Have you considered working on a Science Park? And what are the possible advantages and disadvantages of doing so?
What is a Science Park?
The term ‘Science Parks’ means different things to different people. Thirty or forty years ago it was used as a marketing term for industrial estates. Property management companies wanted to attract science-based companies in the belief that these would be able to pay higher rents than traditional companies.
More recently, governments (often acting through the now-abolished regional development agencies) realised that science-based companies could be attracted to an area, and could grow and create jobs more quickly with easy access to support services.
Pressures on funding, increased awareness of the potential commercial value of university research and the desire to help graduates find relevant employment also led many universities to develop plans to help new companies, including research spin-outs and graduate start-ups.
So recent science parks offer not only laboratory and office space but also a range of events and support services for businesses. These normally include very close working relationships with local universities. Sometimes these parks – or individual buildings – are called ‘technology hubs’, ‘innovation centres’, ‘knowledge gateways’ or ‘enterprise catalysts’; each new science park seems to invent a new name to distinguish it from its predecessors.
Almost all science park directors belong to UKSPA, the UK Science Park Association, and the website http://www.ukspa.org.uk/ is worth visiting. UKSPA reports that its member science parks have 4,000 businesses in 100 different locations, employing between them over 75,000 people between them.
- So what are the advantages of working on a Science Park?
It depends on the type of employer and the type of science park.
Working for a large employer on a science park may be very similar to working for a large employer elsewhere. The main people you meet at coffee each day will be your co-workers, and you may have little or no interaction with people working for other companies on the park.
Other large employers on science parks are keen to promote links with other companies on the park, especially with potential suppliers or collaborators in research projects. So staff may well be encouraged to participate in, or organise, networking events, either with invited speakers or ‘open fora’ on topics of interest. If your employer does this, do take advantage and get involved.
With smaller employers, working on a science park overcomes some of the problems of professional isolation that can occur in small companies. Shared space – normally with coffee and perhaps more substantial catering facilities – enables you to get to know people working for other companies. Whilst your employers will want you to be aware of the dangers of sharing confidential research results with competing companies, there should still be considerable scope to help each other in areas of common interest.
These areas may be very simple, such as jointly lobbying the science park management company for improved creche facilities or the provision of cycle lockers protected from the rain. Or they may be more complex – perhaps sharing an invitation for a visiting financial specialist to discuss tax allowances for R&D investment by small companies.
Perhaps the biggest benefits from a science park location accrue to new start-up businesses. In many cases the science parks themselves, together with the local university, make special efforts to encourage new start-ups to take accommodation on the park and to help them to grow.
These efforts may include reduced rent for the first couple of years, helping a young company with cashflow and giving it time to build the business before paying the full cost of accommodation.
Companies, and graduates thinking of starting companies, are also likely to have support from business mentors, together with training workshops on business issues. The latter would almost always include advice on finance, marketing and business strategy. Many science parks also have ‘themes’ such as computing, pharma, or environmental business for example; new-start-up programmes on these parks would include sector-specific business advice.
The most important benefit of all, especially to people working in new-start-ups, is having close contact with other businesses who are either at the same stage or have ‘been there, done that’ recently and are willing to share their experience and advice.
- Are there any disadvantage of working on a Science Park?
There can be. If you value the chance to walk around the shops, meet friends or visit a museum or art gallery during your lunch-break, do be aware that most science parks are some distance away from town centres. There are exceptions, but you can feel isolated from ‘real life’ on a science park.
And if you are building a business based on your research, you may find it better – and cheaper – to ask nicely for some space in a university laboratory in the early stages, perhaps moving onto the science park itself after a year or eighteen months. Most universities allow enterprising graduates to do this and many actively encourage it.
Nigel Peacock is a research and training consultant in areas related to business and management. A physicist originally, he started his career working on EU collaborative research projects at BT Labs, Martlesham, and developed an interest in R&D management. Following a mid-career MBA at Henley he moved to Bangor University, serving as Director of Business Development & Enterprise. His current interests include skills development and research into work-life balance.