April 8, 2021 | News
Professor David Sampson, Pro-Vice Chancellor, Research and Innovation at University of Surrey takes a look at the Surrey Research Park ecosystem.
According to Wikipedia, “an ecosystem is a community of living organisms in conjunction with the non-living components of their environment, interacting as a system.” As we are discovering, fully appreciating our global ecosystem is something we are struggling with as a planet. It is hard to comprehend all the constituent parts of a large ecosystem. Many aspects of it are invisible to us, and when an ecosystem just works, we take it for granted.
In the context of innovation, perhaps the best known such ecosystem is Silicon Valley in California. Globally, governments spend a lot of time and money trying to design their own versions of Silicon Valley – a self-sustaining specialist ecosystem that generates technology-driven innovation and turns it into economic output – jobs, goods and services. The UK government is no different with its continuing high ambitions, the latest enunciated in the UK Research and Development Roadmap.
Like Silicon Valley, the Surrey story begins with the vision and determination of a small number of mercurial individuals ahead of the pack in the 1970s, in founding and growing Surrey Research Park through the 1980s. Much has organically grown up around this, until today we have a mature and rich ecosystem many are not fully aware of. We have created a genuine jewel in our midst. And this system depends, in large part, on the synergy generated by the proximity and ownership of the University of Surrey.
Nurturing and growing a business requires the skills of entrepreneurship, and there is a pipeline of new innovators being created through the programmes and training offered to undergraduate and postgraduate students, and staff, at multiple points in the University, through the Surrey Business School, Innovation Strategy team, and Doctoral College to name a few. Beyond the University’s own, our membership of the SETsquared Partnership enables us to provide exceptional support to businesses in the Research Park and beyond, support that has repeatedly won first place globally in the UBI Global University based
Business also requires investment and again we have rich offerings, from angel investing through our own S100 Club, to earlier stage seed-corn investing, including through UKRI’s impact accelerator accounts, knowledge transfer partnerships, higher education innovation funds and more, in which we are well placed to support researcher-business engagement in addition to our own University of Surrey Seed Fund. During the pandemic, we have supported our SMEs through small grants and equity investments, as well as fees and rent relief – an advantage of having the landlord playing a long game with the purpose
of doing public good at its base.
Finally, an ecosystem such as ours extends regionally and reaches out still further. The strong local engagement with our civic administrations, such as Guildford Borough Council and Surrey County Council, and our regional bodies such as Surrey Chambers of Commerce and the Enterprise M3 Local Enterprise Partnership, show that working together effectively is a value-add we do not take for granted.
Exemplifying the Government’s “Place” agenda, Surrey Technology Centre and Surrey Research Park co-located with the University of Surrey on the edge of the beautiful Surrey Hills is a truly special research and innovation ecosystem. A recent study by BiGGAR Economics, which is reported on later in this magazine, demonstrates the Park’s exceptional contribution to employment and the Surrey economy. At a challenging time, when this country is asking for more innovation and societal benefit from its higher education institutions, the Research Park gives the University of Surrey and our local region a competitive advantage that we are only just beginning to realise.