Vicky Ford MEP

Member of the European Parliament for the East of England

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18 OCT 2016

Speech to the Science Business Conference on Europe's Tech Clusters

Vicky Ford - Speech to the Science Business Conference on Europe's Tech Clusters

Bibliotheque Solvay, Brussels, 18th October 2016

Thank you for inviting me to speak at today's conference. We are meeting in the park where Einstein met Marie Curie 90 years ago. What a fitting place for this conference looking at Europe's top tech clusters. It is good to see what is working well, learn from each other's experience, and, better understand how we can help them grow.

The region that I represent, the East of England, has many different clusters. Our energy innovators on our coastline are pioneering new wind, wave and the next generation of nuclear power. We are home to two agri-tech clusters at John Innes Centre in Norwich, and Rothamsted, the world's oldest agricultural research centre. There is the biotech cluster around the home of Glaxo Smith Kline in Hertfordshire and the outstanding aerospace & industrial research taking place at Cranfield University.

Smart specialisation has many positives but it is important to also protect our special multi-disciplinary cluster. At the heart of my constituency, the East of England, is the Cambridge cluster. This is Europe's fastest growing tech cluster, one that adds value all over Europe and I would like to explain why I believe that is in all of our interests to keep close collaboration between the clusters of the UK and the rest of the EU.

The Cambridge cluster started from the bottom-up led by a couple of entrepreneurial chemical engineers from the University in the 1960s. The first four hundred enterprises founded were all in the ICT sector. Now five decades on and it is home to over four thousand tech companies from many sectors; Biotech, Medical, Clean-tech, Agritech and Fintech have all been added into the mix.

Cambridge has twice as many start-ups per head as anywhere else in the UK; and our start-ups live longer than anywhere else. Cambridge is Europe's most successful 'Scale Up City', with 15 home grown firms valued at $1 billion or more; this is two more than London. Of the 200,000 local jobs over 20,000 are in biotechnology alone. This is why Astra Zeneca decided to move its global HQ to Cambridge. This summer, the local firm ARM was sold for £24 billion, which is the equivalent of nearly £200,000 for every man, woman and child living in the city.

What makes Cambridge successful is the combination of the outstanding research work, largely from its University, indeed Universities, with the entrepreneurial networks around it. Networks of expertise, resources and goodwill. It is also a great place to live. As a leading entrepreneur told me, "Cambridge's first thought is how do I make this successful, not how much money can I make from it."

Many studies tell us that innovation is most dynamic where two or more disciplines interface; in Cambridge this happens all the time. It is a multi-disciplinary cluster where the different spheres of science collide and generate solutions. In Cambridge this happens all the time. Let me give you an example, the astronomy department adapted their algorithms for watching the night sky to help the oncologists map out how different breast cancers grow, this has led to developments of new personalised treatments and improved cure rates. Literally, using star gazing to cure cancer. In Cambridge, this is quite normal. It is not driven by money.

Many technology clusters around the world are 'top-down' where politicians decide they want the local economy to move from area like manufacturing, oil and gas, agriculture to knowledge intensive sectors. Politicians set up science parks and believe that buildings and money will encourage entrepreneurial behaviour. Yes, facilities and infrastructure are important but money will not solve the problem alone. The Cambridge Phenomenon shows that success is led by enterprising individuals working together.

Individuals collaborating between clusters also drives innovation. Look at the links between Heidelberg and Cambridge, which are keeping Europe at the forefront of world genetics and bio informatics. For many years, there have been more British researchers participating in EU funded Research Networks than from any other country, and under the Horizon 2020 Program, more of those individuals have been from Cambridge than any other British University cluster.

Researchers take part in collaborative networks not just because of the money but because it makes it easier for them to share ideas and find solutions. Evidence shows that where scientists collaborate together in their research they are likely to have a greater impact.

There are many other links between Cambridge and Europe, which are not EU funded or government run. The ties between Cambridge and the European Alpbach Forum for entrepreneurship, and between Cambridge Angels investors and similar networks in Denmark and France. The Cambridge Cluster adds real value to research all across Europe.

In a post-Brexit relationship, the number one priority for researchers and innovators in and around Cambridge, is to keep the free and easy exchange of knowledge, skills and talent with other clusters.

A successful cluster is built around individuals, if individuals cannot share their knowledge easily, they may disperse. It took 50 years to create the Cambridge Cluster, and these valuable networks will not be easily rebuilt elsewhere.

If the clusters of the UK are blocked out of the EU Research Networks, the talent will not necessarily flow from the UK to the continent, but risks being lost to Europe as a whole. Many of those active in the Cambridge cluster do have strong links to Europe, but they have links to the US and China too. If we don't get future collaboration right, it won't be a case of those individuals relocating to Germany or France. The choice is between Cambridge, England, or Cambridge, Massachusetts, between Silicon Fen or Silicon Valley. Europe as a whole will miss out.

This is not in the interest of science or innovation to erect a barricade between scientists in the UK and those in the rest of Europe. I hope that all of us here who care about innovation will help find a way for the collaboration between the UK and EU to continue.

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My Political Priorities

Economic Stability must come first. Without a strong economy we can not deliver a strong society. I work with businesses and consumers to keep Britain open for business, cutting red tape, boosting trade opportunities and helping to deliver jobs and growth for all.

I support Science and Research which is key to delivering better medical care and improved lifestyles for all our families.

Strong security is vital in today's uncertain world, which requires robust policing and defence and deep international relationships that we can depend on. I work with others to achieve this.

I care about the Countryside and the Environment and making sure that rural and urban communities flourish.