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.

DRiVE-ing our project’s objectives and outputs to stakeholders: Highlights from our team’s participation to the AGE-WELL 2016 Annual General Meeting

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Collaboration, co-production, commercialization – These key themes stood out to us over many of the presentations we heard and conversations we heard at the AGE-WELL annual meeting.  We also heard about the challenges we have in Canada to translate knowledge from research into commercially viable products and processes to ultimately reach our collective AGE WELL goal of helping older Canadians maintain their independence, health and quality of life. The inspiring conversations and networking continued through our time at the Canadian Association on Gerontology’s (CAG) conference.

For those of us on the The DRiVE team, who are passionate about resolving this struggle and understand these key themes, we were energized by the discussions in Montreal at both the AGE-WELL 2016 annual general meeting, October 18th-20th and the CAG annual conference from October 20th-22nd 2016.

We were happy to be able to share our work from our first year including presentations including:

  1. Creating a Theory of Action for regional health innovation ecosystems which we believe will have an important impact on our AGE-WELL network through;

  2. HQP Heather McNeil’s ECOTECH PhD thesis on engaging older adults in Regional Health Innovation Ecosystems;

  3. Our work with CC2 on emerging Canadian innovation health and aging hubs;

  4. Our inventory and map to support our international survey looking for the factors that helped build and sustain ecosystems or innovation entities; and

  5. Results from one of our case studies- Innovation Boulevard in Surrey British Columbia.

We are especially excited by the interactions we had at the Demo and Drinks event where we were grateful to gather feedback on our work and learn of a couple of new international innovation entities in health and aging innovation. A big thank you to our team member Crystal Gill Herrera, Master’s student, for doing a wonderful job staffing our demo.

Two of the other highlights for us also involved our HQP!

  • Our soon to be joining the team PDF- Katherina Kutchel, PhD- joined us at the conference. It was wonderful to meet with her face to face and engage in productive planning and team building.

  • Congratulations to Heather McNeil, PhD student and research associate on the DRiVE team, who received the 2016 Schlegel-University of Waterloo Research Institute for Aging Scholarship by the Canadian Association for Gerontology http://cagacg.ca/awards/schlegel-ria/

We look forward to continuing the collaboration with stakeholders both within and beyond the AGE-WELL and CAG networks. As a start to this continued collaboration, please visit our interactive international innovation in health and aging entity Map.