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Women leading London’s life science hubs: Three shared learnings

Women in Biotech panel

Against the backdrop of London’s rapidly changing life sciences landscape, a group of influential women are leading development of key parts of the cluster infrastructure and innovation ecosystem. They formed a panel for this month’s sold-out Women in Biotech London event, hosted by the Bioindustry Association and supported by MedCity, to share their experiences and approach.

Here in a joint blog with BIA, reflecting on the discussion and Q&A, we sum up three main takeaways from the panellists: Georgina Rizik, Executive Director, SC1–London’s Life Sciences Innovation District; Laura Brightman, Founder and CEO, Co-Laboratories; Mairi Dillon, Ecosystem Manager for the UK & Ireland, Kadans Science Partner; and Neelam Patel, MedCity CEO and chair of the panel.

1: Leverage diversity, and strategic and cultural agility

An important criterion for the success of innovation districts is placemaking – a process for shaping spaces that prioritises the people in and around those spaces, and harnesses their participation.

One way to foster innovation hubs as places not spaces is by leveraging the diversity and expertise of your stakeholders, both locally and globally.  As SC1 lead Georgina Rizik reflected on her experience in building global multi-stakeholder teams in the BioPharma world, the key is to align on the vision and associated value proposition for your district and its strategic pillars. “We have a vision to bring public sector partners together with start-ups, founders and innovative businesses, creating a dynamic intersection of health, technology and data, to tackle health inequality, locally and globally,” said Georgina. “The diversity of Lambeth and Southwark, where our district is based, in what I consider a culturally rich, iconic part of London, is an asset that we will build on. Ultimately, we hope to be an exemplar for how a cluster in southcentral London can become globally renowned for reimagining innovation and health equity.”

2: Nourish the people in the hub

Another take on making innovation districts a place rather than simply a space, was to not only build buildings, but ‘activate’ them, by fostering ecosystems and encouraging flow within those ecosystems, to create more opportunities for the people within.

For Laura Brightman, CEO of Co-Labs, that means building hubs with a nourishing atmosphere, working collaboratively with councils, setting partnership goals with local communities and targets for hiring local people, and giving back through school outreach and referrals to local businesses, for example.

From the perspective of building a flourishing tenant environment, Mairi Dillon, who leads ecosystem development for Kadans Science Partner’s development at Canary Wharf, pointed out that there were obvious interventions, such as offering flexibility in short and long-term leases, shared spaces, and connecting existing tenants. “Across the capital, the life sciences landscape is changing rapidly as new hubs emerge and grow to meet the lack of available space across the industry,” said Mairi. “There is, undeniably, an abundance of exciting science coming out of academic institutionsnin the UK and I am excited by the role that we can play in supporting companies as they seek to grow their businesses. Building life science ecosystems to the highest technological standards, which facilitate investment, partnership and a sense of community, is central to our mission at Kadans.”

In the long term, fostering strong relationships and trust through communication – listening and asking questions – was seen as vital.

3: Value a ‘curvy career’

Leading an innovation hub is not a standard job description, and the route to these positions is far from straightforward. The panellists all had ‘curvy careers’ in common – having each had varied career paths and experiences before taking up their current posts – and agreed that this diversity of experience was invaluable in helping them tackle the demands of complex roles managing vastly different stakeholder expectations and influencing change. As MedCity CEO Neelam Patel pointed out, “doing this job is like stakeholder management on steroids.”

The same breadth and depth of experience also equipped the panellists to recognise the advantages of diversity within their teams – and within the innovation districts and hubs they manage – to catalyse action and opportunities.

Find out more

MedCity works closely with the BIA to support and promote business growth in UK life sciences. Our partnership activities include events such as Women in Biotech and the annual Future of Healthcare Investment Forum, held by the London Stock Exchange.

For more information on Women in Biotech, visit the BIA’s Women in Biotech page, featuring video interviews with women in the sector. The BIA’s WiB Linkedin group, highlights upcoming events and opportunities for the community.

To find out more about placemaking and the role of community in life science innovation districts, read the recent MedCity report:  Community & Cluster Dynamics.

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