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6 February, 2016 - 19:41

Delivering commercial space for growth

Tony Raven

The growth of Cambridge into a world-leading cluster has been underpinned by an increase in incubator and commercial space in and around the city – catering for the smallest startups to the billion dollar companies like ARM and AVEVA that have grown up in Cambridge.

Since the creation of Trinity Science Park in the 1970s, the UK’s first Science Park, there are now over 19 science and business parks in and around Cambridge, writes by Dr Tony Raven, CEO of Cambridge Enterprise, the university’s commercialisation arm.

With the commercial translation of research discoveries at the centre of governments’ long term economic plans, the indigenous growth of the Cambridge Cluster, enabled by Cambridge’s world leading research cluster, continues apace. But with Cambridge now ranked alongside Silicon Valley and Boston as a world leading technology cluster, the city is becoming a prime destination for inward investment by global technology companies.

AstraZeneca’s move to Cambridge has been followed by a steady flow of other high profile businesses into the city – Apple, Amazon, Huawei and Qualcomm to name just a few.

The $24 billion San Diego based Illumina recently announced its European R & D headquarters in Cambridge while Japanese pharmaceutical giant Takeda is moving its vaccines headquarters here from Boston, US. This combination of indigenous growth and increasing inward investment is starting to put huge pressures on the availability of commercial space at all levels: from incubation to major corporate offices. 

The two prime incubation sites at St John’s Innovation Centre and Babraham Research Campus have waiting lists and new space is being taken even before construction is completed. Meanwhile, in just four years the Cambridge Biomedical Campus has gone from empty to using up almost all the land that was planned to last through to 2040.

From 2014 to 2015, the availability of Grade A commercial space fell from 250,000 sq ft to 70,000 sq ft with rents rising by over 15 per cent across the science and business parks in response to the high demand.

While much of the focus is rightly on housing, education and transport, without access to commercial space Cambridge’s growth and attractiveness will inevitably falter as entrepreneurs move away to find new premises and in-movers choose other more accommodating global destinations. Cambridge Ahead’s Commercial Space project team was formed with the objectives of understanding, in conjunction with the work of the Growth Project, the current and future supply and demand for commercial space at all levels so as to inform the debate on its provision.

The project team is currently pursuing two main projects with another pending. The first is to understand the demand for and supply of incubation space which supports Cambridge entrepreneurs at the earliest stages of their company’s growth. The second is to disaggregate the supply and demand figures to better understand the different situations for start-ups, growth companies, large indigenous companies and in-movers. 

The third project is pending and will look at the financing of particularly incubation space, which currently comes primarily from Cambridge colleges and Government rather than commercial investors.

These projects aim to create an evidence base to inform the local debate on how future commercial space needs are addressed, as well as engaging those involved in the provision of commercial space in making the case for Cambridge.

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