Clustering and Innovation Districts


Clustering, where several entities in the same or complementary industries locate themselves within close proximity to collaborate is widely adopted by those that work in the Life Sciences sector to share knowledge, expertise and access to a highly skilled workforce. Such clusters are known as innovation districts.

In an age of ‘knowledge-led production’, companies and institutions require authenticity and flexibility of location. Traditional offices and laboratories are no longer appealing to these occupiers and current demand is turning to evolving workspaces located within urban centres, rather than suburban business areas and science parks. Large institutions, including universities, are now making difficult decisions about where they locate, balancing the demands of a dynamic and demanding workforce with rising property values and competition for space.

Universities are increasingly important to the growth of innovation districts as they acquire and then redevelop neglected urban sites. Imperial College London has constructed a White City Campus within a designated ‘opportunity area’ after its acquisition of a disused plot; the innovation district has flexible, reactive and mixed-use buildings at the core of the development. The innovation district at King’s Cross is an example of the successful regeneration of vacant industrial units. Categorised by open public spaces, educational and cultural institutions, including a scientific research institute, The Francis Crick, the project benefitted from a flexible approach to planning to develop a biomedical research centre within a rapidly prominent area. The pioneering feature of the planning permission granted for the district was to allow up to 20% flexibility in uses across floor space.

Innovation districts would not be possible without ‘catapults’, conceived to support late stage research and development by providing fully equipped spaces for companies with the ideas, but not means, to bring their projects to completion. Funding for these hubs is generated through collaborative research and development contracts. MedCity in London, a venture between the Mayor of London and health science centres, encourages collaboration between SME’s and university departments to in turn strengthen the extensive network of Life Sciences related industries within the South East. It is hard not to notice the growth in this area and the Greater London Authority is paying increasing attention to the number of incubators, accelerators and co-working spaces that have been established in London in addition to mapping lab space for the benefit of businesses in search of new premises.

Life Sciences firms value spaces that enhance their opportunity to pursue product development through an open innovation model and increasingly commercial businesses are valuing these spaces too. The clustering of like-minded firms is not only building ‘hot-spots’ for innovation, but it is also fuelling the desire for other businesses and researchers to relocate and assess their traditional working environments.