Unlocking superpower status: The crucial role of space in scaling up

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scaling up

There has been a lot of hype around the government's plan to cement the UK as a Scientific Superpower: an ambitious aim, but what is the real strategy behind it? Essentially, it involves a robust financial commitment to attract international talent and investment, forging the path to a stronger infrastructure and skill base – both vital for industry growth. The integration of physical, real estate, and scientific infrastructure, complemented by a skilled workforce driving progress, will be the driving force behind turning this ambitious title into a tangible reality.

Building up a critical mass of scientific clusters in the UK is the crucial first step to this plan. Whether looking at small, individual companies on their journey of growth or examining the UK Life Sciences as a whole, space is essential – without the room to grow, the industry cannot expand at the rate it needs to. 

There is now a seemingly insurmountable demand for specialist real estate to accommodate the increasing number of companies coming out of the incubator stage and looking to scale up, but we also need to find a way to attract more mature companies to the UK. Key new developments at the heart of London are critical to add to the ‘supercluster’ of Cambridge, Oxford, and London, and are integral to addressing this demand; they offer the unique ability for companies to scale up in a city, meaning they can offer connectivity like never before. Connections to the likes of City Airport and the Elizabeth Line mean connections to talent, universities, and collaborative partners – all of which are essential ingredients for giving the UK a seat at the ‘superpower’ table. 

Nurturing growth: The path to expansion 

From incubator to full scale pharma, the needs of a company change constantly throughout its life cycle. Being in the right place at the right time and having space and flexibility are essential for growing a company. Whether they’re looking for new funding or wanting to expand following a capital injection, the space a company occupies is a key factor in its success. If the UK is to compete in the big leagues, it needs scale, not just in out-of-town bespoke locations, but where the action is happening. 

There is currently a lack of purpose-built life sciences buildings in these key locations and companies are having to compete with the office market to find space. More investment needs to be put behind building up a life sciences cluster in the UK to retain talent and attract international investment. Projects like Canary Wharf are a great example of this, giving the UK that ability to scale up. 

Positioning for success: The impact of strategic location 

When thinking about growing this life sciences cluster, ease of access needs to be at front of mind. Growing the life sciences sector means scaling up development in the UK’s hub. The importance of improved connectivity cannot be underestimated in attracting talent and investment. No matter the size of the company – from big pharma down to start-up, the life blood of the industry is in having access to the best talent, academic research, VC funds, and like-minded companies with whom they can collaborate. Without talent, money, and space, innovation will simply grind to a halt. 

When it comes to attracting new talent, companies must be able to offer the best possible location, taking an increasingly urban approach. Typically, graduates making up a third of the industry’s workforce are aged 25-35. Many in that age bracket don’t drive and come from universities in dynamic settings; they don't want to work in a business park in the middle of nowhere. So, the innovative companies that are wanting to grow, and grow quickly, need to be in accessible, engaging locations to attract this engine room of their business. 

Designing for the future: Unleashing scientific breakthroughs from blueprint to reality 

Once the location is taken care of, we need to think about design. This means both an infrastructure that meets the needs of rapidly growing companies and using state-of-the-art design to make it an attractive place to work. It is also possible to inspire innovation by designing spaces that stimulate connections and encourage knowledge-sharing within a building. The clinical white setting typically associated with science is a thing of the past. We should be designing buildings that talented individuals want to work in and encouraging collaboration through communal spaces. If the pandemic has taught us anything it's that collaboration lies at the heart of progress, and the imperative of sharing data and ideas remains crucial in driving discoveries forward. 

To truly transform the UK’s ‘superpower’ vision into a reality, the UK government must commit to investing in the nation’s infrastructure, attract international talent, and cultivate a growth-orientated environment. By establishing scientific clusters and purpose-built life sciences facilities in strategic locations, the UK can offer the vital space for companies to flourish and expand their horizons. 

About the authors

Mairi DillonMairi Dillon is ecosystem manager for the UK & Ireland at Kadans Science Partner. Dillon has a wealth of experience in early-stage tech fundraising, project management, and outward facing relationship building (public and private sector). She began her career in government sponsored infrastructure projects, before moving into the innovation and entrepreneurship landscape. Dillon leads Kadans ecosystem services in the UK & Ireland, supporting tenants to success and engaging with local, national, and sectoral stakeholders.

Katie NelsonKatie Nelson is senior asset manager for Kadans UK. She is responsible for all commercial assets from Kings Cross, across the Golden Triangle, Manchester, and up to Scotland. Nelson works closely with tenants to ensure their business is supported by their real estate needs. She also works on bringing new tenants to the portfolio and taking assets to market.

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17 August, 2023