Place is just as important as product when it comes to innovation: Six steps to sparking a science and innovation superpower

Today Connected Places Catapult launches a practical tool-box for jumpstarting the UK’s economic recovery by seeding and supporting innovation quarters, districts, and corridors. Hubs of Innovation: A Playbook for Place Leaders is the latest initiative from the UK Government-backed innovation organisation to help spark the innovation potential of every place, aligning with the Government’s ambition to forge a British Science and Innovation Superpower.  

Speaking at the CBI Urban Revival Conference, Chair of Connected Places Catapult, Prof Greg Clark CBE said: 

‘Innovation will drive the UK forward from the shock of COVID, to recovery, revival, and reinvestment. Places are often overlooked when it comes to improving productivity and making innovation happen. But all successful innovation economies have magnetic nodes of activity that are tightly clustered in specific locations and generate visibility and momentum. Making these places excel is central to optimising the potential of high value clusters. Entrepreneurs are the lifeblood, the brain is invention, and place is the beating heart that keeps innovation alive and the energy flowing’. 

The handbook has been created in collaboration with the UK Innovation Districts Group, with research led by The Business of Cities and is designed for place-leaders, anchor institutions and larger stakeholders who play a catalytic role in enabling an innovation place to achieve scale and critical mass. It provides guidance to those at different stages of maturity and development enabling them to build more robust strategies, drawing on the expertise of people and places in the UK that are already fostering innovation – from MediaCityUK in Salford to the Belfast Innovation District, Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in East London to the Knowledge Quarter in Liverpool. 

“What is exciting is the momentum that is building for the UK’s emerging and aspiring innovation districts to become more connected nationally and globally,’ said Emma Frost, Chair of the UK Innovation Districts Group. ‘Together, they are becoming more informed by each other’s experiences, and fostering a shared spirit of purpose and co-operation that provides mutual advantage as they rethink their path to success after Covid-19. More places are learning to do the right things and sidestep avoidable mistakes.”  

“This handbook condenses a great deal of insight from places in the UK and around the world. It ought to be read widely in government nationally and locally, and among leaders in businesses and institutions who are part of innovation communities up and down the country. We hope it can be the start of an even richer set of shared resources and diagnostics.”  

The handbook outlines the sequence of steps and stages that help create and then sustain hubs of innovation. Once the prerequisites of essential ecosystem components are in place, it observes the different tasks and roles of government, business, universities and place leaders that tend to arise at different stages – from Audit, Set-up, and Foundation to the Growth stage where innovation outcomes multiply. When a place reaches Critical Mass, it is delivering a whole place return – economically and socially – and providing a full suite of services and amenities to the innovation and resident communities.  

Felicity Burch, CBI Director of Innovation and Digital, commented “The ambition to create, support, and grow hubs of innovation is not new. But the pandemic has shown how much can be achieved in a short period with a strong partnership between government, the research base and industry, with clear goals. So now is the time to capitalise on this spirit of collaboration to unleash the benefits of innovation and build back better.” 

“This toolkit is a practical and well-timed contribution to help inform the renewed impetus to support growth and jobs across the country through innovation. CBI will continue to work with members, partners and government to help make it happen.” 

Prof Greg Clark commented, “The UK is driving an ambitious effort to better distribute innovation capacity and establish more hubs of discovery. This will rely on 30-50 locations across the country to foster the enterprise, technologies, spaces, connectedness, and know-how for commercialisation to flourish and achieve meaningful investable scale. We must learn from experience in Toronto, Tel Aviv, and Seoul, and avoid the obvious traps and pitfalls. Innovation does not need to be concentrated only in already prosperous regions. The experience of Dundee, Philadelphia, and Berlin show us that innovation will grow in places that do the right things consistently. Together we can equip more places with the tools and knowledge they need to succeed as the UK emerges from the pandemic.”  

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