A science incubator is a specialised business incubator that enables scientific teams to explore innovative, potentially risky ideas that require specialist expertise and investment. Just as business incubators help startup companies to secure investment by providing flexible workspaces and administrative services, science incubators help science startups by investing in the resources researchers need to demonstrate proofs-of-concept.
With the help of science incubators, science startups stand a better chance of securing funding from grant reviewers and funding agencies. The incubators are focused on supporting the development of science-based businesses and early-stage technologies.Those that specialise in helping life science startups are also commonly known as bioincubators.
There is a marked difference in the amount of investment raised by companies located at bioincubators with around 87% of all funds raised going into these businessesand the average investment per company about three times more.
UK Life Science Startup Report 2015
The Origin of Science Incubators
The concept of business incubation first became popular in the USA in the early 1960s, after New York businessman Joe Mancuso was faced with the challenge of attracting tenants to a huge vacated warehouse space in Batavia, NY. He did this by offering unusual perks to businesses willing to rent space in the warehouse. These benefits were designed to meet the changing needs of young businesses in the area.
Mancuso’s offerings included shorter leases, shared office equipment, on-site business advice and financial assistance. Soon, the deserted warehouse became the thriving Batavia Industrial Centre (BIC), a mixed-use space that has helped startup enterprises to learn and grow ever since.
After the BIC was established, incubation grew throughout the United States, and by the 1980s it had spread to the UK and Europe. Today, there are numerous specialised types of incubation programmes supporting various industry sectors, including bioscience and life science startups.
The Role of Science Incubators
Enterprises in the science sector require sophisticated technologies, facilities and equipment that other startups don’t. This is why they need the assistance of a specialised science incubator to realise their goals.
Science incubators and bioincubators typically provide startups with the following:
- Access to high-end equipment
- Access to world-class research
- Flexible research lab space, technical rooms and social areas
- Meeting rooms and conference facilities
- Flexible office modules and storage spaces
- Business support and training
- Administrative services
- IT services
It’s important to note that science startups also typically have long research and development cycles, and therefore require more time in an incubation programme than companies in the services or manufacturing industries. Science incubators are geared towards supporting these longer timeframes.
Science Incubation in the UK
Science incubators provide an environment that helps startups to reduce overheads and stay focused so that they can grow and develop in the right direction.
Today, there are numerous leading science and bioincubators established in the UK, including the Imperial Incubator and the London Bioscience Innovation Centre. The country is also home to dozens of science parks, which are purpose-built work environments that provide resources like incubators. They aim to facilitate growth and support the success of science startups around the United Kingdom
Bidwells recognises the growing importance of science incubators for startups based in the “Golden Triangle” of Oxford, Cambridge and London. They currently manage the Cambridge Science Park, which is home to more than 100 businesses, and recently opened The Bradfield Centre for researchers, inventors and startups.
The provision of suitable, flexible workspaces for high potential firms across all sectors, including life science, engineering, IT and digital, is critical to continue feeding the pipeline of disruptive, innovative, fast-growing companies that Cambridge has established a global reputation for nurturing. Incubators are facilitators – rather than originators – of wider commercial success.
Bidwells Review of Wet Lab & Incubator Space for Life Sciences at Cambridge