The recent recession and subsequent recovery has concentrated economic growth in cities. The firms that are driving economic growth are largely in knowledge intensive businesses and services, and are increasingly urban. For many UK cities, their greatest concentration of knowledge and innovation is their universities and therefore national and local decision makers are looking to support collaborations between universities and high-growth firms.
The UK is improving with regards to these collaborations, and its cities are well placed to deliver further change. National policies, for example the Catapult Centres, are generally well received by businesses and universities alike. However, in practice, these policies have to be delivered locally. It’s at the city level that decision makers understand their growing businesses and their universities. And it is cities that can address and overcome the barriers to collaboration.
City decision makers should use their local knowledge and relationships to identify where there are opportunities to build on successful collaborations.
Cities should help businesses and universities to overcome perceived barriers to collaboration and in turn build scale.
To achieve these twin aims, cities need…
…a flexible approach
Cities need to understand and act upon the strengths of their growing firms and their universities without being overly prescriptive.
While some cities are focusing on their comparative or historical advantages the most successful examples also support growth in their smaller firms either through informal links or by embedding supply chain benefits.
…to act at the right scale.
Cities need to intervene (for example fund programmes or map industry needs) at a scale that benefits both their growing firms and universities.
While some cities invest to ensure continued and improved benefits from successful relationships between firms and universities, for other cities building networks between cities can ensure they have sufficient scale to match the challenges of businesses with specific expertise in universities.
Some of the most successful collaborations, for example Interface Food and Drink or the N8 Universities, are established across city boundaries. Cities need to ensure that they break the barriers for smaller firms to engage with firms and universities from different areas.
…to ensure high-growth firms can benefit.
Cities that have strong networks, economies and collaborations need to ensure collaborations do not suffer from the congestion effects of their successful innovation ecosystems, like networking fatigue (for example in Cambridge) or focusing on a local comparative advantage to the cost of growing firms in other sectors (as may be apparent in Otaniemi).
Cities need to target barriers to collaboration, building on successful collaborations and ensure continued expansion and the benefits of scale are available to growing firms.
The economic recovery will be driven by knowledge intensive sectors. Cities where growing businesses can work in effective collaboration with their universities will be well placed to capitalise on this.