The convergence of Cambridge’s tech and life sciences clusters: a catalyst for innovation

Fri, Jan 5, 2024

Cambridge’s distinct tech and life science clusters are becoming ever more intertwined. After 15 years at the helm of St John’s Innovation Centre, Managing Director David Gill has seen a ‘positive blurring of lines’ between the tech-centric north Cambridge cluster and the south Cambridge life sciences cluster as companies vie for space in this global hub of innovation – as he reports here.

An evolution of tenant diversity

When I took over 15 years ago, companies based at St John’s Innovation Centre were predominantly software and digital biased. Whereas now we also have medical diagnostics, biotech and health data businesses as well as two gene and cell therapy ventures. And that’s despite the fact that we don’t have any associated laboratories.

We have one tenant whose medical facilities are in France, but they’ve chosen to base themselves here because the people now running the company had previous experience in Cambridge, and some of the original intellectual property came out of the UK.

With the continued shortage of lab space, life science companies seem to be permeating wherever there is a space. I’m seeing companies doing their lab research elsewhere but wanting to have another home in Cambridge. A lot of these companies’ output is data driven, so in theory they could base themselves anywhere. It therefore makes complete sense to have a presence in one of the best tech and life science clusters in the world with access to those famous networks.

In recent months, we have had companies representing quite a variety of sectors take space in the Centre: telecoms and cybersecurity; interactive video; augmented reality; artificial intelligence for mental health care; cell and gene therapy manufacturing; regulation and compliance. In addition to which some current tenants are growing and looking for more space. There’s a nice mix of SMEs, scale ups, and large companies who want to have an outpost here. 

The Centre is now at full capacity, but the joy of a building like ours is that companies move in and out all the time, so those on the waiting list will likely be joining us soon.

Blended work environment

Throughout 2023 there has also been a notable confidence in people returning to the office post-COVID. While the Centre is busier mid-week, the level of activity and buzz here is palpable.

Some companies have even moved to the Centre because their staff wanted to be in an office environment, in contrast to others who couldn’t encourage their teams back.

There’s a great variety in how people structure their working week and how they incorporate flexible and hybrid working – there’s no one-size-fits-all now. What we do know is that tenants enjoy being part of the St John’s ecosystem intellectually, collaboratively and socially. 

In addition, the advantage of being on a flexible contract, which is another benefit of being here, means that tenants don’t need to panic about needing more or less space, we’re happy to accommodate and support them along their journey.

Our dedicated desk room proposition has also been widely welcomed with almost all having been taken by a variety of people from sole traders and freelancers to those working remotely for London-based companies who want the connections and interactions that an office environment brings.
Our virtual office space is proving similarly popular.

Virtual tenants have even more flexibility with the added benefits of being able to use our meeting rooms and facilities when they need them and being part of our vibrant and varied community. 

From big data to biotech business support

The wider offer, which is not directly bricks and mortar real estate, attracts and matters enormously to our tenants too. Our easily accessible location, fitness classes, evening socials and networking activities actively support the work and personal wellbeing of those working here. Plus, the fact that we’ve got conference space, a restaurant and free parking draws people to us too.

Even more appealing is that we have ten highly experienced business advisors on site supporting the growth and development of tenants by providing free advice and mentoring on funding, marketing and much more.

Over the last 20 years, thanks to accelerators, incubators and more hands-on VC support, early-stage Cambridge companies are now much more sophisticated in their approach.

Rather than ongoing advisory services, our business support team provides specialist expertise on a more project-by-project basis which is most commonly around funding and investment, and expanding into overseas markets across tech and healthcare industries.  

A match made in Cambridge

What I’ve seen is a definite blurring of the lines between the northern and southern Cambridge clusters. Until now, Northern Cambridge has been very tech-centric with the southern cluster known for its life science focus. But today, we’re seeing a new interconnection where the clusters are forging ahead side-by-side. It began before the pandemic but it has certainly accelerated since. And that could be because tech, data and life sciences are now so inextricably linked.

Here at the Centre, we have entire stack providers, embedded cybersecurity and software developers which are enabling healthcare companies to have the technology, measurements and services to help them function safely and effectively.

Life sciences is now not solely a wet lab-based enterprise, it is extremely data driven and a diverse workspace is needed to help them excel in their work.

In some ways, the diversity of tenants at St John’s Innovation Centre, the synergistic ways of working and the incubator-style environment mirrors the way Cambridge as a whole is heading.

The remarkable thing about Cambridge is just how many sectors and sub-sectors there are. The Centre is a showcase of that.

With continued announcements of new wet lab buildings in north Cambridge, and the growth of healthcare companies based here at the Centre, I feel there’s a great ecology happening in this part of Cambridge where you have the best of, and easy access to, both worlds; from AI to CRISPR.

 

Article source: www.businessweekly.co.uk
Published: 28.12.23

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