The many faces of the innovation hub

What does it take for innovation to happen within a place? There’s no one-size-fits-all approach, but there are some important ingredients.

With more than 500 innovation hubs and counting around the world, we have a diverse range of examples to explore.

According to our Hubs of Innovation Report, while 80% of the world’s hubs are in cities and mostly in North America and Europe, these trends are changing. More than a third are now in Asia-Pacific, Africa, and Latin America, and emerging forms of connectivity are enabling hubs to flourish outside of metropolitan areas. These changing conditions mean that innovation hubs are now emerging in increasingly different shapes and sizes.

Covering a range of topics from infrastructure and facilities to skills and management, the report includes small hub buildings to 500ha innovation landscapes and everything else in between. Regardless of which category you are interested in, factors like collaboration, talent, and resource management will always be of critical importance.

Innovation locations

The right conditions are crucial to the rise of innovation hubs, and they can emerge in a range of sizes and forms. At the heart of any successful hub must be an ecosystem where businesses have access to markets, sectors have a clear impetus to innovate, and investors are willing to invest in enterprise over real estate. It is also conducive to the emergence of innovation hubs when public buyers are pro-innovation. Infrastructure, skills, and the business environment are also among the key ingredients.

With a fine balance of the right conditions in place, hubs of innovation can proliferate in a variety of forms. We have mapped out ten primary categories, including hub buildings, quarters, vacated sites, campuses, districts, triangles, parks, zones, corridors, and landscapes. Given the major differences between these types of places, each has its own success model that best enables it to cultivate innovation and be agile. Despite the contrasts, there are some primary success factors that are common amongst the ten types, including collaboration, connectivity, resource management, community growth, talent acquisition, and local engagement.

To provide some context to the breadth of innovation hub scale, we will compare some outstanding UK examples. In the buildings category, the Engine Shed in Bristol is 30,000 square feet, and the facility focuses on engineering, health technology and robotics. The Heriot Watt University Research Park on the other hand spans 67 hectares (ha) and hosts 40 different companies, with sector specialisms that include autonomous systems, energy transition, and quantum technology.

An innovation landscape expands the concept of an innovation hub further still, with an example like Green Port Hull that covers 500ha and is backed by a £1bn investment. This facility is centred on renewable energy, environmental technology, as well as ports and logistics.

Moving beyond one-size-fits-all

The small sample of locations introduced above offer a glimpse of the sheer variety among innovation hubs and begin to provide an understanding of why a one-size-fits-all approach is no longer viable. Differing hub specialisms will call for different types of infrastructure, facilities, and management, not to mention the obvious differences between running a 30,000 square foot building and a 500ha port. Each type of innovation hub has a critical role to play in the world’s future, and all types and scales must be operated and supported in a bespoke, collaborative way.

Hubs of Innovation
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