Establishing a Science & Technology Park is No Walk in the Park

The Kuwait Institute of Scientific Research. Credit: IAEA Imagebank/CC By 2.0

By Tengfei Wang
BANGKOK, Aug 16 2019 (IPS)

The success of Silicon Valley has been inspirational for many countries worldwide wishing to establish science and technology parks. In Asia, successful science and technology parks can be found in many economies, including China, Japan and Thailand.

Despite this, if the precursory conditions are not in place, a science and technology park could turn into a white elephant project. This is a key message from the ESCAP guidebook titled Establishing Science and Technology Parks: A Reference Guidebook for Policymakers in Asia and the Pacific.

Worldwide and in the region, most science and technology parks are in economically advanced or large economies. As developing economies attempt to close the technology gap, governments are increasingly turning to science and technology parks as a key driver of their national strategies.

For example, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) reported that approximately 80 per cent of the countries surveyed (including developed, developing and least developed countries) planned to use specialized zones, including science and technology parks, as a part of their 21st century industrial or science, technology and innovation (STI) policies.

Placing the physical infrastructure of a science and technology park is often straightforward. To make it work, however, is more complicated. Only 25 percent of science and technology parks in an advanced economy could be regarded successful in achieving their goals.

How do we ensure a science and technology park is a success?
Before a science and technology park is developed, it is essential to check whether the pre-conditions are in place. These key precursor conditions are:

  1. The key tenants or the anchor tenants – such as national research institutes – are committed to staying in the science and technology park. Anchor tenants are crucial to ensuring that a science and technology park has its backbone and may be useful in attracting other firms to co-locate;
  2. A management team with all the skills necessary for managing the science and technology park can be identified and assembled. The management team needs to have expertise in not only research and development, but also business, marketing, negotiation and communications. Furthermore, the management team must be able to adjust its strategy to an ever-changing environment. Such multi-tasking means, for many developing countries, that assembling an effective management team is a real challenge;
  3. A strong science base in the surrounding areas of the science and technology park is already available. This factor is important because a science base in the surrounding area will provide potential tenants of the science and technology park. In addition, this will ensure that the firms within the park can easily communicate with firms outside the park;
  4. The city or area where a science and technology park will be built is attractive to talented researchers and entrepreneurs.;
  5. An entrepreneurial culture is available in the city or country where a science and technology park will be built. This factor is particularly important if the key objective of a science and technology park is to foster start-ups and entrepreneurs;
  6. Finance, especially seed and venture capital, is available in the city or country where a science and technology park will be built. These resources are critical to support long-term STI initiatives and build upon existing research.

In addition, it is important to assess a science and technology park in a broad national or local economic context. In this connection, key questions should be asked on what can be achieved by establishing a science and technology park and whether there are better but alternative ways to achieving that goal.

While a science and technology park can be developed by the private sector, if a government or public sector finances the development of the park or provides other incentives such as tax exemption or reduction, the science and technology park needs to provide social benefits such as advanced research and development, which subsequently boosts its national STI and/or economic development.

The guidebook was launched at the inaugural Asia-Pacific Innovation Forum. Close collaboration with the Asian Science Park Association ensured not only the relevance of the guidebook but also its effective dissemination.

Tengfei Wang is Economic Affairs Officer, Trade, Investment and Innovation Division, UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP)