activities. These percentages are influenced by the fact that, in these STPs, firms are established that do not directly belong to the target group. Admission policy on some STPs in The Netherlands is rather weak. If we focus on firms and institutions that belong to the target group, these show above-average scores with regard to the appreciation of research activities (relevant to the company) present in the university (96% versus 74% overall), of being able to carry out joint research (89% in comparison to 73%) and of the availability of laboratories/clean rooms (72% versus 51% of the total population).

Figure 3: assessment of the opportunities from the neighbouring university (Van Dinteren, 2012)


Proximity, mass and density

The need for a university in some type of innovation area can be related to the desire of firms and other institutions to be able to consult researchers at the university quickly and informally. On the other hand, how relevant is proximity given globalisation, the internet and other possibilities for rapid exchange of knowledge? Recent studies seem to indicate that proximity still plays a role. Linkages between firms and research institutions function both on the local and global level. Sometimes a university is even criticised for too much global interest. For example, Meric Gertler, president of the University of Toronto agrees with the criticism that his university focuses too much on global relationships, reputation and rankings than on its community partners.

A study about research outcomes by Dutch CPB (2017) shows that the chance that a company builds on the knowledge produced at a university decreases the further it is from the university. This suggests that knowledge spill-overs are localised. The size of the effect also depends on the sector and the size of the university. The study is, however, focused on the regional level and is not clear about the impact of small(er) distances.

Andes (2017) states that over the last century hundreds of studies have proved the benefits of density and proximity for innovation and that these findings suggest that knowledge sharing among universities, research labs, and firms exists at the neighbourhood level. Andes does not elaborate on what proximity exactly means, but he shows that size of the city (mass) and density of the urban environment play a role, as universities established in that type of environment flourish. He analyses downtown universities in metropolitan areas (the reasoning here is based on numerous economic studies which show that large metropolitan areas experience much stronger positive effects of proximity than smaller cities). In his study, Andes compares the commercial outcomes of research universities located within employment-dense neighbourhoods (e.g. downtowns) in the 100 largest cities to the average research university. He finds that compared to their peers located in smaller towns, suburbs or rural areas on a per-student basis, ‘downtown’ universities:

  • produce 80% more licensing deals;
  • disclose 123% more inventions;
  • receive 222% more income from licensing agreements;
  • create 71% more start-ups.

These outcomes suggest that universities located in dense employment centres of cities achieve greater commercial impact for their research. Clustering of economic activities does matter and inner cities, where most of the innovation districts can be found or are located nearby, provide the right conditions for such a clustering.

The university and the innovation district: two models

There are two simple models when we look at the possible relationship between a university and an innovation district. In the first case, an innovation district is under development and looks for a university or annexes of a university to complete the picture, as it might be clear that a strong institution or company can be an important anchor in such a development. It helps to create an image, but it is also an important node in the local innovation network.

The second option is a university taking the initiative to develop an innovation district next to its premises, or maybe even mixed with its own buildings. The motivation, as described above, is to become a part of the city and not just being located in it.

Model 1 – Katz & Wagner (2014) state “universities are particularly helpful drivers for growing districts; for this reason, many districts that did not originally include universities (…) have convinced universities to build satellite campuses”. Initiators of the I.D.E.A. District in San Diego were worried about this development because a few years ago the migration of technology companies to the downtown area had started to take hold. In 2013, 25% of the new downtown leases, many of them tech companies, were executed by companies coming from outside of downtown. To speed up and assure development a corporate leader was needed “who can accelerate the transformation”. In December 2016, UC San Diego, a major research university, announced a 6,100 m2 downtown outpost. It is now expected that satellite businesses will surely follow. “As soon as UCSD or one of the other big academic institutions puts a beachhead downtown, then we’ll know downtown has arrived”, potential users told Carlson, a CBRE commercial broker active in downtown office leasing.

In the early days of the well-known Boston Innovation District, its position was strengthened when a satellite campus of Babson College was established. In 2011 this campus was expected to serve “as the academic anchor to help fuel further growth in the Innovation District”. “Nobody creates jobs like entrepreneurs, and nobody creates entrepreneurs like Babson,” said Mayor Menino.  “The inclusion of a top-tier academic institution here in the Innovation District is a key part of the supportive infrastructure we are building and providing to the people and businesses in this neighbourhood.  Babson’s expertise and partnership undoubtedly will help us fuel even more connectivity and growth across this district.”

In the case of the 22@Barcelona innovation district, companies have been the anchors in the early stage, but nowadays universities seem to have taken over this role. Being a publicly financed university, the Universitat Pompeu Fabra, for example, felt it was obliged to move a part of its activities, especially in the broad fields of communication, to the Barcelona innovation district.

Model 2 – or ‘the other way around’: the university that wants to become an innovation district. The reasons for this can differ. Offering a nice environment to work and study in is one possible reason, but creating stronger links with companies (the entrepreneurial university) is certainly another one. An example is Seattle’s University District. This district extends beyond the physical boundaries of the university which makes the development much more difficult because of the existing neighbourhoods. This raises a conflict between the envisaged development and liveability. The city takes care of good planning, assuring that there will be sufficient affordable housing, instead of gentrification. A light-rail station in the district will help to discourage motor vehicle traffic.

In the case of Melbourne (Australia) the development of an urban innovation district (MID) is an initiative of the City of Melbourne, RMIT University and the University of Melbourne. Home to 21% of all knowledge sector jobs in Melbourne, the urban innovation district features the central campuses of RMIT and the University of Melbourne, State Library Victoria, Queen Victoria Market, Royal Exhibition Building, Trades Hall and the Melbourne Museum. “Through community events and improved public spaces, MID will provide more opportunities for Melbourne’s knowledge workers, researchers, students, business and community organisations to connect and collaborate, creating innovative ideas essential for the city to continue to thrive and prosper. Planning considerations for the area will help innovation flourish and will include upgrades to streets, parks and other public spaces, while at the same time protecting the district’s suburban character”.

The added value of a university for an innovation district

If in an innovation district it is felt that a university is needed as an anchor it is assumed that such an institution will be crucial in stimulating innovation, and in creating a scientific, innovative ecosystem. The development of the Boston Innovation District mentioned above shows that such an anchor helps to strengthen the image of the development and stimulates entrepreneurs to choose to settle in the district. But the added value of a university is not limited to companies and other institutions. From the idea of a civic university, a university well embedded in society, there are also (high) expectations about the ability of the university to stimulate social and economic development in deprived areas, as it is often stated that many innovation districts are located near such neighbourhoods. Special (education) programs might help young people (with parents that have no university education) living in these neighbourhoods, offering better opportunities to visit a university. Students at the university can also play a role in these deprived areas as volunteers, supporting people, local schools and organisations. For the people living in these quarters, but also for others living in the surrounding areas, the university can provide access to facilities, such as gyms, meeting rooms, restaurants, library and the like. The university can also organise exhibitions and lectures and can actively participate in local projects, helping to find solutions for specific problems (see also box).

The University of Sheffield

The university has a programme of open days, lectures, seminars, exhibitions and family events running throughout the year. It offers a range of courses to members of the public, some of which are free. For example, Discover is a free award winning short course, designed to inspire adults who haven’t been to university. The course is delivered one morning each week, and focuses on themes that link into the subjects offered by the Department for Lifelong Learning. Sheffield Volunteering supports students and staff to get involved in activities in the city. Its aim is to increase awareness of local community issues amongst students as well as an understanding of how they can make a positive impact through volunteering. In 2014 2,213 students and staff took part in 2,922 volunteering opportunities within the local community and across Sheffield. The university’s sports facilities are open to the public, with many of the facilities available on a ‘pay and play’ basis such as the swimming pool, fitness classes, squash and badminton.

Source: Goddard & Kempton (2016)

It is our impression that, in the literature, particular attention is paid to the relationship of the university with surrounding districts, while in practice it is a relationship with the city, and perhaps the region too. This doesn’t exclude that a certain accent can be placed on deprived neighbourhoods.

The added value of an innovation district for the university

Although a university might be important as an anchor in an innovation district, the innovation district can also be of importance for the university itself as Bruce c.s. (2015) have described. Being established or having satellites in an innovation district helps research and innovation in universities. The authors sum up many examples (in the United States of America) of educational and research institutions that have moved key facilities and departments as a means of generating greater innovation output to retain or achieve competitive advantage in their respective clusters and fields. By seeking the best places within their region (or even within other regions), universities want to retain or strengthen their competitive power.

Of less significance is maybe the fact that the settlement of a university (or an annexe) might be perceived by students as an attractive location because of the dynamic environment “where people unexpectedly bump into each other again and again in their daily routines”. An environment formed by cafeterias, convenience stores, theatres, restaurants, and so on. As many innovation districts can be found in the central parts of a city, good public transport is guaranteed.

Further details from three cases

Besides the desk research, various interviews with representatives of universities were held. Special thanks to the following persons, because they were so kind to provide us with detailed information about their developments:

  • Anna Belchi (Pompeu Fabra University, director Campus del Poblenou, Barcelona, Spain)
  • Margaret O’Mara (associate professor of History, University of Washington, Seattle, USA)
  • Derek McCormack (Vice-Chancellor Auckland University of Technology, New Zealand).

Barcelona and Seattle have already been shortly introduced above. The development in Auckland is in an early stage. Massey University, Auckland Tourism, Events & Economic Development (ATEED) and BNZ are working together to develop a smart innovation district in the northern part of the city, comprising five districts. Goal is  to create a highly prosperous, vibrant and liveable community, where aspirational businesses and talented people will want to live and work, produce exportable innovation and collectively build a better future for themselves and their families.

Looking closer at these three examples, it’s obvious that there are significant differences in the relationship (and its origin) between the university and the innovation district. In Barcelona the establishment of an innovation district was going on for almost a decade when the Pompeu Fabra University decided to move a part of their activities to this redevelopment area. The university jumped, in a way, on a moving train. The universities in Seattle and Auckland were already established in the neighbourhood that started turning into an innovation district. These universities were in the heart of a development that seems to be partly autonomous and partly driven by their presence.

So, the Pompeu Fabra University was acquainted with the development of the 22@barcelona innovation district. Therefore the university was able to look at the economic profile of the innovation district and decided to move specific activities to the 22@barcelona district that have strong linkages with the clusters established in the area. The Campus del Poblenou is focused on ‘Communication and Information Technologies’. This is not to say that this is the strict focus. It was stated that the combination of specialisation and cross-overs will stimulate innovation. So the collaboration of the university with other institutions and companies is not limited to media and computer technology, but also involves other clusters such as medical, energy and design. The combination of specialisation and cross-overs is emphasised by the other interviewees as well. In Auckland one perceives the cross-clustering a characteristic of innovation districts, giving to new patents, business start-ups, and industry involvement, thus also effecting an increase in employment and wages.

In Seattle the University of Washington was surrounded by a university-oriented neighbourhood in its immediate vicinity before the concept of an innovation district was even mentioned. Its huge potential became clear only a few years ago and since 2012 the government and university have been working closely together to manage a more robust and future-oriented change. The commitment of the University of Washington to build a better U(niversity) District is driven by:

  • continuous, meaningful collaboration with the City and community partners;
  • learning from the experience of the most dynamic neighbourhoods around the region, the nation, and the globe; and
  • fostering growth that is complementary to other parts of the city and region, adding to overall economic and cultural dynamism of the State.

The case of Seattle also shows possible disadvantages of a spontaneous development. In Seattle it became apparent that walls along and overpasses across 15th Avenue had created a physical barrier between the city and campus. The new development plans provide an extraordinary opportunity to knit together campus and city, according to our interviewee.

Like Seattle, universities in Auckland were already established in the area that has become an innovation district. Since its transition to a university in 2000 Auckland University of Technology saw its surrounding neighbourhoods change, which might have been partly related to the presence of the universities. The same goes for Massey University, established in the same part of the city. Recognising that this part of Auckland was in the midst of constant residential and commercial property development and growth, Massey University held a symposium in 2015 to consider the future of Auckland North. This symposium demonstrated a clear interest in and excitement for bolstering an innovation district, and engendered the support of city leaders, university leaders and researchers, various business owners and entrepreneurs. This led to the ‘Grow North’ initiative that focusses on establishing a (more formal) innovation district. Clusters of innovation are already beginning to emerge organically in Auckland North.

For the universities of Seattle, Auckland and Barcelona, it is obvious that they contribute significantly to the success of the innovation district. Although it is difficult to determine it exact benefits, there seem to be some common take-a ways:

  • being partners in joint innovation projects with companies established in the district (not excluding others, of course);
  • providing facilities and equipment to support company R&D projects;
  • foster start-ups by setting up incubators;
  • offering educational programs to the inhabitants of the surrounding neighbourhoods, especially in the case of deprived quarters, in order to enhance education levels and lower the threshold to the university (inclusion and engagement; sometimes also relevant to the city as a whole);
  • creating positive urban change in the cities they are located in, especially in the direct vicinity of the innovation district: more varied housing options (enhancing diversity) and amenities, and engagement in neighbourhood revitalisation.

When it comes to the benefits of being located in an innovation district, all interviewees agree that also the university benefits. Most important advantages for the universities are:

  • understanding the needs of society / companies and adapting the education program to it;
  • the interchange of staff and students across porous boundaries. Innovation districts are able to enhance student experiences, and stimulate research and creative activity among the university staff and students;
  • having close working links with start-up and more mature companies in innovation districts enabling the flow of graduates into employment and cooperating on joint R&D projects;
  • the possibility of neighbourhood redevelopment in order to expand the campus footprint.

Finally, according to our interviewees, many factors determine the success of an innovation district development. The following starting conditions were stressed:

  • having a strong basis: innovative firms present and willing to engage in collaboration, an entrepreneurial university focussed on innovation, the active contribution of venture capitalists and other investors;
  • taking the very long term as a starting point, but also focus at quick wins;
  • creating a vision and strategy that is shared with and supported by investors, companies, universities, government, inhabitants and other stakeholders.

And especially with regard to the university:

  • a pro-active strategy by the university for open collaboration with business and industry;
  • an active commercialisation office or company within the university;
  • active support for student entrepreneurship plus entrepreneurship training for staff and students;
  • flexible commercialisation policies to enable easier spin-out of new ventures or licensing of Intellectual Property;
  • having the university commercialisation office well linked to relevant industries and product sector experts who bring IP ventures to the right know-how and seed capital in the Innovation District.

Preliminary conclusion

In an innovation economy, networks are essential. Large innovative companies and universities can build the webs connecting these networks. Although we have all the opportunities to establish worldwide networks, research suggests that proximity is still important. But what is proximity? Is that on the neighbourhood, the city or the regional level? What about smaller cities and larger ones? 66% of all STPs are established on the campus of a university. That seems to suggest that short distances are relevant. And, as we have seen, that it is not just because of networks, but also about facilities and the like, we could state that proximity also helps to create that dynamic environment that students, innovators and companies are looking for. In that respect, it is also interesting to notice that universities in dense areas flourish.

Given these outcomes, one could suggest that it is relevant to have a university or an annexe of a university in an innovation district, as distance does matter. However, there are as yet no hard research outcomes that make it clear that the success of an innovation district is dependent upon a university. Apart from that, the cases described here suggest, in short, that the establishment of a university or annexe can help the development of an innovation district by creating trust and contributing to a positive image of the development.

It is also interesting to note that universities themselves believe in the concept. Innovation districts can try to attract a university, but we have seen that there is also another model in which the university wants to develop an innovation district on its premises or adjacent to it. In our opinion the interviews we have held confirm the outcomes of our desk research.

Although it is all based on circumstantial evidence, our research seems to suggest that the establishment of a university (annexe) can be a significant anchor in the development of an innovation area. We like to invite our fellow researchers to gather more hard information on the linkages between a university and its innovation district. What does proximity mean in terms of (kilo)meters? Keep in mind that proximity not only refers to exchanging information but is also relevant with regard to other aspects such as availability of students, facilities and the like.

Quoted literature

  • Andes, Scott (2017), Hidden in plain sight: The oversized impact of downtown universities. Massachusetts: Brooking Institution.
  • CPB (2017), De regionale impact van universiteiten; een literatuuroverzicht. The Hague: Dutch Central Planning Office (CPB).
  • EU – European Commission (2014), Setting up, managing and evaluating EU science and technology parks.
  • Goddard, J. and Vallance, P. (2013), The University and the City, Abingdon: Routledge.
  • Goddard, John and Louise Kempton (2016), The civic university. Universities in leadership and management of place. Newcastle University.
  • Katz, Bruce and Julie Wagner (2014), The Rise of Innovation Districts: A New Geography of Innovation in America. Massachusetts: Brooking Institution.
  • Katz, Bruce, Jennifer S. Vey, and Julie Wagner (2015), One year after: Observations on the rise of innovation districts. Blog.
  • 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, August 2012.

[1] In our opinion science & technology parks, innovation districts and industrial innovation campuses are different forms of innovation areas.

Managing the ecosystem of innovation areas

Prof. dr. Jacques van Dinteren, Zjak Consult, The Netherlands / Innovation Area Development Partnership (IADP)

Laurens Tait MSc, Arup / Innovation Area Development Partnership (IADP)

Ir. Frank Werner, KCAP Architects&Planners / Innovation Area Development Partnership (IADP)

While the emphasis early on was on the physical development, along with the way developers started realising that science and technology parks (STPs) require an entirely different approach. This blog (partly based on earlier ones) starts with presenting an overview of the development of the STP-concept and the impact of management on the success of these parks. In The Netherlands that success is to a certain extent often hampered by the fact that several parties are involved, having their own responsibilities. A simple model is described in which daily management can have control over the socio-economic and the physical aspects. This model can also be used for co-innovation parks and the upcoming concept of innovation districts (all together: innovation areas). In the last part, it is stated that changing concepts have led to changes in management and this evolution will continue due to, among others, globalisation.

The innovation area as an umbrella

The ‘science park’ is a phenomenon of increasing relevance to modern urban planning (Christiaanse, 2007). In Europe, universities are reconsidering their position in society and taking on extensive reorganisations and expansions of their physical structures. The post-war university campus as an isolated community of scholars is subject to thorough revision. In Asia, on the other hand, new campus-style universities are shooting up like mushrooms. Global companies build campus-style factory sites for their international headquarters or for their research-and-development departments.

Given the nature of the activities and the institutions a science or technology park (STP) focuses on, it should not be considered likely that this would be a static concept. Companies and institutions that are focussed on innovation generally are highly dynamic. Nevertheless, in the first decades of its existence, the STP-concept was predominantly viewed as a ‘stand-alone’ activity and often primarily as a real estate development. In western economies this has significantly changed over the last three decades and the primary focus has shifted to stimulating innovation. That is the first trend.

A second trend is the broadening of the concept. When it is about specific locations for innovations it is no longer about STPs alone. (Industrial) co-innovation parks, developed around a leading innovative company instead of a university, were created when these companies opened up their sites for other companies and institutions.

A relatively new concept is the innovation district which can be defined as “a designated zone with its own specific management team, whose main objectives include economic development via the promotion and attraction of selective innovative business for which specific services are provided or made available, and that may also include residential and cultural zones or facilities, or be embedded in urban spaces having such facilities, and with which the economic aspects of the area of innovation interact” (Sanz, 2016). In fact Sanz and others (Nilina c.s., 2016) use the term “innovation area”. The scale of such an area can vary widely. Ann Arbor SPARK (U.S.A.) covers an entire region, while 22@Barcelona is 200 ha. In our opinion all the more reason to distinguish between innovative regions and innovation districts which, in terms of scale, are comparable to co-innovation parks and science parks. We suggest using the concept of an “innovation area” as the umbrella term for science parks, industrial co-innovation parks and innovation districts. On a higher geographical scale one can distinguish the “innovation region”.

The shifting away from a real estate development towards stimulating innovation has changed the management of these sites. It is not about managing buildings, but managing a community of people working on innovations. Due to its character managing an innovation district might be somewhat different from managing a STP or a co-innovation park. The management of such a development is still important, though functional blending of activities is a relatively new element in this concept and might ask for a somewhat different approach. Due to the functional mix, other parties than the usual ones might become involved, such as the inhabitants of the area. Moreover, the link with a university is generally less strong, though this can be partially overcome by establishing a ‘branch’.

The above demonstrates that there are alterations in the concept over time and this has led to changes in the way these estates are managed. Such modifications will continue, for example due to the rather isolated geographical position of many STPs, often at the edge of a city. That poses questions about the embeddedness of STPs (and probably also co-innovation parks) in the region. Maybe the region is a better scale: an innovation region with multiple focal points (innovation areas) and a network of companies and institutions which are located in those innovation areas and elsewhere in the region. That poses questions about the way innovation areas and their linkages with the region are organised. It also raises the question whether management at the regional level is needed. And in the next step one has even to consider the global level. Thanks to travel options, telecommunications and the like, regions are included in worldwide networks through the process of globalisation and innovation parks become hubs in the global knowledge network.

This paper will discuss some of these changes, using a simplified model of changing innovation area concepts and changing management activities.

Changing concepts, changing management

Figure 1 sketches the development of the innovation area concept over the past decades, also showing the emergence of innovation districts and the growing interest of embedding these concepts in regional and worldwide networks. It is an ideal-type image which will rarely apply to a specific innovation area. The figure mainly shows that currently much more emphasis is placed on networks and (therefore also) on the regional and worldwide embedding of an innovation area. The more complex these networks are, which is also related to the geographical scale, the more important the management of the ecosystem.

There are many ways to manage a company and there are also many ways to run an innovation area. When analysing management concepts, ownership is an important starting point. A survey of IASP in 2012 (European Commission, 2013; refer to figure 2) shows that the public sector dominates: 55% of STPs in Europe are owned by public parties, mainly local government, public universities and regional government. This can be a mix of public parties. 15% of the STPs are privately owned (private universities and foundations, and private companies) and 31% of the STPs have mixed ownership. In this latter case, local government, public universities and private companies dominate.

Figure 1: Ideal-type development of the innovation area concept and its management Ontwikkleing management

Figure 2: Ownership of STPs in Europe (source: European Commission, 2013)Ownership

The above-mentioned survey by IASP relates ownership to land, sites, infrastructures and buildings. If perceived in such a way managing a STP doesn’t differ from managing an industrial estate or a business park. This focus on the physical aspects of a STP was typical for the first decades of the STP concept, as stated earlier. In that stage, the typical characteristic of a STP was a physical clustering of a certain target group, in this case a group of companies focussing on research and development. During the years the insight grew that the real economic asset of a STP is in the linkages between companies, institutions and a university. The conclusion was that successful STP management needed an extra layer. Management of a commercial estate will focus on infrastructure underground and the surface and will take care of buildings and the built environment figure 3). But the added value of an innovation area is in the ‘software’ as an extra layer. That distinguishes it from a regular industrial site or business park:

  • management of the networks between companies, institutions and a university;
  • management of the facilities for companies, institutions and a university;
  • management of the services for the community (the people who work on the site).

Figure 3: physical and socio-economic layers as individual and interconnected components of an innovation arealagenbenadering

The right section of figure 1 shows the manner in which the management of innovation area concepts has adapted to evolving concepts and the shift from real estate towards the community (to put it briefly). Today many STPs in the western world are ‘halfway’, although many differences exist between countries and regions. There is a focus on creating networks between the parties in the estate and management also takes care of a high-quality environment for the employees to sustain creative processes and to attract and keep a critical and highly educated workforce, the community. When looking at creating the community joint festivities, sports events and having a drink together should help to develop this. Part of this is also the quality of the working environment. Two third of the managers in Dutch science parks stated that due to the scarcity of highly educated personnel a sublime working environment is essential. Although it isn’t a science park, but much more a cluster of media companies, Chiswick Park in London is still one of the most striking examples of creating such a work environment. Although building a community is perceived today as an essential part of an innovation part, the most crucial is creating the networks between companies and institutions. Matchmaking, organising seminars, support with patent applications are all matters which are part of the extensive service package which innovation area management offers.

So, today, there are many different management activities: area and real estate management, network and community management, but also facility management, asset management, etc. All these management activities generally have different stakeholders. This can cause problems. How can these different fields become properly connected and organised in a coherent way? Is it possible to have one organisation that can do business on behalf of all partners? If there is only one owner managing a STP is (relatively) easier, of course. In The Netherlands that is the case with the High Tech Campus in Eindhoven. Other STP’s show a somewhat more complex organisation.

Managing STPs in The Netherlands

Although there are many differences one can generally state that many of the Dutch STPs now are in the stage of further developing the community and building networks. The question who manages the STP is relevant here. because in general there are two or more stakeholders. The exception is the High Tech Campus in Eindhoven. The starting point for the Philips High Tech Campus were the high-quality laboratories of Philips (NatLab), the trend towards open innovation and the feeling by management that the company had to stimulate the regional economy. This latter aspect had to with the decision by Philips to move their headquarter from Eindhoven to Amsterdam in 1998. In a discussion with the government the idea of an open innovation park came up to compensate for the loss (although only 300 jobs were involved). Initially, the park was managed by Philips, but in 2008 Philips decided to sell the campus to focus on their core business.  In January 2012 Philips established High Tech Campus Eindhoven Site Management B.V. (without the name Philips). This organisation takes care of daily management, including marketing and promotion. In that year a Dutch investor  Chalet Group) bought the campus and today all management activities are still in one hand. However, some specific and unique facilities are still owned and managed by Philips.

New tenants in HTCE get two types of contracts with two organisations affiliated to Chalet Group: a Service Level Agreement (SLA) with HTCE Site Management and a Lease Contract with Calittum HTCE for rent and parking space. The first one overs three types of services: collective obligatory services that are site related (e.g. energy, ICT, infrastructure, etc.); collective optional services if needed; and optional services that are free choice and taken via HTCE Site Management (Curvelo Magdaniel, 2016).

TU Delft Science Park once started in 2005 as a predominantly real estate project by property developers Bouwfonds MAB and ING Real Estate: Technopolis Innovation Park (120 ha). University and municipality took care of the financial aspects of land development, including financial risks. The developers took care of the master plan and the investments needed, would buy the land from the owners and develop the buildings. All parties worked together in a project organisation, but due to the lack of expertise in the development companies the project failed and the university took over. The exclusive cooperation agreement between the landowners of Technopolis and ING Vastgoed and MAB / Bouwfonds was disbanded. Today the university has the lead and is looking for the best form to manage the development. The university also offers space for companies in their own buildings. Municipality and university work together on the marketing of the science park in ‘Delft Technology Partners’.

So far for the involvement of real estate companies. One being successful, but another wasn’t. In the Netherlands property developers are reluctant and if a developer is interested the question often is how to convince investors. It is a niche market and if developers or investors don’t feel comfortable, projects will not start. Even when it is only about buildings it is sometimes difficult to get the project going. Specialisation, however, helps as is shown by the successful developments of Kadans Science Partner. A very interesting aspect is that this developer/investor combines a real estate development with the management of the building, as the building remains in the portfolio of Kadans. Kadans provides a total package of services, including workspace facilities, coaching, advice, financing and access to its network.

To stimulate investments and to make investments easier to get, the Netherlands Investment Institution (NLII) is now organising a fund for science parks and R&D related real estate. Pension funds and insurers can invest directly in this fund.

In the case of the Amsterdam Science Park the estate is owned by municipality and university together, however, it is a patchwork of ownership. The estate of the Dutch Scientific Organisation (NWO) covers the northern part of the science park and has its own park management. Municipality and university sell the available land for the same price. Both took care of the urban master plan, which is supervised by the municipality.

The construction zones are subject to a building code that is characterized by a continuous and varied network structure that establishes a system of successive public and semi-public spaces. Situating communal amenities at junctions fosters concentrations of public activity. Instead of standing like isolated jewels in the landscape, the buildings ‘fold’ themselves around the courtyards and interweave with adjacent buildings. In this way, interactivity, knowledge exchange and cooperation among the companies in the area are stimulated. This creates a base for successful social and economic interaction through stimulating a ‘xenogamy’ of various talents, ideas and insights.

Companies that want to establish on the park go to the central organisation which takes care of the first contact. Contracts are handled by the landowners and the municipality checks if the company fits into the profile as described in the spatial plan. Daily management is carried out by the Science and Business Organization of Amsterdam Science Park. This is the central and joint organization of the three founding partners, which are the city of Amsterdam, University of Amsterdam and NWO. These three are in the board of directors and are joint by four other representatives of companies and institutions on the park. The main goal of the S&B organisation is to connect entrepreneurship, education and research and to connect Amsterdam Science Park with its external partners. The main focus points of the management organisation are:

  • acquisition & retention;
  • valorisation & entrepreneurship;
  • corporate communication;
  • functions & facilities;
  • internal & external relations.

It all works well together, but it is said that an improvement can be achieved if the land is in one hand and competencies are concentrated, both preferably within the existing management organisation.

The same ideas can be heard in Utrecht Science Park. Stakeholders are the Utrecht University, the academic hospital and the Hogeschool Utrecht (College). Provincial and local government is also involved but not an owner of building or land. Daily management is carried out by Foundation Utrecht Science Park.

Several parties own the land. That includes parking spaces, but the fares for parking are not synchronised. Interested companies and institutions can have a site on the basis of a land lease. Available land is sold by the university, but in general interested parties start the discussion with the foundation.

In a project carried out in 2016, the joint conclusion was that too many parties were involved in too many aspects of the science park. The ambition is to get a slim and flexible organisation, which will be the existing foundation. The question is, however, which tasks can be handed over, under what conditions (mandate). The joint ambition is

  • a common vision regarding the development of the science park (urban development, economic impact, target groups, growth strategy, etc.);
  • joint park management;
  • joint mobility management;
  • joint parking management;
  • cooperation in offering services to the community;
  • marketing and acquisition of the target group, including a strict admission policy.

In the vision attention has to be paid to the question of how costs, profits and risks can be distributed among the stakeholders. Whatever the organisation, the stakeholders are all customers of the daily organisation (the existing foundation). A  stakeholder analysis it is determined to find out which stakeholders are involved and the degree of the influence they can get.

With regard to the area development, each party retains his responsibilities as currently laid down. Joining forces in this field will be discussed in a later stage.

Looking at Utrecht and Amsterdam it is clear that there is a feeling that the governance of a science park should be organised in such a way that all relevant tasks are carried out by one central organisation. This can be heard in several other places in The Netherlands. Managers involved are very much interested in (rather) simple organisations as have been set up for Oxford Science Park or Surrey Science Park in the United Kingdom. So, during a project for Utrecht Science Park, the question rose: what can be a rather general governance model that takes every stakeholder seriously, but makes one central, coordinating management office possible? How to optimise governance?

Optimalisation of governance

The starting point is that in today’s innovation areas the development of a knowledge network of companies and institutions is essential (including facilities). The same goes for the creation of a community (which is more focussed on personnel, offering services and a top working environment). All together: the ecosystem. Of course one needs also an attractive area and buildings that suit the needs of companies and institutions that are focussed on innovations. This leads to following simple way of reasoning: development strategy à ecosystem à physical development. It cannot be denied that first of all the ‘guests’ in the estate (companies, institutions, university, leading innovative company, others) are central. This leads to the scheme presented in figure 4.

The scheme makes a distinction between the social-economic system (blue) and the physical, spatial system (brown) which creates the conditions for the social-economic system. The two main activities in the social-economic system will be carried out by one organisation, taking care of daily management and strategies and is controlled by a supervising council in which all relevant stakeholders are represented. That includes the stakeholders responsible for the area and the buildings. Now we have to add government. First of all because the plans have to fit into the legal plans of (local) government. Also the university, for example, will have its own policy that can be relevant for the development. Now we have a model that is recognisable in several science parks in The Netherlands (figure 5).

 Figure 4: in search for a governance structure – starting positionOrganisatie 1

Figure 5: The extended schemeOrganisatie 2

Problem is, however, that daily management has no direct control over the physical environment. In many of the Dutch cases this doesn’t hamper the functioning of daily management, although it is often said that it makes coordinated management of the estate less easy and asks for more coordination than would be necessary. Therefore, the next step in the model is to give the ecosystem management organisation the mandate to take care of the area and real estate management Figure 6). To complete the picture we can add the linkages between the central management organisation and external parties that offer financial solutions, which are of great importance for the companies and institutions working in the innovation area. Stakeholders in the Utrecht Science Park are now together exploring the possibilities for such a model.

Figure 6: Final schemeorganisatie 3

New themes in management

The ideas about managing an innovation area have changed over the years. It would be simple to think that it would stop here. New developments are coming up, like serendipity management or changing the introvert character of STPs and co-innovation parks and making these estates focal points in a regional network.

Serendipity management

A new element in managing the networks of an innovation area is creating or stimulating serendipity. Essentially serendipity management comes down to: how can people with different backgrounds be connected and collaborate, to enable new insights and ultimately new products to be developed through “pure coincidence” (= serendipity)?  This may manifest itself in a building in which the concept resembles all kinds of creative workplaces which are popping up all over the place in which flexible, playfully designed spaces with all kinds of facilities and short lease periods are available for creative people, entrepreneurs and others. An example of this in a science park is the NetWork Oasis at the Joensuu Science Park (Finland). This concept will only become truly interesting when the idea of serendipity is combined with a method in which different researchers and product developers with different characters and backgrounds are brought together. This is done via a step-by-step process including training camps and work sessions to build teams, which will then focus on the development of a new product (see Kakko, 2013). This has consequences for the management method, as shown in the table below. Not that this will make project management obsolete. The schedule shows that by including networking, and particularly from the perspective of serendipity, other skills are required from managers and involved parties.

Table 1: Difference between project management and management of serendipity (Kakko, 2013) Serendipity management

Regional embeddedness

A STP can only develop and be successful if it is situated in an innovative region. So, it is logical that a STP, but also other innovation areas, is well connected with its region. An innovation area needs regional embeddedness. An innovation area, in fact, is nothing more than a spatial cluster of R&D related activities within an innovative region. And even than: what is a region when we are talking about innovation? The best innovation areas are or are becoming hubs in large, global networks, thanks to enhanced telecommunication and travel options.

Linkages in the regional network can be established by companies and institutions. Part of the game can be the creation of satellites by an innovation area. As an innovation area has reached the limits of its growth, occasionally “branches” are developed in other parts of the region. One out of three members of IASP already has one or more branches. In The Netherlands none of the innovation areas have branches. In 2016 the Utrecht Science Park was the first one to think about establishing satellites because the park itself is almost fully occupied. A project has been carried out to find out what the best locations are. Two branch types were distinguished:

  • development cluster: applied R&D and development of products based on the results of basic research;
  • testing cluster: laboratories, pilot plants and the like.

After the first selection of 37 locations, 11 were investigated in more detail. 14 variables, grouped in three main dimensions, were used to test the suitability of these possible satellites:

  • (spatial) quality of the location and companies present (availability of sites and buildings, representability of the buildings, availability of services, quality of public space, other companies present);
  • reachability (travel time to Utrecht Science Park by car and by public transport, time to reach a motorway, time to reach a railway station);
  • development potential by local government (legal cooperation, welcoming attitude, willingness to invest, park management, strict admission policy).

To test the stability of the outcomes two sets of weighted variables were used, which had no great impact on the outcomes. Utrecht Science park now starts to use a nearby complex as its first satellite. The other selected sites are under further investigation.

With or without branches, larger regions can have several innovation areas within its borders. An interesting example in The Netherlands is the Eindhoven region (figure 7) which has a mix of co-innovation parks, science parks, university campus, so-called creative factories (a cluster of creative or innovative small firms in an old factory). To profit from such a constellation and in general of an overrepresentation of innovative companies just innovation area management will not be sufficient. Regional management is needed to link innovation companies, institutions and innovation areas. Such strategic regional cooperation between all relevant parties is also a good starting point to link the region to global networks and become a hub in these networks (some information on networks on a higher geographical scale will be presented later on).

Figure 7: Eindhoven region (The Netherlands) as an example of an innovative region with several focal points Eindhoven

Regional cooperation

The combination of different types of innovation areas with regional cooperation between parties involved, has made the Eindhoven region a key player in innovation and in global innovation networks. The Eindhoven region promotes itself as Brainport. Main goal of Brainport management is not the development of innovation areas but is achieving economic growth. The focus is primarily on innovation networks and the business environment that is needed to develop and sustain these networks. There is no direct link between the management of the innovation areas and regional management.

The region is now working on a new strategy: Brainport Next Generation to be able to adapt to new developments. They will move towards a Multi Helix model which also involves citizens, customers, consumers, investors, designers, artists and corporations. It is expected that by broadening the scope faster implementation and an accelerating rate of innovation will be possible. Brainport wants to achieve breakthrough projects and ‘living labs’ will be set up by strong consortiums of innovative companies, knowledge institutions and social partners.

Another example of regional economic cooperation is Science Port Holland which was founded in 2008 and is a regional partnership of the municipalities of Delft and Rotterdam and the Technical University of Delft. Together they worked towards the realization of an attractive business environment within the region Delft – Rotterdam for knowledge-intensive companies. One of the tasks of Science Port Holland was the development of five innovation areas. Today the name of the organisation has changed into InnovationQuarter and there is no longer a focus on developing innovation areas. The focus today is much more on the regional-economic aspects of innovation. “The mission of InnovationQuarter is to strengthen the regional economy by supporting and stimulating the innovation potential of the area. In close cooperation with all major corporations, educational and research institutions – like the Erasmus University Rotterdam, the Delft University of Technology and Leiden University – and government organisations, InnovationQuarter supports technological developments, encourages entrepreneurship and invests in start-up companies.”

Hubs in global networks

At the regional level linkages between companies and institutions are easy to establish. Good functioning of regional networks, together with other factors (such as labour market, infrastructure, living environment, etc.) can make a region and its innovation areas a success. Although these regional networks or ecosystems are crucial, most important are the higher-level networks: national and international, which are in first instance determined by the linkages of individual companies and institutions. Information on innovative developments is such a valuable asset that in fact distances do not matter. Today worldwide communication has become so easy that innovation often happens on a global scale. “The innovation activities are becoming borderless, yet interconnected. Thus, the future success of innovation ecosystems is measured increasingly in the abilities of innovation actors (and core organisations) to connect and manage talent, partnerships, clusters and practical innovation processes – in combining the local knowledge base into the global innovation power grid” (Launonen and Vitanen, 2011). In a survey among entrepreneurs established on Dutch STPs 64% acknowledged the following statement: “”If it is about really crucial knowledge for my business, distant is no issue. If necessary, I will travel to the other end of the world to gain this knowledge”.

Results from the same research project seem to suggest that size and constellation of innovation areas seem to play a role in the linkages and the intensity with which an innovation area or a region is taken up in global networks. Leiden Bioscience Park in the western part of The Netherlands is a rather stand-alone development in its region, whereas – as shown before – the Eindhoven region has a number of innovation areas and strong regional cooperation of stakeholders involved. It is interesting to see that the companies in Leiden Bioscience Park are much more interested in global linkages than Eindhoven is, whereas the companies established on High Tech Campus Eindhoven show strong local and regional linkages, demonstrating the strong regional network (figure 8).

Figure 8: the regional focus of companies on two Dutch science parks

Focus eindhoven en leiden

To conclude

It must have become clear that buildings are no longer the main aspect of science parks and – more broadly – innovation areas, but that community building and networking are essential. This distinguishes this concept from industrial parks, business parks and office parks. Which doesn’t alter the fact that ultimately the businesses and institutions located in the innovation areas also need a roof above their heads. In view of this, specific requirements can be placed on buildings, particularly from the desires for community building and networking. For instance, pedestrian flows, the creation of meeting points, the concentration of catering and restaurant facilities where pedestrian flows meet, creative work environments, etc. For the successful management of a science park, it is crucial that the different layers in the social-spatial structure of a science park are recognised and are connected: the infrastructure, the buildings and the networks. This actually makes an interdisciplinary set up of the management team an absolute necessity.

In light of the developments outlined here, it is obvious that new innovation areas should be developed in accordance with a modern plan. This means they are embedded in the regional economy and are part of broadly set up innovation programs. All of that in an attractive spatial setting with real estate which optimally facilitates this specific way of working. This can only be successful if these developments are managed from an integral management philosophy. It concerns not only the management, though also the nature and the design of the buildings, the quality of the surroundings and the possibilities for meetings etc. The older science parks and co-innovative parks are not sufficiently geared to do this. If they want to keep up with the increasingly faster-paced developments in the area of innovations, a physical and functional redevelopment will be required, including a reorientation of the management.

Quoted literature

  • Christiaanse, K. (2007), Campus and the City.
  • Curvelo Magdaniel, Flavia (2016), Technology campuses and cities. A study on the relation between innovation and the built environment at the urban area level. Delft, The Netherlands): Technical University.
  • European Commission (2013), Setting up, managing and evaluating EU science and technology parks.
  • Kakko, Ilkka (2013), The Fundamentals of Third Generation Science Park Concept. Paper for the UNESCO-WTA International Training Workshop, Daejeon, Korea.
  • Launonen, Martti, and Jukka Viitanen (2011), Hubconcepts. Helsinki, Finland.
  • Nilina, Anna; Josep Pique; Luis Sanz (red.): Areas of innovation in a global world. IASP (e-book).
  • Sanz, L. (2016), Understanding Areas of Innovation. In Anna Nilina, Josep Pique, Luis Sanz (red.): Areas of innovation in a global world. IASP (e-book).



Room for Knowledge Development: from Science Park to Innovation District

Prof. dr. Jacques van Dinteren, Innovation Area Development Partnership (IADP)[1] / Zjak Consult

Paul Jansen MSc., Innovation Area Development Partnership (IADP) / Caudata

Any services and knowledge economy includes numerous innovative companies and institutions that are engaged in research, data, knowledge and information and the acquisition and transmission thereof. For a large number of these organisations an office location is sufficient. However, when it comes to basic research – especially in terms of beta disciplines – there are often more stringent requirements. With a view to cooperation opportunities, appearance and work environment quality, some of these companies have a need for specific job site concepts that capitalize on these aspects, such as science parks and industrial campuses. Moreover, the past two decades have seen the rise of new concepts that will discussed in more detail in this paper.

 Knowledge and innovation are essential elements for most countries’ economies. With a successful innovation policy, one cannot ignore the physical environment that businesses (both large and small) require in order to successfully execute their work and ideas and generate/share knowledge, all focused on creating innovative products and services. These companies often require special buildings that may require large investments. Buildings may include offices as well as laboratories, clean rooms, small-scale (test) production units, and so on. These sites may thrive in many places, but economic researchers assume that a concentration of such buildings (and thus innovative companies) results in added value for all companies involved. Although research into these assumptions shows quite variable results, this assumed added value has resulted in a clustering of companies in numerous science parks. However, numbers are difficult to provide in the absence of a precise definition of such parks. One indicator may be the number of members of the International Association of Science Parks & Areas of Innovation (IASP; currently approx. 400.

Science Parks

When talking about the clustering of innovative companies, relatively speaking, the science park is the oldest concept. Since the rise of science parks in the early fifties, quite a few definitions have been introduced. For example, the IASP places strong emphasis on the science park as an organisation of professionals committed to exchanging information flows between companies and research institutions, promoting innovation in companies and assisting starters and spin-off businesses. However, Hansson (2004) focuses more on appearance and, on the basis of a number of definitions, concludes that science parks almost always have a university in close physical proximity, focus on knowledge and high tech companies and include a special organization that helps starters. We support the definition of the IASP. We believe science parks are primarily about stimulating innovation through well-functioning networks. Property and area development are crucial, but are nevertheless of secondary importance.

The development of science parks is a relatively recent phenomenon: of all European science parks, only 4% were established before 1980. 27% were established in the 1980s and the rest thereafter (EC, 2014). Science parks are primarily an urban or, even more so, a metropolitan phenomenon. Judging from the membership of the IASP, only 6% of parks are located outside of cities and 40% can be found in cities with well over a million inhabitants.

Two-thirds of the science parks in Europe are situated on university grounds and 17% are located no less than 5 km away from such institutions. Earlier IASP research has shown that worldwide, approx. 40% of all science parks have an on-site university or one located in their immediate vicinity. The absence of a clear link with a university may result in a relatively ineffective park (Ratinho et al., 2007). But inefficiency may also occur if the concept is not taken seriously and companies only establish themselves in such parks for their public image and appearance. Moreover, the relationship with the university is not necessarily or solely based on intense knowledge sharing between the research institute and companies based in the park. The availability of various facilities and a pool of students (interns) and graduates play a significant role and are sometimes even more important than the actual sharing of knowledge (Van Dinteren and Pfaff, 2011; EC, 2014). It shouldn’t necessarily come as a surprise that companies don’t solely focus on adjacent universities for knowledge sharing and co-innovation. When talking about crucial knowledge or information, these transcend the decision to establish oneself in a certain region (Weterings and Ponds, 2007). Nevertheless, it is these relationships between companies and knowledge institutions that distinguish science parks from regular business or office parks. Science park management teams (the fact that there are separate management teams is another factor that makes these parks unique) are often committed to these relationships and try to promote cooperation between individual companies and companies and universities. This allows for the creation of an informal network (‘local buzz’), resulting in substantial positive effects when creating innovation networks between local actors (Capello and Morrison, 2005). At the same time, one could write an entire book about the differences of opinion on this aspect.

Although the stimulation of networks, cooperation and knowledge sharing are essential to well-functioning area management, attention is equally paid to the creation of a community. One could consider the networks as communities, but when talking about communities, these are often less ‘strict’. Communities involve informal contact between employees, meeting each other at seminars, organizing sports events, concerts, and so on. And all this in a well-designed environment that promotes creativity.

The Industrial Co-innovation Park

Earlier parts of this paper have focused on the relationship between science parks and universities. At the same time, a science park may also develop itself around a different major research institution. For example, even a company may act as the pivot. In the latter case, it is better to speak of an ‘(industrial) co-innovation park’. Where the crystallization point in a science park is the university, in a co-innovation park this is a leading industrial company. Examples include the DSM Industrial & Biotech Campus (DSM, Delft, Netherlands), Kodak’s Eastman Business Park (Rochester, USA), the AUDI Ingolstadt site (Germany), the Luxembourg Automotive Campus (established around Goodyear’s Luxembourg Innovation Center and IEE s.a. sensing solutions) and Chemelot Campus (DSM, Sittard/Geleen, Netherlands).

Such developments are the result of company strategies, focused on co-innovation: the cooperation with other companies and institutions to develop innovative, creative solutions and products. Nowadays it has become harder for companies to keep up with changing technology, economy and markets by innovating solely by themselves. Technology in particular has become so specialised that nobody can afford to do everything at the highest level on their own. Cooperation with other companies, institutions and universities is required. To succeed, businesses must overcome their deep-seated fear of knowledge sharing. Fortunately, in many cases they were able to do so: these days, it has become popular to view cooperation with strategic partners as essential in the development of technological innovations.

Continuous innovations across organizational boundaries may lead a company to the idea of establishing an industrial co-innovation park on its site (or adjacent to it). Precondition is that the company must understand the dynamics of inter-organisational networks and develops – or has already developed  – skills in managing networks and facilitating network processes.

The practical possibilities for establishing a co-innovation park, in terms of available space, are often attributable to the downsizing of activities or excessive hectares of expansion reserve. Downsizing may partly occur by offshoring activities, but may also be related to changing production conditions. For example, these days the manufacturing of semiconductors requires less and less space.

So, setting up an industrial co-innovation park can be attractive if the leading company:

  • strongly advocates the idea of innovation and wants to innovate in close cooperation with its suppliers (open innovation or co-innovation);
  • is established in a region that has the characteristics that stimulate innovation,
  • the space required by other companies and is able to take care of the qualities that are asked for to make such a park a success.

This is not to say that co-innovation always asks for physical proximity of the firms and institutions involved, but being located in same park makes it easier to communicate. Moreover, companies situated on such integrated industrial areas may share the material supplies, utilities and services focusing on – for example – safety, quality, personnel and the environment.

Innovation Districts

A relatively new phenomenon in the field of innovation is the innovation district. In an innovation district, the cooperation between companies and institutions is still essential, but the concept differs in specific ways from the two aforementioned districts. First of all, these districts are often located inside urban areas, whereas most science parks are located on the outskirts of cities, in suburban locations. Moreover, innovation districts are often not newly developed, but are formed after a restructuring of an existing situation. As a result, an innovation district often has a mixture of purposes, including housing. In organisational terms, this often means a shift from the triple helix to the quadruple helix. And whereas science parks often place a strong emphasis on beta disciplines, an innovation district often takes a broader approach and thus offers room for a wide variety of creative industries and consulting firms. The link with a university may be less strong, but may partly be replaced with auxiliary branches. In addition, specialisation is sometimes not a key aspect of these districts. For example, 22@Barcelona focuses on four different clusters: Media, Information and Communication Technologies (ICT), Medical Technologies (MedTech), Energy and Design.

Similar to other districts, innovation districts have the requirements of good, dedicated management that encourages the creation of a community and networking between established companies and institutions. And compared to industrial campuses, there is often a leading company or institution (hospital, university, research institute).

Sanz (2016) describes an innovation district[2] as follows: “a designated zone with its own specific management team, whose main objectives include economic development via the promotion and attraction of selective innovative business for which specific services are provided or made available, and that may also include residential and cultural zones or facilities, or be embedded in urban spaces having such facilities, and with which the economic aspects of the area of innovation interact”.

Science parks, innovation districts and industrial innovative campuses are different concepts, especially in terms of target groups and physical form. At the same time, they show strong similarities in terms of work environment and management. Proper management – both in physical and functional terms – is a prerequisite for all three. Looking at the three districts together, they are all part of the overarching concept on an ‘innovation area’

Work Environment

Whereas during the early days of science parks the focus was often on physical development, over the years people have started to realise that science parks require a completely different approach. About two decades ago, the adage ‘brains, no bricks’ was introduced. This broke with a science park as mere property development. At the same time, this doesn’t mean that the physical environment isn’t vitally important in stimulating the process of creativity, interaction and innovation (Van Dinteren en Keeris, 2014). The importance of this is even increasing now that people are realising that an attractive (physical) environment contributes to creativity and competitiveness. Here we could make a distinction between facilities for employees and facilities for companies.

The sharing of facilities for companies, which people hope will lead to knowledge sharing and synergy, is a major reason why companies establish themselves on a campus or science park. This aspect is even more important than the actual possibilities of cooperating with the university itself, as shown by a survey among entrepreneurs established at Dutch science parks or campuses. Besides the presence of a young student population, the availability of information systems, laboratories and clean rooms is also important (Van Dinteren en Pfaff, 2011).

On the other hand, when talking about facilities for employees (including ambiance created by buildings, design and landscaping), management has the following reason for their existence: if employees enjoy their work, they simply work more effectively. If they work more effectively, this subsequently has a positive effect on productivity and creativity. Ultimately this leads to better outcomes for businesses. Over two thirds of entrepreneurs at Dutch science parks (completely) agree with the statement that, “given the increasingly tight labour market for highly educated people, it is essential that a science park offers an optimal working environment” (Van Dinteren en Pfaff, 2011). This involves extensive amenities (e.g. shops, hairdressers, restaurants, fitness centres) and an attractively landscaped park with recreational facilities (walking and running routes, meeting places, and so on). A concept such as ‘Enjoy Work’ therefore doesn’t primarily focus on the target group, but on creating a comfortable working environment (see; Van Dinteren, 2007).

Towards a Conceptual Model

Due to the very particular nature of innovation areas, establishing such areas and monitoring their quality is not easy. So what aspects are essential in creating a successful innovation district? Previous blogs focused on regional factors (which the developer has little to no control of; see blog1) and the factors that affect the park itself (see blog2). In summary:


Considering the aforementioned, then various aspects can be displayed a model as presented in Figure 1.

Figure 1: Towards a conceptual model of innovation areas

Conceptueel model ENG

As stated earlier, innovation districts must be developed in full. This conceptual model provides a tool and may function as a checklist to assess whether all ingredients are present in the development of an innovation district. If aspects are missing, then it should be immediately clear that (additional) attention must be paid to these aspects. But above all, using this model, the correlation between various programmes, actors, management, real estate, infrastructure becomes clear. By applying this model in various developments around the world, the IADP currently validates the proceeds of this model in concrete projects.

[1] The IADP is a collaboration between eight Dutch companies, active in areas including market research, concept development, urban planning, architecture, park management, financial advice and investments. See:

[2] Factually speaking, Sanz refers to an Innovation Area. We prefer to reserve this term for the different concepts combined. According to Sanz’ definition, an innovation area can be both considered at a sub-local and regional level. When it comes to the regional level, we prefer to use the term innovative region.


  • Capello Roberta and Andrea Morrison (2005), An evaluation of the effectiveness of science parks in local knowledge creation: a territorial perspective. Paper for the 5th Triple Helix Conference. Turin.
  • Dinteren, Jacques van (2007), Enjoy work! Als leidend principe. Een nieuw type werklocatie. In: Real Estate Magazine (50), pp. 24-29.
  • Dinteren, Jacques van, Debbie Pfaff (2011), Science park: innovatie of imago? In: Real Estate Magazine, no. 32, pp. 32 – 37.
  • Dinteren, Jacques van, Willem Keeris (2014), Innovatie vraagt om investeren in R&D-vastgoed. In: Real Estate Research Quaterly, april, pp. 26 – 34.
  • EC (2014), Setting up, managing and evaluating EU science and technology parks. European Commission.
  • Hansson, Finn (2004), Science parks as knowledge organisations. The ‘ba’ in action? MPP working paper no. 15. Copenhagen Business School. Copenhagen.
  • Ratinho, Tiago, Elsa Henriques and Luís Maltes (2007). Science parks and business incubators: the Portuguese case. Paper for the European Investment Bank.
  • Sanz, L. (2016), Understanding Areas of Innovation. In Anna Nilina, Josep Pique, Luis Sanz (red.): Areas of innovation in a global world. IASP (e-book).
  • Weterings, Anet, and Roderik Ponds (2007), Regionale kennisnetwerken en innovatie. Rotterdam: NAi Uitgevers publishers.

Site design for science parks

Prof. dr. Jacques van Dinteren, Zjak Consult

Thanks to the multitude of ways to communicate that are available today, it is sometimes said that distance no longer matters and that – by extension – the geographic location of STPs has become much less important. Nothing could be further from the truth. Surveys among businesses located at STPs demonstrate this. For example, for businesses at Dutch STPs, the proximity of a university, the STP’s geographic location and its accessibility on the regional scale level are still the most important factors. The failure to satisfy these kinds of crucial requirements has jeopardised the success of more than one STP. In some cases there had been no critical analysis of the regional conditions, or those in charge were too convinced of the possibilities of being able to make favourable changes to those conditions, such as accessibility and networking opportunities with other businesses and knowledge institutions. Not all environments are conducive settings for an STP.

If a region has good market prospects for the development of an STP, it is still relevant to ask where exactly the best location is. Site selection compares the available alternatives in terms of various characteristics such as accessibility, environment/landscape, the infrastructure in place (the internet backbone, for instance), the space for future expansion and the proximity of interesting companies and knowledge institutions. From the vantage point of sustainable development, it is also logical to look at the possibilities for (creating) multimodal access and good integration in the landscape. Given the trend to consider STPs an important node in an innovation area, site selection specifically has to provide for a careful integration of STPs in that regional knowledge ecosystem.

Market-based site design: key to success

The target group, functional concept, financial feasibility and functional programme of requirements for the development of an STP can be outlined on the basis of market research. Because STPs usually involve a long development period (up to thirty years even), this requires a specific approach: after all it is virtually impossible to sketch out the market prospects for the next twenty years, for example. The market research for an STP must therefore also explicitly contain an analysis of the region that investigates whether all the conditions imposed by such a development are satisfied.

Our experience has taught that as far as the time horizon is concerned, an in-depth, detailed market research is mainly useful for the medium term. Not many property projects are established in this period however, but a market study gives a first (but nothing more) picture of the feasibility in these early years. In this stage it is important that market research also clarifies the target groups and functional concept. The functional concept describes the STP ‘product’ in functional terms. It is the creative idea that lays the foundation for the design. This has to do with the atmosphere/ambience, ways of working, communication possibilities, spatial quality, etc. Testing should demonstrate that the concept appeals to the target group and will incite them to set up business at the STP.

In our approach market analysis does not stand alone. The exchange of ideas and cooperation between market researchers and designers in developing a vision and concept is unusual, but in our view are precisely the keys to success in achieving a successful plan. In our market studies, the designers and colleagues from other relevant disciplines are involved from the very beginning therefore.

Interdisciplinary site design

“The 21st century science park once again regards the built environment as vital, not as an end in itself but as an aid to the process of creativity, interaction and innovation,” John Allen said during one of the IASP conferences. This calls for new types of buildings, high-quality landscaping and the availability of a great range of services. A design that provides for these new requirements will be a significant success factor for the park. On the other hand, more traditional aspects of a design are still needed, such as safety and security, transport and communication infrastructure, parking facilities, and space for expansion.

It is important to point out here that in our opinion, urban planners are just one of the categories of specialists working on the site design for an STP. A 21st century site design for an STP is not resilient unless it is underpinned by a far broader, interdisciplinary team. Along with a focus on environment and sustainability, market research must be brought into the entire development process in order to share ideas – continually – and create a joint vision from a variety of perspectives or disciplines, which include urban planners, landscape architects, traffic consultants and financial experts.

Because the development of an STP is a long-term project (provided there is a good selection strategy), flexibility in the site design is key, as is stability to secure the return on investments. This means keeping as many options for future development open for as long as possible. The design needs to be organised in such a way that opportunities can be combined right up to the last moment. The core team continually tracks developments that affect the plan, tests the foundation for stability and adjusts the plan if necessary.

Attracting the brains: changing the work environment

The importance of an intelligent design that maximises the chances for innovation, ‘serendipity’ and the exchange of ideas is considered increasingly important by developers, businesses, designers and other parties involved. The line of reasoning in this is as follows: if employees enjoy their work, they work better. If they work better, this positively impacts productivity and creativity. This ultimately leads to better results for companies.

Based on this kind of thinking, a work environment can be created that can benefit the STP’s companies in the War for Talent. Not only in order to generate employees, but also to retain them for as long as possible. A work environment must be created that stimulates the process of creativity, interaction and innovation. A survey we conducted among companies located at Dutch STPs indicated that 69% of them agreed or agreed strongly with the statement that given the increasing shortage of highly educated people on the job market, it is essential that STPs offer these workers an optimal work environment. This means extensive facilities (for instance, shops, hair salons, restaurants and cafés, fitness studios) and an attractively designed STP with recreation options (walking and jogging routes, meeting places, etc.).

The interior design of each building on an STP is largely informed by the need for a pleasant and attractive work environment. The current trend is for employees to collaborate in project- and program-managed working formations where they increasingly connect through virtual meeting points rather than in person on the work floor. This trend is revolutionising our idea of a work environment. A work environment is no longer simply a physical site (i.e. an office with meeting rooms); it may include virtual elements (ICT), as well as more abstract elements (corporate culture and shared beliefs on how to do certain things). Each of these elements is equally important in the creation of an effective and productive work environment, and they are all interdependent.

The need for multi-purpose buildings

Many STPs come with laboratories and cleanrooms. These high-tech spaces have sophisticated and expensive equipment which is often shared by multiple users. Shared use of laboratories and/or cleanrooms requires clear communication lines between users so that security can be safeguarded while innovative experiments are being carried out. Whether the buildings in question belong to small start-ups or to large multinational corporations, it is of vital importance that user requirements be discussed and defined upfront. This is an important step towards ensuring that the requirements for the yet-to-be-built laboratories can be met and that clear boundaries be established with regard to what the various users are and aren’t allowed to do. One way to make appropriate decisions for all parties involved is to carefully weigh one’s choices regarding flexibility and the total costs of ownership (TCO). By doing so, one can establish a well-considered program of requirements that can be used to determine which design criteria the various end users expect to be implemented. Once these steps have been taken, the program can then be used as a guideline in monitoring the design, engineering and construction of the new buildings.