How the collaboration environment has changed over time

How the collaboration environment has changed over time

Back in 1981, when I was asked to implement the vision of the Vice Chancellor for the Surrey Research Park, the focus was on developing an enterprise support network to assist our tenant companies with gaining competitive advantage. The concept at that time was that co-location (close proximity) of companies to the University was sufficient for technology to flow from laboratory to market. 

"The Park and other science parks in the UK have pioneered co-working spaces with lots of services; business modelling ideas, advice and help with finance, all aimed at helping entrepreneurs accelerate commercialisation of technology."

The initial development of the Research Park brought a wide range of challenges of which one was that co-location alone could not deliver the results we wanted. Government policies at that time were still in their infancy if even born, so we had to build our own links and collaborative platform whilst working with no funding to support company formation and growth, and relying on Guildford business community to bring added levels of business advice. Our early links included companies such as Kobe Steel funding equipment in the University, and using the Teaching Company Scheme (TCS) now known as the Knowledge Transfer Partnerships to create the right milieu for success.

The first deal we did on the Park was to attract Grand Metropolitan to fund a bio-incubator in partnership with the University, which opened in 1985. The University then bought out Grand Met after 1 year of operation when they wanted to return to their core business.  We have not looked back since then; we converted bio-incubator into our own multi-technology incubator known as the Surrey Technology Centre (STC).

Over the last 28 years, over 375 companies, including IDBS – who have gone on to be world leaders in data handling and analysis for pharmaceutical companies - and Bullfrog who arrived in 1981 and spawned a significant European leading cluster in computer games, have located in the STC to start their growth into what are today very successful companies.

The Park’s Master Plan was centred on meeting the needs of three stakeholder groups:

  • For Tenants this meant providing space for business development in STC, accelerator space for companies to grow into, and larger units for specialist parts of larger companies or single site technology companies that wanted to locate near the talent and technology pool created by the University
  • For Guildford Borough the aim was to support economic development following on from the contribution made by the University to Guildford
  • For the University, the aims were to support Technology Transfer, to raise the profile of the University and to create a source of independent income.
"There are a number of 'people based' linkages such as Park companies talking to undergraduates studying on Entrepreneurship modules of part of Computing degrees to help build their confidence when thinking about starting a business."

Today the Park and other science parks in the UK have pioneered co-working spaces with lots of services; business modelling ideas, advice and help with finance, all aimed at helping entrepreneurs accelerate commercialisation of technology. 

Following on from an un-funded service for tenants, the government has now funded the SETSquared incubation programme. This also runs from STC and offers members regular business support/advice meetings with access to the Entrepreneurs in Residence, quarterly and annual business reviews with external expert panels, sales training, an Investment Readiness Programme, access to the University’s Angel investment club (Surrey 100 Club) and the allocation of matched business mentors.

The mix of these start-ups with the many other successful technology businesses has brought to the site significant momentum with more than 150 companies on the Park today, 3,200 jobs on site and some really novel technologies that are in the throes of being taken to market. 

Back then, we were also concerned with how we would increase the Research Park’s innovation capacity and value over time. The opportunity for innovation capacity with government support came when the Dearing Report of 1997 suggested that universities should also take a role in community and business development. The government put funding behind this 'third leg' of activity and Surrey - which had already seen this as in important activity for more than 30 years - was very successful in attracting funds to formally set up its SETsquared business incubation activity.

Another focus was on measuring our performance against criteria such as levels of innovation, the amount of IP protected and the strength of key collaboration linkages between companies on the Park and the University.

One example of successful 'R&D/tech-based' interactions is the collaboration of ANGLE PLC and the University in commercialising its Parsortix cancer cell detection and identification system. At another level, there are a number of 'people based' linkages such as Park companies talking to undergraduates studying on Entrepreneurship modules of part of Computing degrees to help build their confidence when thinking about starting a business and some undergraduates working on the Park with SMEs during their professional training year programme.

Of the 'technical based' linkages, the most significant recent example is the formal link between the University’s Surrey Space Centre and Surrey Satellite Technology (originally a University spin-out and now  part of EADS Astrium) which was used to attract support for the International Space Innovation Centre (ISIC) (rebranded as the Surrey Space Incubator) which was set up in the Surrey Technology Centre in 2011 to encourage the formation and clustering of firms involved in satellite work, using RDA funds raised by Research and Enterprise (RES).

With growing attention being paid to the evaluation of university research performance in terms of 'economic impact', the University of Surrey has also increased its the licencing of IP as a route to commercialisation of its research. The responsibilities of exploiting IP falls under the wing of Research & Enterprise Support who provide the current structure of Surrey’s Technology Transfer Office and develop the capacity and technology focus of the University’s academic thrust.  RES operates SETsquared, the ISIC incubation programme and the Surrey 100 Club inside the Park’s STC operation.

On the horizon, we have yet more exciting opportunities; The 5G Innovation Centre with six industrial partners, which has secured initial funding of £35m, the new Veterinary School, and a new Centre of Innovation to be set up by the Business School, if its bid for funding is successful. All of these are set to enrich our collaboration environment. 

Dr Malcolm Parry is the Director of the Surrey Research Park which includes the Surrey Technology Centre.

Have an opinion? Comment below, tweet us @NCUBtweets or submit your own blog

Other posts that may interest you:

30 years of collaboration
What’s business got to do with universities?
Commercialising science: will we get it right with graphene?

Expand for more