Innovation in life sciences requires collaboration and community

January 18, 2023 - 5 minutes
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By Claudia Tripp and Katie Nelson, Kadans Science Partner

Collaboration has underpinned some of the most impactful innovations of recent years. For example, the rapid development of the COVID vaccine was only made possible due to collaboration.

Pfizer’s rapidly-established partnership with BioNTech delivered the first vaccine at lightning speed. Having established an ecosystem approach to collaboration, Pzifer could call on external partners quickly to assist them in developing this world-changing innovation.

However, it is not just in times of crisis that collaboration is vital. Now, there is increasing acceptance within the life sciences community that an ecosystem approach is essential to delivering the innovative solutions the world needs.

As defined by innovation experts Arthur Little, “Hyper-collaboration is based on the fundamental belief that it is innovation ecosystems, not individual companies, which will deliver the novel solutions the world is waiting for.”

It is clear that collaboration and innovation go hand in hand, but there is a third aspect to consider. We must remember that these communities are made of individuals – the ecosystem relies on talent.

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Shifting working practices

Across industries, we see considerable shifts in working practices and talent expectations. For example, 97% of life science companies plan to implement hybrid work models in the post-pandemic era. And, when employees come into the office or lab, it is now for specific purposes – one of which is to foster relationships, expand networks and build crucial connections. It is vital that the spaces in which life science organisations exist support the needs of employees while also providing the conditions in which collaboration can naturally blossom.

This means there is now a golden triangle of community, innovation and employee experience that underpins success. How can this be achieved?

Collaboration, creativity and innovation in life sciences through coworking

The boom in coworking spaces is revolutionising working practices. For example, Verizon, IBM, and Microsoft are already using coworking spaces to support innovation and idea exchanges, while Google and Facebook have also invested in corporate coworking spaces. Research from the University of Trento suggests ‘coworking spaces express a large potential to foster open innovation. At the same time, Harvard Business Review followed employees working in alternative office spaces, finding they perform better than those in traditional offices.

The benefits of coworking spaces are numerous. Organic networking can be powerful. Serendipitous conversations are facilitated by proximity, coffee breaks and social events. It is natural to work next to an expert from another organisation, striking impromptu meetings and discussions which can lead almost anywhere.

Open workspaces can provide necessary formal and informal exchanges between scientists and entrepreneurs. Encounters with researchers and partner networks can help accelerate research development. These connections can initiate future collaborations and open doors to new funding or pitching opportunities.

Connection is not just about idea generation; it is vital to wellbeing. In fact, Ergonomic Trends reports that 83% of people are less lonely since joining a coworking space and 89% report that this change has made them happier. With the rise in remote working, providing a space designed for human connection and interaction is more important than ever. As Stanford University research suggests, collaborative work increases motivation and leads to higher engagement, lower fatigue, and higher success rates. As the researchers say, collaboration ‘turns work into play.’

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Creating specialized coworking ecosystems 

Coworking is a catalyst of collaboration and, therefore, innovation. For life sciences organizations, there is a need for specialized coworking campuses. It is not enough to merely provide socially-designed spaces. Firstly, there is a need for highly specialized facilities, from laboratories and cleanrooms to specialized storage. It takes an expert operator to design, manage and maintain the physical spaces scientists need.

However, developing coworking campuses is way more than bricks and mortar. For example, the University of Trento research found that more than place and space, events were regarded as the most critical dimension of coworking since they act as ‘enablers for cooperation dynamics’. 

The purpose of coworking operators is to create the right environment for innovation, which requires deep knowledge of how innovation works – especially within specialized sectors like life science. To achieve the levels of collaboration needed to succeed, life science coworking communities require the proper facilities, the right members and the right nurturing.

Too often, coworking landlords and operators provide space and expect a community to form, but building a community is an intentional process.

For example, coworking community members need to be complementary. You need the right mix of organizations across specialisms to have a healthy ecosystem. Startups must be alongside established enterprises, knowledge institutions, and specialized support services – recruitment or communications, for example. 

Digital health

A strong door policy for specialized coworking campuses is essential to maintain the relevancy and quality of potential connections. However, in today’s innovation landscape, that doesn’t mean excluding other complementary collaborators. For example, the rise in digital health means that it is increasingly vital to connect traditional life sciences organizations with innovative data and AI technology startups.

Coworking operators must carefully select tenants and external partners to create opportunities to share knowledge and resources and work together. From R&D partnerships to financial investment, being alongside the right organizations can open doors and foster innovation. 

Knowledge-intensive organizations need more than just workplaces. They need community and collaboration. The impact of a carefully nurtured community on scientific advancement should not be underestimated. Crucially, every individual within the community matters. By providing social spaces where creativity can flourish, we can now offer the best of all worlds, hybrid working with purpose, and that purpose is to ensure collaborative innovation that changes lives.

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