University science parks are booming. The latest review of them found rising employment and increasing levels of investment.
Last year alone science parks generated 360 new products and 250 technology transfer deals, John Allen, chairman of the United Kingdom Science Parks Association, told a conference on science and business this week.
The total of parks operational in 1996 was 51 compared with 26 the previous year, and the number of tenant firms, mostly small and medium-sized companies, had risen by more than 100 to 1,367.
Dr Allen, who is also chief executive of Manchester Science Park, told the Bank of England conference that the number of employees in parks totalled 25,300 - a 10 per cent increase over 1995. Investment last year totalled Pounds 753 million, an increase of Pounds 50 million over the previous year.
He said the figures showed that “the growth of UK science parks is continuing apace. The clustering of firms is clearly generating added value for tenants.” Of the total 725,000 square metres of floor space available, 92 per cent was let.
Sectors represented included energy, biosciences, computers and materials and industrial technologies. Bio-related tenant firms accounted for the largest single tenant sector. UKSPA members include the universities of Aston, Cambridge, Stirling and Warwick Science Park. In 1981 there were only two and in 1985 the number of tenants was just 300.
The conference was part of the city, science and technology dialogue initiated last year by the Government via the Department of Trade and Industry, the Worshipful Company of Information Technologists and the Royal Society. The aim is to forge stronger links between financiers, industrialists, scientists and engineers to provide more support for new firms and the small and medium sector. Speakers included deputy prime minister Michael Heseltine and deputy governor of the Bank of England Howard Davies.
Adair Turner, director general of the Confederation of British Industry, highlighted the need to encourage the development of “clusters” of embryonic high-technology industries close to universities excelling in science, engineering and technology. The clusters should integrate financiers, businessmen and industrialists.
Multi-millionaire scientist entrepreneur Christopher Evans, founder of the biotechnology firm Chiroscience, said Britain had “one of the best science bases in the world”.
But there was a need for many more scientists and engineers to become entrepreneurs, “otherwise we are just not going to get very far in developing high-technology industries for the 21st century.”