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From Site Selection magazine, July 2016

Areas of Innovation Leave Science Parks in the Dust

22@Barcelona is the Catalan metro’s Area of Innovation.
Photo: 22@Barcelona - Barcelona City Council


Are you in or near an area of innovation? Are you looking for one in which to locate a new facility or find talent or conduct research? The International Association of Science Parks has a new resource for identifying them. Areas of Innovation in a Global World: Concept and Practice is a recently published book with chapters contributed by experts from 15 countries and all seven continents – yes, Antarctica too. One chapter is by Paul Krutko, president and CEO of Ann Arbor SPARK, a non-profit business acceleration organization affiliated with several Michigan universities and community colleges, the Michigan Economic Development Corporation and other entities. He is an IASP board member and president of the association’s North American division.

“Areas of innovation are communities like Ann Arbor, where the people and organizations that are assets to the economy are working together to create prosperity,” says Krutko. “Our regional economy offers insight on what works, and is a model for other regions to copy. Ann Arbor is leading the way in having created and maintained a successful entrepreneurial ecosystem.”

What do areas of innovation aspire to?

IASP says they “expand on the concept of the science park and university environments and explore the new and even more active role of cities in stimulating growth via innovation, creating sustainable and effective working and living conditions, forming appealing urban ecosystems for students, scientists, entrepreneurs, larger corporations, investors and startups.”

How To Spot One

One way to identify an area of innovation is to recognize districts with not just a science park, but one with residential and industry components adjacent or embedded that attract more of the same. Sometimes this is the result of urban brownfield redevelopment, as is the case at 22@Barcelona, in Spain. Other times, it’s greenfield districts, as at the Skolkovo Innovation Center in Russia or the Yachay City of Knowledge in Ecuador.

La Salle Technova Barcelona
La Salle Technova Barcelona

Other hallmarks of an area of innovation include these:

Design of physical space is evolving to incorporate less indoor, closed space and more open space to facilitate interaction and collaboration with shared labs, office and leisure space. This includes outdoor space. Space in whichever form it takes is designed to foster interaction among users of the space across companies, academics and other stakeholders. Think softball fields and Karaoke nights onsite.

This points to the next Area of Innovation component: they provide a “24/7 platform for effective working and living conditions for professionals and their families.” Cities already attractive to workers and their families with a science park are ahead of the game in this respect.

“The value proposition must be that it not just be a good place for working, but that it also be a good place for living,” says Josep Piqué, an author and editor of Areas of Innovation and executive president at La Salle Technova Barcelona — one of Europe’s leading incubators — and vice president of IASP. “We know how important talent is, but we also know that we have to develop and improve the net worth of the talent.”

Expect to find networks of like-minded professionals, academics and researchers in areas of innovation, because they are there to promote a sense of community and to provide a resource that may not exist elsewhere in the same city. Many of these networks have an additional benefit: They are linked to those in other cities and science parks globally.

Josep Miquel Pique
Josep Piqué, Executive President, La Salle Technova Barcelona and Vice President International Association of Science Parks

Many Areas of Innovation specialize in a specific sector, such as IT, energy or life sciences. The book makes the case that “This allows a concentration of key competencies and talents within selected sectors and directing the work of the tenants, research groups, etc. Smart specialization strategy serves as a prerequisite for discovering and harnessing opportunities for growth.” It helps them to compete locally and internationally for capital investment and talent.

The key ingredient for successful Areas of Innovation is startups — plural, not singular. Like magnets, they attract venture capital, corporate interest and investment and new talent. “If an area of innovation is home to the best startups, the other interest groups (investors, corporations) will follow and will want to be affiliated and to tap into this valuable resource,” the publication asserts.

Areas of innovation are in tune with and facilitate current trends in intellectual property, particularly the shift from new patents to a focus on licensing, application and commercialization of research results. They “serve as a platform and can provide a stimulus for this tendency by enabling open innovation as a strategy for focusing the capabilities of the local and global ecosystems of innovation to the challenges that need to be solved for the benefit of companies or society.”

Successful areas of innovation are as much at home in the local community as they are on the global stage. Much of this is achieved through proper marketing, but the point is their vision of what they can accomplish is not limited to their regional or national affiliation.

Successful areas of innovation are as much at home in the local community as they are on the global stage. Their vision of what they can accomplish is not limited to their regional or national affiliation.

Areas of innovation leaders need to take a holistic approach to balancing the urban, economic and social development aspects of their enterprises. “To be effective in today’s world, Areas of Innovation are required to perfect both the infrastructural resources and the community-building components,” the book argues. “To be a forerunner, an area of innovation has to offer both and to be a result-oriented manager of the local ecosystem as well as the global connections.”

Other author-editors of Areas of Innovation are Dr. Anna Nikina and IASP Director General Luis Sanz. Visit for more information on contributors, their science parks and to order the publication.

Mark Arend
Editor in Chief of Site Selection magazine

Mark Arend

Mark Arend has been editor in chief of Site Selection magazine since 2001. Prior to joining the editorial staff in 1997, he worked for 10 years in New York City at Wall Street Computer Review, ABA Banking Journal and Global Investment Technology. Mark graduated from the University of Hartford (Conn.) in 1985 and lives near Atlanta, Georgia.


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