Dr Malcolm Parry OBE, founder of the Surrey Research Park, looks back on 30 years of collaboration with its host the University of Surrey

One of the opportunities I was offered after graduating from the University of London in the early 1970s was to undertake a PhD on immunology there. What this taught me was that it is not enough just to undertake scientific research but it’s necessary for there to be a system in place to support the commercialisation of new ideas.

“It is not enough just to undertake scientific research but it’s necessary for there to be a system in place to support the commercialisation of new ideas.”

The chance of becoming involved in that process came in 1981 when I was offered the opportunity to turn the vision of the Vice Chancellor of the University of Surrey – the Surrey Research Park – into reality. At the time, I was working as a lecturer running a commercially-funded research team and as a senior industrial tutor at Surrey. It involved pulling together the team for the project, doing the first deals on the site, securing planning permission and pioneering the concept of the “business incubator” – now known as the Surrey Technology Centre.

This has proved to be an ongoing 33-year project in which we have pioneered business incubation and support, and developed 65,000 square metres of office space for technology companies. Companies here represent some of the world’s leading companies in non-invasive cancer care, personalised medicine, drug development, the Internet of Things, big data, computer gaming, small satellites and more.

Back in the early 80’s, the advent of the PC as a business tool (and as a means of reducing costs and size of computing installations) was a major driver that helped to mould our thinking in planning buildings on the Park, and also in defining our plans for very short leases.

The science park movement was emerging and rewriting the property industry’s very conservative demands in terms of lease lengths, sizes of units and surety by offering monthly licences, taking in start-up companies and not expecting tenants to sell their soul for a lease.

Our original aims were clearly articulated:

  • To create an endowment for the University in order to generate independent income
  • To raise the profile of the University of Surrey as a centre of excellence
  • To support knowledge transfer into the commercial domain
  • To give European centred businesses on the site a competitive advantage
  • To encourage regional economic development.

Our progress and achievements over the past 30 years were examined in the first ASPIRE Report by UK Science Park Association (UKSPA), for which we were chosen to undergo its comprehensive review. The report revealed that Surrey Research Park has contributed between an estimated £580 and £625 million annually to the regional economy since its development.  A separate study of the University’s economic impact as a whole found the Research Park contributed £450m of the £1.4bn value added in 2012.

The park has also I believe had a cultural impact, providing an entrepreneurial environment and facilities to support the commercial application of the University’s research. Research parks are unique in this regard, in that they are wholly committed to supporting the commercialisation of technology, and in ensuring that any investments made in R&D are transferred to the marketplace successfully.

The experience of project managing the Surrey Research Park has fascinated many others wanting to replicate what we have done here. This has led to UNESCO, the United Nations Economic Commission to Europe, and the British Council asking me to act as an expert to advise a number of governments on how to create similar kind of projects associated with their universities.

“Companies benefit from a collaborative space with proximity to great ideas, powered by research-based data and insight from the University, which is a catalyst for innovation”

Success in bringing new technologies to market can be seen in the increase in the number, size and sector representation of technology-driven companies on the Park and to development of “clusters” on the Park in computer gaming, medicine, and technology.

Companies benefit from a collaborative space with proximity to great ideas, powered by research-based data and insight from the University, which is a catalyst for innovation, its commercial application and competitive advantage. The Research Park and our business incubator team support the process with commercially flexible office space and a range of tools from mentoring, specialist advice, coaching, and access to finance.

The rate of change of technology particularly in communication has been remarkable since the Park opened. 33 years on from our early PCs the University is doing commercial related research in 5G communications, the next generation of mobile internet technology.

What is clear though is that the services and support that we offer are still what the market is looking for. The challenge for us today is the cost of housing across the South-East in general affecting our competitive edge. I’d say we need more housing that can be afforded by young entrepreneurs, engineers and scientists that make our companies work.

The Park was originally planned in 1981 to be developed in 20 years but has taken more than 30 to achieve that. 

We are now moving into the final phase of the Park’s development. This September will see the opening of a centre of innovation with the School of Veterinary Medicine, with a ‘One Health’ philosophy to foster interdisciplinary collaborations in research and healthcare for humans and animals. Following this will be a further 15,000 ft R&D facility early next year.

These provide a welcome finale to what has been an incredibly stimulating and rewarding process.

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