How Innovation Districts can drive growth in our cities

Innovation Districts and knowledge-led regeneration can become a ‘game-changer’ for economic growth in UK cities, writes Phil Kemp, chief executive of Bruntwood SciTech.

In an era of multiple complex challenges for cities, where the necessity to do more with less continues to set the tone, civic leaders know they need a strategy to drive economic growth alongside delivering essential services to citizens.

While there is no one-size-fits-all solution to creating the sustainable growth we all want, there are surely lessons to learn from cities that are performing well.

Science and technology have always offered cities the potential to create new jobs, retain graduate talent and deliver economic growth, but to meet the challenge of growth post-Brexit and to harness the latent power of technology, there is growing recognition that we have to turn the dial to accelerate knowledge-led innovation.

Described by the respected urban planner Bruce Katz of the Washington DC-based Brookings Institute as: ‘a geographic area where leading-edge anchor institutions and companies cluster and connect with start-ups, business incubators, and accelerators’, innovation districts are places that foster open collaboration and grow talent.

Here in the UK, there is growing recognition that Innovation Districts are powerful and important drivers of economic growth. Alongside London, which has two, there are Innovation Districts, of varying scale and maturity in Belfast, Glasgow, Liverpool, Birmingham and Manchester.

The 2018 UK Innovation Districts Group’s report ‘Driving More Productive Growth states: ‘Innovation districts are reshaping and regenerating parts of major UK cities, creating and attracting new high-quality jobs inaccessible locations.

‘They provide a focus for knowledge organisations and employers to engage with people and communities in new ways; increasing awareness of and access to the range of learning and career opportunities available in the knowledge economy of today and the future.’

The fast-growth and disruptive industries of the future ranging from e-commerce, cyber security, AI, to digital health, medical technologies and genomics present an incredible opportunity for cities to deliver new high-value jobs and grow sustainably and inclusively.

Bruntwood SciTech creates the environments and ecosystems that enable companies in the science and technology sector to form, collaborate, scale and grow.  Our vision to create over 20,000 new jobs in the science and technology sector over the next decade is underpinned by a belief that partnerships between business, local authorities, universities and the NHS can achieve more and at greater pace by working together than they can on their own.

The model is about making sure we have genuinely world-leading facilities for science and technology businesses at every stage of their lifecycle from start-up to large multinational. But regardless of scale, we want to make sure they’re connected in a supportive ecosystem.

We recognise that the chances of any IP-based businesses succeeding are massively enhanced if they operate in an environment where the right elements are provided – appropriate facilities and infrastructure together with access to talent, finance and markets. By bringing these elements together in clusters such as in Manchester’s Oxford Road Corridor we can see the transformative effect it can have.

Any regional city with a high-quality research-intensive university has the potential to be a focal point for knowledge-led growth. Birmingham is a city that has recognised the power of innovation districts, setting out a vision for the establishment of its own Knowledge Quarter.  In the heart of this, at the city’s Innovation Birmingham campus, we can see the growing trend for proximity amongst large corporates, academia and nimble tech start-ups to drive innovation.

Collaboration is at the heart of Bruntwood SciTech’s approach.  While we have access to the capital and operational expertise to deliver, we will not go to city leaders and tell them what they want – instead, we need an open dialogue and a shared vision from the outset.

The UK is not alone in wanting to develop a more productive, highly skilled, high-value economy, but we believe that by forming these partnerships there’s a real opportunity to start coordinating within cities and across cities to create a network of innovation districts across the country. Delivering that over the next 10 years, we believe, will be a game changer for the UK.


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