The Cambridge [Health Innovation] Phenomenon

Regional innovation ecosystems...

encompass a set of interdependent factors working together that allow innovation (and its corollary entrepreneurial activity) to occur in a sustained way in a region. These ecosystems, much the same as their ecological equivalents, follow a lifecycle model of development. This week DRiVE team members Josephine McMurray and Katherina Kuschel are in Cambridge, in the UK, gathering data in preparation for a global survey that will attempt to build a model to explain innovation ecosystem development in the health and ageing sectors. 

A narrow street in Cambridge

A narrow street in Cambridge

Cambridge, situated in the eastern region of the United Kingdom in Cambridgeshire, was considered something of a rural backwater in the 50’s but grew a manufacturing base as firms left the increasingly congested London in search of a cheaper and non-unionised labour base. In 2017, it is known as one of Europe’s fasting growing entrepreneurial ecosystems. You can’t help but notice, as you drive into the city, the horizon is dotted with construction cranes. With what is reported to be some of the fastest rising real estate prices in the UK, many note high demand for residential property but also waiting lists for commercial real estate, science parks and incubators. And despite having one of the highest rates of cycling in the country, road congestion and lack of parking now slows movement around the city.  Cambridge’s success in attracting industry and driving start-ups and small business growth, is now challenging the very geography that has contributed to its success.

So other than its location, what other ‘push’ factors have driven the innovation agenda? One needn’t look far beyond the ubiquitous presence of the renowned Cambridge University which ranks in the top three universities in the world for Nobel Laureates. Established in 1208, the university has been the research engine behind what is known as the Cambridge Phenomenon that refers to the large and growing number of high technology firms that have been established in and around the town since the early 1980’s. Our data gathering is offering a rare look inside a mature innovation ecosystem that has a rich, and lengthy history of novel research and award-winning discoveries in technology, the biologic, life and health sciences.

Babraham Research Campus   

Babraham Research Campus

 

Our visit to the famed Babraham Institute and Research Park and meetings with both Derek Jones and Michael Wakelam reflects Cambridge University’s approach of allowing ‘100 flowers to blossom’. There the federation of colleges supports independence of thought for the faculties as well as their faculty members. A virtuous cycle of hiring the best, allowing them to succeed, then using their reputation to hire quality faculty, students and post docs, has driven the innovation agenda.

Now we turn our attention to questions such as, what spillovers from this world-class research and innovative discoveries have on the local population with respect to health and ageing? If the reason for investing millions of public and private funding into research in this region is the improvement of the health and quality of life of its residents, how is that working out? And if not yet, how long does it take for these outcomes to be achieved? We’ll keep you posted.

Health Ecosystems Research

Researching health ecosystems - how do we do it?

The DRiVE team are gathering information about global technology and innovation entities that invest in and research health and aging. This information is available to you! We have entered the entities into a database which has been uploaded on our website through Scribble Maps. On the map we have the main contact information of these organizations which include hubs, clusters, institutes, networks, ecosystems, incubators and labs. Our map is consistently updated and expanded as we continue researching and contacting new entities.

Within Canada, approximately 25 organizations were included in our research and were contacted. While innovation in health technology is a focus for many of these organizations, very few of the entities have a specific focus on developing health technology for the aging population. Currently, the areas of focus include general medical research, patient-oriented care, and general health care technology. It is interesting to note that while Canada is currently expected to have a much larger elderly population within the next two decades, there is not a large focus on technological innovation specifically directed towards this demographic.  

Different South American entities that focus on health using technology have been contacted in Mexico, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Argentina and Uruguay. Many of them are startup accelerators and universities that organize competitions, programs, and calls for projects that foster and support entrepreneurship in health and aging, as well as including them in their portfolio for continued investment on research on these specific fields. Moreover, some of the entities have developed research around pathologies that are associated with aging, or that target problems that generate an impact in their society.

Europe and the United States have also been extensively reviewed, with approximately 70 entities that were originally contacted for more information on their specialities in health technology. The large geography of the areas allowed for us to pinpoint specific hotspots for innovation in health and aging, such as Boston, MA and Cambridge, UK.  

So far, the data that we have collected and inputted in our database has been available on our website, and presented at a conference focused on aging innovation, where researchers in the field interacted with it. This was an excellent opportunity for us to gather their feedback on where else to look for entities and point out any institutes that we might not have come across.

We are very excited to continue our data collection and build a comprehensive map highlighting organizations who are leading the way for innovation in health and aging.

If you are from an innovation entity such as a hub or accelerator, and don’t see your site listed on our global map, please get in touch and provide us with some basic information. We would be delighted to add you to our map and to promote your site amongst our growing network.

Understanding the relationship between women’s entrepreneurship and regional innovation ecosystems!

An international team of researchers (Canada, Germany, Chile and the U.K.), including Drs Josephine McMurray, Katherina Kuschel, Heidi Sveistrup and Judith Sixsmith from the AGE-WELL NCE, have just completed an application to SSHRC for the Connection Grant. If successful, the Women Entrepreneurs, innovation and Regional Ecosystem Development (WEiRED) collaborative project will bring together international experts with an interest in women in entrepreneurship, health and age tech, and regional innovation ecosystems. The project has its genesis in the AGE-WELL DRiVE project led by Dr. McMurray and Dr. Sveistrup, and will address the critical gap between our theoretical and empirical understanding of systemic barriers to women’s participation in innovation and entrepreneurial activities.

Symposium and workshop planned for the summer

The grant will sponsor an event entitled “From Exception to Rule: The Role of Regional Innovation Ecosystems in the Development of Women Entrepreneurs” that has received inter-continental institutional support. If funded by SSHRC, WEiRED will conduct a two day symposium from June 15-16, 2017 in Waterloo, Ontario. Day 1 will focus on international perspectives concerning the role of regional innovation ecosystems in the opportunity-driven entrepreneurial activities of women, and Day 2 will address the question “Why in female-dominated sectors such as health and aging, is the entrepreneurial gender gap so evident?”  

Who is part of the organizing team?

Drs Josephine McMurray (Wilfrid Laurier University, Canada), Katherina Kuschel (Wilfrid Laurier University, Canada), Kerstin Ettl (Siegen University, Germany), Vesna Mandakovic Universidad del Desarrollo, Chile), Judith Sixsmith (University of Northampton, U.K.), and Heidi Sveistrup (University of Ottawa, Canada) are the symposium organizers. As leaders in related disciplines (regional innovation ecosystems, women and entrepreneurship) these researchers have developed an impressive network of external partners from other universities and research institutes, government, industry, non-governmental organizations and civil society. Their facilitation of this symposium will play a vital role in not only enhancing research collaborations, but also in furthering the international discourse on women entrepreneurs and regional innovation ecosystems. A post-symposium workshop on June 17th will bring together partners interested in pursuing new areas of research identified at the symposium.

And in the meantime...

WEiRED has prepared a scoping review for the 2017 DIANA Conference (USA), a conceptual paper for the Conference of Economic, Technological, and Societal Impacts of Entrepreneurial Ecosystems (Germany), and a PDW proposal on women techpreneurs for the 2017 Academy of Management Conference (USA).


If you are interested, please follow our WEiRED project updates here, or drop us a line at kkuschel@wlu.ca