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New life forms in the BioQuarter


14th May 2007


Last week's groundbreaking deal to fund the development of the first BioQuarter outside the US at Little France in Edinburgh was a reminder that, among other things, economic development is alive and kicking.


For Dave Anderson, operations director for Scottish Enterprise Edinburgh & Lothians (SEEL), the deal with Alexandria Real Estate Equities to create a project which could be worth 350m a year to the Scottish economy, typifies the changing role of the much-scrutinised national enterprise agency.


"Because the global economy is changing so fast, industries which were perceived to be in silos are actually morphing into other sectors," he said.


Hector, Edinburgh University's recently launched super-computer, for instance, would offer the capability for large-scale complex mathematical modelling.


"One of the obvious applications is to look at the work being done at Little France in imaging, at almost molecular level, and you can see a crossover between life sciences and infomatics - can we develop related mathematical models that enable us to understand better patterns of disease development? Our historic role as a broker of networks means we are perceived as able to add value and pump-prime projects," he said.


Anderson arrived in the capital to head the 50m-a-year agency six months ago from SE Dunbartonshire, where as chief executive he drove the Loch Lomond Shores initiative and the regeneration of Clydebank.


He said SE's failure to develop an "e-learning company" showed "we didn't quite recognise that for that industry to succeed, certain skill sets had to be brought out of indigenous industries to create a new industry".


Anderson said: "Many of the opportunities for new enterprise will come out of touch points between existing industries, rather than looking through the perspective of one industry mindset. Because we helicopter across the range of industries, we try to anticipate how sectors and technologies will develop in future."


The 250m investment in the 100-acre BioQuarter will include a world-class centre for stem cell research, headed by Dolly the sheep creator Professor Ian Wilmut, and 500,000 square feet of new academic research space for the University of Edinburgh, including a 60m centre for regenerative medicine.


Companies which move to the BioQuarter will be able to capitalise on the university's research expertise, with the aim of creating a vibrant cluster for the life science industry to rival elite worldwide locations such as Biopolis in Singapore, Mission Bay in San Francisco, Technology Square in Cambridge, and Novum Biocity in Stockholm.


The role of partner Alexandria Real Estate Equities is critical. "They are investing in a multi-occupancy building with incubation space and laboratory space for spin-out companies, and attracting inward investors to come and locate in Edinburgh."


It means the major public sector investment in the campus and buildings will be "fully recouped", Anderson said, because of the high chance of successful commercialisation using Alexandria's US model.


"They have taken five IPOs in the last few years and their valuation has increased quite dramatically What we are getting for the first time is a major US based developer of life science parks making a huge investment outside America. They are not a conventional property company, they invest in real estate because it is the route to commercialisation when they identify promising science, they bring in venture capitalists and a commercial team, to work on a game-plan for getting the thing to market."


He said SEEL and the university have run the rule over Alexandria's parks in Seattle and Mission Bay. "They are very enthusiastic about the concept, and we are certainly optimistic that the model can be made to work in the UK.


"Culturally, there are differences, but the university is at the forefront of commercialisation success in Scotland, they are up for this collaboration and so is NHS Scotland."


In financial services, another of the six new "priority industries" identified by Scottish Enterprise's latest masterplan last year, the high-powered advisory board chaired by the First Minister has uncovered a critical need for the right skills on the ground to sustain the growth of the industry. For SEEL, that means working with Careers Scotland to encourage young people to see beyond a bank branch when they think of the industry, but also with the likes of US investors Citigroup and State Street.


"They are looking at whether there is an opportunity to take advantage of our own requirement for specialist skills that require high degrees of numeracy by grafting onto that more technical skills that would allow them to work in derivatives and more specialist areas."


Discussions have begun with the University of Edinburgh Business School and with the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland on developing qualification electives.


The ability to attract the top talent to Edinburgh has been demonstrated by companies such as fund manager Martin Currie. "It is a big competitive arena, but they have 12 different nationalities in a staff of 200 or so in Edinburgh," Anderson said. "They keep on attracting people from overseas, and this could be replicated elsewhere."


Supply chain intervention, such as support for information technology companies, is all aimed at helping build a critical mass in the sector and creating enough perceived job options for incomers who take the plunge.


The perceptions of corporate man, as well as his company, are becoming increasingly important in the traditionally cut-throat battle to attract inward investment.


"We are competing to attract globally mobile knowledge workers," Anderson said. "It is about the executives that come with the corporations, and the quality-of-life decisions they make around their families and lifestyles. We need to brand the city in a way that recognises we are playing to individuals as well as corporations."


SEEL may only be an "honest broker" in the big partnerships that could be pivotal for Scotland's economy, but Anderson said its helicopter view is valuable. "It helps us to facilitate conversations about What if...'."

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»New life forms in the BioQuarter
Last week's groundbreaking deal to fund the development of the first BioQuarter outside the US at Little France in Edinburgh was a reminder that, among other things, economic development is alive and kicking
»New life forms in the BioQuarter
Last week's groundbreaking deal to fund the development of the first BioQuarter outside the US at Little France in Edinburgh was a reminder that, among other things, economic development is alive and kicking
 

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