Science parks and innovations clusters grow in 2011

  The key to growth and success of the next Silicon Valley is the growth of its innovation clusters and science     parks. These are popping up around the world with great ease and enthusiasm – and not just on a whim, but with many of the strong principles of innovation and entrepreneurship embedded firmly in their growth strategies.

With a harsh economic environment during 2011, one question that must be on many minds is this: what are governments doing to come out of recession, or to drive economic growth?   It seems that while debt-ridden Western economies are cutting and not always re-investing in growth (or even able to), the global trend, according to a poll of International Association of Science Parks (IASP) members, is about 50:50 in terms of governments maintaining or increasing their support for science parks, and that the majority of parks have grown in 2011.

Science and technology parks are a key ingredient of innovation clusters, and of growth in the 21st century knowledge economy, so the IASP poll is a good barometer of confidence in the prospects of the innovation economy.  It had asked two questions: 1) if the level of support provided by governments/public administration to parks had changed in the current economic environment, and 2) the extent to which members’ parks had grown in 2011 in terms of tenant companies located in them.

To the question about government support, a total of 49% said that it hadn’t changed or was the same as before, or had increased government support.  A total of 18% were not yet sure of the effects of the economic climate on public support, while 33% said it had decreased.

On the question of growth, the results showed the majority of the parks (64%) grew by up to 19%; meanwhile, a total of 24% of parks saw growth of more than 20%, and 5% of parks grew exponentially by increasing the number of tenant companies by more than 50%; in addition, 5% experienced high growth between 30-50%. Only 14% of respondents said their park experienced no growth in 2011.

Growth is coming from all regions around the world – in recent weeks, the IASP has added or upgraded members from Slovenia, Italy, Vietnam, and the USA too.

In a recent interview carried out by The Next Silicon Valley’s editor, Richard Wallace, you can also see why China is becoming the next big thing in the electronics industry, and particularly in fabless semiconductors. South East Asia is also becoming a goldmine for angel and venture capital investment, especially in the emerging markets, quietly creating a maturing and entrepreneurial culture itself.

Australia is also a rising star in the global scene (Top tech successes and failures of 2011); according to this story, investment in Australian tech startups boomed in 2011, with several receiving funding from large US venture capital firms. It’s reported that US venture capital firm The Founders Fund (headed by PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel and Facebook’s first president, Sean Parker) is sending three of its top executives to Australia this month to meet with local tech startups.

The increasing global connectivity combined with knowledge ecosystems, funding sources and good infrastructure is a the key to the growth of the science parks in 2011, and this is likely to be a continuing trend as new business models emerge in this global marketplace . As Thomas Friedman says (“So Much Fun. So Irrelevant.”), the best ecosystems will be cities and towns “that combine a university, an educated populace, a dynamic business community and the fastest broadband connections on earth; these will be the job factories of the future. The countries that thrive will be those that build more of these towns that make possible ‘high-performance knowledge exchange and generation’.”

In the article, Friedman notes that throughout history economic clusters have always required access to abundant strategic inputs for success – where it might have been access to abundant flowing water and raw materials in the 1800s, and access to abundant electricity and transportation in the 1900s, our economy today and the rest of this century will rely on access to abundant bandwidth and abundant human intellectual capital.

With this kind of infrastructure being important for growth, we can see why government support for science parks has broadly continued positively on a global basis – and those regions that will emerge as the best next Silicon Valley or cluster are those that will have strong government backing plus the other essential ingredients needed – talent and funding.

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