Put yourself at the centre of scientific discovery

It’s British Science Week. This year’s theme of connections is a perfectly timed one for promoting Kent and Medway as one of the UK’s leading emerging clusters for life science and innovation. Strategically placed for Europe and the ‘Golden Triangle’, we have the space, the supportive funding environment, the challenge focused solutions, the people, the partnerships and, of course, the right location – with the quality of life to match.

Here you’ll find connections in all its forms – that combined with great ideas and marketing, of course – is helping us to stand apart; fast powering awareness, inspiring opportunities and delivering on our potential. There’s a great story to be told and it begins with those delivering that success.

We have two of the UK’s leading science parks at Discovery Park and Kent Science Park which allow businesses access to high quality labs and state-of-the-art facilities, while benefitting from more affordable and cost-effective rates, compared to London.

Further clusters are developing at Kent Medical Campus and Innovation Park, Medway adding to a growing ecosystem of science, technology and innovation that supports some 59,500 jobs in the region: contributing to a 28% increase over the past two years. The momentum is building.

With industry focused, research leading universities and collaboration with partners such as the NHS the right environment is today in place to help research, science development and innovation to thrive. A pipeline of talent with dedicated undergraduate courses and the Kent & Medway Medical School, meanwhile, is producing the right staff, trained to professional standards, and with an invaluable understanding of the latest life science challenges.

So, what is the contribution connections are making to these strong foundations? Who better to ask then Jane Kennedy, Chief Business Officer, Discovery Park, Louise Turner, Eco-System Manager at Kent Science Park and Sarah Tobias, Innovation Centre Manager, at the new Maidstone Innovation Centre.

Each in turns share their thoughts and insights on the importance of connections in strengthening the life science sector in Kent and Medway, and increasing our profile at a regional, national and global level.

Discovery Park

Jane Kennedy, Chief Business Officer, Discovery Park

Jane Kennedy joined Discovery Park in 2021. As Chief Business Officer, she is playing a pivotal role in the development of the 220-acre science park in Sandwich, Kent.

Connecting future talent

“I always remember when I launched BioCity in Scotland that I was asked to take part in a careers fair at a local school and when I went along, there were three stands – Asda, the Army and mine.

“It always brings home the importance of opportunities and the connections we provide for young people to see what we do and be inspired by science as a career choice. It’s important for me that our reach doesn’t stop at the perimeter fence of the science park.

“For example, we sponsor Discovery Planet, which is a fantastic project run by three ladies out of a shopfront in Ramsgate, offering science and technology workshops for people of all ages.

“Our annual Science Jamboree brings 1,000 primary school kids to site each year to spark a love of science that will last a lifetime, connecting them with scientists on site and helping to bring the subject to life.

“The Community Lab, meanwhile, is our partnership with chemistry-based companies here at Discovery Park and Christ Church University, which we’re planning to expand shortly to include data and digital skills activity as well.”

“We want young people in the area to see that there is opportunity in Kent with companies doing really exciting things on their doorstep, and that they don’t need to head off to other parts of the country to achieve their career ambitions.

Connecting to create opportunity

“Attracting talent is one thing, of course. Bringing in investment is another. We can’t build an Innovation cluster on our own. We really need to work with our partners and our stakeholders. For me, it’s been a case of reaching out to the universities, the NHS and exploring opportunities to collaborate.

“So, you know, we’ve done events where we’ve brought in clinicians to talk about unmet clinical need to some of our companies. We’ve done the same with the University of Kent where we have brought IEA projects to pitch what they’ve been doing with their research.

“Our Barclays Eagle Lab, meanwhile, is a fantastic initiative that supports early-stage science and tech businesses with co-working space they can use and a whole range of programmes to support founders – from getting ready for equity to bridge programmes across different verticals.

“Partnering with Barclays was not just about the onsite support they could provide such as the Demo directory where they can upload a pitch video and be matched directly with an investor investing in that type of technology.

“It was also the opportunity to bring together companies from around a key theme who are experiencing different challenges in different parts of the country. It has been a real eye-opener to connect in with what is going on outside of Kent.

Connecting to reveal the bigger picture

“I’ve just been in a meeting with the Kent Innovation Alliance, which is the three universities and us looking around the sort of collaborative projects and ways that we might work together.

“One of them mentioned funding that they’ve got for an AI/VR project around moving large amounts of people around different places – and I was able to suggest a company from Scotland that it could be beneficial for them to work with.

“Being able to make connections with different parts of the country and show people there’s a bigger world then the one they see in front of them is really, really important.

“Innovation doesn’t happen in isolation. It’s usually a combination of the best ideas. For me, it’s about bringing people together who view the same problem from different perspectives. I’ve connected so many people in Scotland with people in Kent and vice-versa. Bear in mind our chairman, Martino lives in Manchester, so we’ve also got the North West covered. Kent needs to look beyond Kent to what makes a great idea.

“We were pulling together some bids recently for things that we might take forward for an ask of government. My question was ‘What’s the national impact beyond Kent?’ ‘What are we going to do in Kent that’s going to ripple out and show impact to the rest of the UK?’

“The thing is that those are the ideas that UKRI and the government are going to get excited about.”

Connecting to bring people together

“We always talk about the role of a science park is to create serendipity, to bring people together who would not normally connect.

“If you think about what makes a great science park, it’s a little triangle – infrastructure, money and people. The most important part of that is people. People can be very creative when it comes to lack of funding or lack of facilities, but great ideas are great ideas, and we do a lot here to facilitate interaction between our companies.

“So, with Pfizer’s announcement, one of the things we wanted to do was to make sure that companies on the park were aware of what other people were doing, particularly when we’ve got new ideas coming out from those scientists affected.

“Many are looking to start new businesses. They’ll be thinking ‘Who might I partner with on the park,’ ‘Who could be a customer?’  That’s why we’ve launched our science soapbox, to bring together our scientific community to keep them in touch with what’s going on.

“For this we do half an hour of networking and three presentations from three different companies before another half hour of networking. I wanted to keep this really short and sharp with just four slides, ‘This is me’, ‘This is our business’, ‘This is the most interesting thing that we’re working on right now’ and ‘This is the biggest challenge we’re facing/how can the Discovery Park community help me.’

“These give people hooks to hang information on that they can then follow up afterwards and go, ‘Oh, we’re really interested in what you’re doing because we’re doing something similar that might help.’ It’s not enough to bring people together for a cup of coffee. You’ve got to have something there that sparks the conversation and makes that happen.

Connecting to discover all Kent has to offer

“When you come to Kent, we’ve got fantastic labs at a fraction of the cost of London labs, but we’ve also got a great lifestyle.

“You can stand on a beach, look out to sea and gain inspiration. It’s a great place to live and work. The challenge is getting more people to know we’re here – and building connections is a key part of that.

“We need to talk about what we have here, we need to stand up and stake our claim. Kent is a fantastic hotbed of technology, innovation and science. We need to show our drive and ambition.

“The University of Kent is number two in the REF for impact in biosciences. Christ Church University has the second largest doctoral training programme in the UK. The University of Greenwich is IP rich.

“We’ve got these fantastic credentials, and we want to work with people who want to, you know, drive that ambition forward with us.”

Kent Science Park

Louise Turner was until last month the Eco-System Manager for Kent Science Park in Sittingbourne. She’s now Commercial Director with a remit to build on the site’s science heritage for a new and exciting future as part of the UK-wide Pioneer science park network.

Re-connecting for a new chapter

“In the eight months I’ve been here my role has been about managing all the tenants on site at Kent Science Park, looking at how we can grow the client base. Obviously, there’s the sales pipeline but also trying to create an identity for KSP that links back to life science.

We have a lot of business support services, as well as clients that sit within the science industry. It’s about promoting all the space. We’ve 42 buildings in total including The Ventures Building, our new hub for start-up and scale up life science companies in the South East. – with its ready-made labs and easy-in easy out leases to allow for agile growth. The amount of space we have here means we are able to accommodate growth at scale outside of this facility when the time comes.

It’s about bringing in people that complement those that are already here; how we tap into external stakeholders, the universities, people based at other sites within Pioneer Group.  It’s about creating an ecosystem for a growing science community. In my new role as commercial director for Kent Science Park there’s a lot to do, but yeah, it’s moving really quick and there’s lot of exciting things to come.

Raising awareness, finding purpose

There’s a lot more happening in terms of trying to bring the awareness up of the site locally, defining our USP, scoping out how we build the community we have here – and the connections they bring.

We’ve obviously got a great community with our current tenant base that includes companies working in diagnostics, BioPharma, MedTech, food innovation and renewable materials.

Our location is a real strength being so close to London with Europe on our doorstep.  We’ve also e got a huge amount of expertise and knowledge in the life science sector both on site and as part of Pioneer group with its UK portfolio that’s important for tenants looking to come to Kent.

Connecting science space with ambition

I suppose what makes us unique is the type of assets that we have on site. So, we have a variety of multi-tenanted buildings’ including fully fitted, furnished offices and CL2 labs.

Each building is pretty bespoke.  That is a key driver, because potential prospects can come to site, see the size of the operation, see all the amenities and everything else that they would look for including for employees also coming to site with all the benefits.

We allow potential prospects to come in and say, ‘This is our business, this is the type of space, this is how we want our operation to run over the next two, three, four years.’

We don’t just look at what they’re potentially looking at now, but their future plans and they bring us in on that. And we’ve got the expertise to then recognise the type of space, what that would look like in two or three years.  We’re open to having those discussions to come up with a bespoke plan for how that could work.

Connecting to deliver support

I’ve come in looking at things from the perspective of what we can do for you as a tenant.

‘Tell me about your business. Tell me about your future plans? How do you see that working? How can we complement and support.  That could be providing additional resource, pointing you to funding. That could be helping with recruitment giving you access to laboratory equipment and so on.

And it’s very much from existing tenant perspective, it’s really getting under the skin of their business. And being part of an extension of that. So, I get a real pleasure out of understanding, talking to all the different decision makers and working out how they see us fit within their plans.

Rather than saying you’re a tenant, we’re talking about, you know, your renewals and your lease, and contract: we look at things from a much bigger perspective.

For anybody new to site, it’s about that journey they want to take here on site, rather than, you know, hold of you in and just showcase you x or y building. I want them to tell us about where they are. This is what we can do from a pioneer group perspective. What we have within Kent, our competitive pricing compared to other regions of the UK, and so on.

Connecting for a renewed life science focus

We’re starting to see more interest in the life science industry, because there’s more of a focus. There’s quite a clear strategy from Pioneer’s perspective on where Kent Science Park needs to be in terms of future growth.

We’re starting to do things differently; we’re being a lot more targeted. We’re going out to actively introduce ourselves to internal stake holders. As I keep being told, it’s the small steps. There’s all these networking opportunities and being in the right place really at times just to have conversations, pick up on things.

We’re making ourselves known. I’m obviously trying to do that not just with the team, but myself. For example, dealing with some of the food and nutrition industries in British universities is a big piece of work, that we’ve not really tapped into previously.  That’s something that we’re now creating more of, or to create more of a joint venture with industry in key target area and build a working partnership together of mutual benefit to each other.

It’s early days but in developing those relationships, building those connections there will be opportunities to build what we have at Kent Science Park in partnership with the wider Pioneer network.

We’re also looking at how we can do more with the STEM community on the science and tech side and having conversations with institutions that have a science connection.

Connecting through events to create opportunity

Connecting our tenants and the opportunities that could bring is among our key focuses for the coming months at Kent Science Park.

From April, we’ll be starting our Pioneer present series. This will be the first time that we’ve done it like this. The first will be based around a healthy ageing ecosystem.

Within that, we’ll start sharing why businesses should come to Kent Science Park, linking in some of our existing tenants. We’ll have speakers and lectures from policymakers, academia, and life science experts.

We brought in an expert in the field that will run that programme of events, and that’s across Pioneer group. For our site it’s a little bit fluid but there’s about two or three scheduled over the course of this year.

I held the first science community group two weeks ago with some really large clients. Some of the guys in the teams told me, ‘You do realise, that they’ve never met.’

“Off the back of that, we’re looking at launching a speed networking event so tenants can pitch, understand who’s on site, and maybe leverage business or support from each other.

“Connections on site are so important. If you don’t know your neighbour, you don’t know if they can support in some way. You don’t if they’re experiencing the same sorts of issues, whether that’s from being in the industry or even the supply chain. There’s lots of feedback that can come out having that one conversation.

Collaborating more with universities will mean we can start promoting what they do and tap into their graduate network, people that have run schemes that are semi funded or sponsored.

More networking will benefit tenants in knowing they’ve got some level of support and can share ideas – and that’s where things start becoming creative.

It’s part of our strategy to bring in more like-minded people to collaborate and work together. It’s really making sure that we take ourselves back to what we know. We are Kent Science at the end of the day, aren’t we?

Connecting for the bigger picture

As part of Pioneer, tenants have the potential to link with tenants on other sites across the UK. We’re at the early stages of building opportunities for co-operating across the network including the potential for building a cross-site food and drink cohort.

This could mean tap into some of their big clients that are really interested in putting together the eco system who could connect with our tenants. It is in the early stages, but that’s ultimately where we want to be.

Connecting to realise potential

We’ve got a fantastic heritage.  We’ve got a fantastic brand in Pioneer. We’ve got a huge support network, whether it’s employees or just across all the sites.

The foundation is great. It’s now a case of elevating it to the next level and linking that with what that looks like over the next 12 to 18 to 24 months, building on what we have but in a much more targeted way.

We’re not the only science park in Kent. It’s a time of opportunity for the region. Where we’re not in competition we should just be working in collaboration with everybody that currently works in the innovation space.

For us, those opportunities include food and drink nutrition. Kent is the Garden of England after all.   There’s healthy ageing too, as another example, with lots of potential for a site like ours in supporting research in that area too.”

Maidstone Innovation Centre, Kent Medical Campus

Sarah Tobias is Innovation Centre Manager at Kent’s latest addition to Kent Medical Campus.  Maidstone Innovation Centre (MIC) provides space for businesses operating in the med-tech, life science and healthcare sectors.

Connecting to form a new science community

“MIC stands for Maidstone Innovation Centre but we believe that it also stands for ‘Making Invaluable Connections.’ Being a small, dedicated team at MIC allows us to intimately know our tenants, enabling us to provide personalised and responsive support tailored to their unique needs, fostering a closely-knit and supportive community within our workspace. MIC works closely with Maidstone Council’s communications team to promote good news stories from our tenants.

Connecting to bring business together

Offering open office spaces at MIC not only provides a professional and collaborative work environment but also facilitates a natural synergy among our tenants, fostering connections and encouraging collaborative efforts that contribute to a vibrant and innovative community. Michelson Diagnostics and XT Biomed are an example of two of our businesses that work closely together.

Connected for going places

Strategically located just off J7 of the M20, MIC boasts exceptional connectivity, providing our tenants with effortless access to major road networks. This prime location not only facilitates convenient commuting but also positions our centre as a hub for seamless business interactions and collaborations. Fast train services to London and the Kent coast run from stations at Bearsted and Maidstone East.

Collaboration and networking 

MIC’s Biggest Conversation, a series of events looking at resolving some of the biggest challenges facing the MedTech, Life Science and Healthcare sector connects our tenants and local businesses directly with industry experts.

This not only fosters knowledge exchange but also provides an exclusive opportunity for our community to engage, learn, and establish valuable connections with leading minds in the field. The event has representation from the NHS, Academic Health Science Network, British Business Bank, Innovate UK, South East Angels and other business support providers ensuring businesses have direct access to support.

Connecting to build Kent’s life science success

We’re the new science facility in Kent’s science cluster but word is already getting out there with the help of our tenants. These are some of our most recent testimonials.

XT Biomed designs and manufactures medical and in vitro diagnostic devices. They had been looking at the MIC for the last couple of years.  “It’s ideal for a medical start-up like ours,” they told us. “With the kind of work we’re involved in, we really wanted somewhere with an impressive, professional image – our clients think it’s fantastic!”

Michelson Diagnostics Ltd – World-leading imaging technology experts, added: “We are very pleased to have joined the vibrant community at Maidstone Innovation Centre. We are already benefiting from our move by working with some of them on new innovation, manufacture, and infrastructure projects that will support our growth.”

PharmaEthical, a cutting-edge Pharmaceutical and Health Tech company gave this feedback. “As we reflect on our experience at MIC, we are confident in the strength of our strategic location and the enduring support we have received. Our commitment to enhancing the healthcare sector remains unwavering, and we are proud to be part of a community that champions innovation and collaborative growth.”



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