woman checking phone at laptop in innovation district

Start-ups need momentum to grow.

But it’s difficult in the beginning. New businesses may feel unable or unqualified to access the relevant funding, facilities, or the professional expertise required to start scaling up quickly.

And innovation can be a lonely road; it’s tough to blaze a trail in science or technology, and start-ups may not have peers operating in the same digital or physical space.

What is an Innovation district?

Innovation districts bring together entrepreneurs, science and tech-startups, research institutions, and creative talent to a designated zone within a city.

Often (but not always), innovation districts are based in urban areas that need investment or development. For example in neglected or abandoned industrial areas or on brown-belt land.

Innovation districts not only create jobs and attract talent but they can also lead to the development of residential properties and commercial facilities like shops and restaurants as well as transport links which may previously have been financially untenable.

An innovation district may also be part of a wider urban regeneration project.

The World’s First Innovation District

Barcelona is credited with creating the world’s first innovation district.

Following the 1992 Olympic games, the city’s El Poblenou neighbourhood began a process of transformation from an abandoned ex-industrial area to the 22@Barcelona Project connected to Barcelona’s commercial and business districts by an expanded public transport network.

But the idea of grouping together specialist industries or upcoming talent predates the first innovation districts; Silicon Valley in Southern California, for example, shows what can happen when tech businesses set up in one place and grow.

Innovation Districts in the UK

Location is key to the success of an innovation district but it’s about more than just being near to the commercial centre of major cities. UK innovation districts are now appearing near to academic and research institutes and laboratories. This can help start-ups leverage the skills and facilities of institutions with a deep pool of experience and expertise.

Energym is based at Bruntwood’s Birmingham Innovation District and we’ve worked alongside experts at Aston University to develop our technology.

The UK appears to be following the US lead on innovation districts. Urban Pivot remarks that businesses in the US have started moving away from out-of-town research parks and more into city centres.

We’re seeing that here now, too. Urban-based innovation districts also have the advantage of being better connected to transport links. Out-of-town business and research parks are often only accessible by car or motorway but an innovation district within striking distance of a city centre means you can attract the best talent for your business rather than just any talent with access to a car.

Innovation districts in inner-city areas will often make use of existing brown-belt land which saves developing green spaces.

Energym at Innovate Birmingham

We’ve been talking to Wired about our experiences of being part of an innovation district. Along with other smart-tech businesses, we’ve found working alongside other innovators a rewarding experience.

Watch this video, too, to hear the Energym CEO talk a little about our experience of working here.