Beyond borders: promoting innovation in a European science park network

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Science parks are areas designed to drive technological innovation forward by connecting businesses, knowledge & research institutes like universities and network and governmental organizations with one another. Now, growing networks of science parks across Europe are leading to unique business opportunities and fruitful international partnerships.

Traditionally, life science businesses often operated as so-called silos, in which there was little cross-talk and collaboration between and within businesses. After recognizing that silos can limit advances and commercial success, however, businesses and academic institutions started to form partnerships to break this trend. Today, science parks, also referred to as research parks, technology parks and innovation centers, are breaking down silo structures even further.

Science parks offer offices, laboratories and meeting areas to new and established businesses working in a range of different science and technology fields. A science park is usually managed by a group of specialists who coordinate the flow of knowledge and technology between members of the science park community.

One purpose of these services is to stimulate open innovation – collaboration between members of the science park who would otherwise not be as easily connected with one another. Exchanging ideas and resources in this way can lead to novel or improved products and services. 

An evolving ecosystem

Science parks traditionally operated on a local or regional scale. However, this is changing, as potential science park tenants are becoming increasingly aware of the benefits international collaborations can provide. At the same time, science parks are growing their international networks across different economic sectors to meet the evolving needs of their tenants.

“We tell science park tenants that we can make them more successful by offering modern, flexible facilities to them that are tailored to their needs,” says Tom Straeter, Senior Ecosystem Manager at Kadans Science Partner, a real-estate firm with long-standing expertise in developing life science incubators.

Tom Straeter, Senior Ecosystem Manager at Kadans Science Partner
Tom Straeter, Senior Ecosystem Manager at Kadans Science Partner

But beyond that, our tenants gain access to our large international network. Here, they can meet many other R&D organizations and service providers, who can help them overcome challenges and drive innovation forward,” Straeter elaborates.

For tenants of a science park, this means that they become part of a collaborative community that is greater than the sum of its parts. These interconnected networks of organizations science parks create are known as innovation ecosystems.

In such an ecosystem, companies share their services, knowledge and skills with one another. By pooling their collective resources in this way, companies may find themselves on the path to partnerships and discoveries that may not have formed otherwise.  Additionally, ecosystems, especially international ones, offer more services and opportunities to tenants than any one of its branch firms could offer on their own.

Collaborating across campuses

While science parks traditionally operated within their local region or city, today tenants of a science park can gain access to and become part of a wider European network. Moreover, landlords not only rent out facilities to their tenants, they are now actively engaged in connecting tenants to potential collaborators within the network.

“Kadans Science Partner’s network has grown rapidly in recent years. Today, it consists of more than 400 tenants, which are mainly knowledge-intensive organizations. Our tenants are located across 25 science parks, campuses, and innovation districts within Europe,” says Straeter. “We can make connections between all those hotspots.

Importantly, connecting organizations in this way can also lead to interdisciplinary collaborations.

“Our network consists of multiple economic sectors. We can find out which life science tenant is able to or interested in collaborating with a high-tech tenant or a renewable energy tenant, for example,” Straeter elaborates.

“Most of the time, the collaborations arising out of a science park’s ecosystem are not planned – they are the product of serendipity. This is often the case within our network,” explains Straeter. “We often see that a tenant is looking for a collaboration, but does not yet know which organization in the ecosystem he needs to be connected to.” 

Science parks can lead to both short and long term collaborations, depending on the project in question.

“Sometimes, we connect an R&D tenant to an intellectual property consultancy firm, or to a recruitment agency in order to attract new talent to their business. These are short term projects,” says Straeter. “But we also set up more technical, scientifically complex innovation projects. Usually, an innovation project takes years.”

Managing the ecosystem

A key asset Kadans Science Partner offers to its tenants is the ecosystem managers, who have a different set of expertise than the company’s real-estate-focused commercial managers. At Kadans, ecosystem managers have an in-depth knowledge of their tenants and what they are looking for in a collaboration. The ecosystem managers use this expertise to establish meaningful connections between tenants.

“The role of the ecosystem managers is to make connections between tenants in person,” Straeter explains. “This spring, we appointed an ecosystem manager for high tech, Stephanie Riffo – you can call her a business development manager as well.”

“She talks to our tenants about the business and connects them with other interesting collaboration partners in our community,” says Straeter.

An additional tool that is important in connecting tenants across Kadans’ European network is the company’s online platform.

“The online platform is a large catalog of tenants in the Kadans community,” Straeter states. “It helps organizations contact each other and get access to all the additional ecosystem services we are offering.”

Kadans Innovation Summit

A summit for innovation

To further facilitate communication and collaboration between tenants, Kadans Science Partner also organizes networking events for its tenants. Recently, the company held its first annual in-person Innovation Summit in Utrecht, the Netherlands. The Kadans Innovation Summit featured keynote presentations, workshops and networking opportunities that brought together members of Kadans’ European ecosystem.

“The Kadans Innovation Summit brings together the entire European community of Kadans,” Straeter says. “Tenants from all 25 science parks are able to meet each other in person and listen to inspiring stories of other community members of Kadans.”

The triple helix

An essential part of the innovation taking place in Kadans’ European ecosystem network happens through the triple helix. Referring to collaboration between businesses, research institutions, and government bodies, the triple helix can pave a path forward for innovative ideas: scientific discoveries and technological advances from a lab can be developed into a product and enter the market more easily.

“At Kadans, we are aware of the value the triple helix brings to the innovative impact of our European ecosystem network,” says Straeter. “We pay a lot of attention to the composition of our community. It’s extremely important that both commercial businesses and knowledge and research institutions are represented.”

A European network

Science parks have already been influential in fostering innovation around the world. As the trend set by Kadans Science Partner towards international networks continues, we may see even more exciting scientific and technological products and services enter the market.

Are you interested in joining Kadans’ European ecosystem? Look into opportunities here!

Images courtesy of Kadans Science Partner and Shutterstock.

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