What is the future and character of science investment? Does it centre around a few large names or is it to be found in the art of drawing particular scientists and entrepreneurs together in an appropriate and effective dialogue - and in the right built environment?
There has been some discussion around the way science parks and innovation hubs are designed - some out of town and without effective space for those chance conversations that spark those 'light bulb' moments spurring then next great medical invention, collaboration or breakthrough.
The CEO of Moorfields Eye Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, David Probert, described at our January Future Cities Forum how its new campus with the UCL Institute of Ophthalmology will be created in the middle of a 'knowledge cluster' at St Pancras, near to the Crick Institute, UCLH and the Wellcome Trust, where doctors can work alongside research scientists.
King's College London has grown an ambition for developing a new science cluster for new med tech and bio-science companies alongside the Guy's and St Thomas' Hospital sites south of the Thames. Director of Real Estate Development Peter Ward says the new science cluster will develop outstanding research but will also be an economic driver of some significance for London, with a value of some £35 billion and a potential for 55,000 jobs:
This will be an important topic of discussion at our Future Cities Forum discussions in November at Newnham College Cambridge University where a wide range of contributors from hospital groups to leading science parks, technology companies, architects and planners will gather.
The Financial Times reported over the summer that a wide range of investors including Unilever, Aviva, and Sky have helped Ahren Innovation Capital raise £200 million to invest in companies aiming to create new technologies with large market potential. It is an innovative fund backed by eight of Cambridge's best known scientists and engineering professors..
The scientists have been prompted to act following the belief that there is a shortage of capital for innovative start up companies in the UK compared to the US. The newspaper reports that this follows Cambridge Innovation Capital's recent £150 million funding round and the emergence of the medical charity LifeArc as an investor. The fund's activity will centre around the fields of brain and artificial intelligence, genetics and biotechnology, space and robotics and energy efficiency.
Chemistry professor Sir Shankar Balasubramanian, who invested the technology to decode DNA said that most of the scientists knew one another, but what was unique was the way Alice Newcombe-Ellis, a mathematician turned investor, now Ahren's founder, and based on the Cambridge Science Park at the John Bradfield Centre, pulled the group together with the aim of organising them to create great enterprises on a long-term basis.