Third Generation (3G) Innovation Environment

developing clustersBearing has gained vast experience from projects world-wide within the area of open innovation environments. The reward for us in this arena is that we are able to contribute to sustainable growth and globalization of both regions, corporations and SMEs. By practicing our well-proven Open Innovation Framework Methodology we help our clients increase their efficiency and maximize their commercial opportunities.

In this blog post, I will present how we in Bearing view the development of innovation environments for the past 50 years and how they relate in three distinguishable sequential generations. In conclusion I will present how the third generation is the current frontier of how to create effective innovation environments.

At the core of developing the methodology has been Jan Annerstedt, who is as Senior Advisor to Bearing for more than ten years, and also Professor in the Department of Operations Management, at Copenhagen Business School and a Counselor to the International Association of Science Parks (IASP).

In this context, we work with the well recognized framework of different generations of innovation systems, showing contextual development step by step toward increasingly higher levels of integration in the knowledge economy.

A complement and/or natural enhancement of an existing 1st 2nd generation innovation environment, physical circumstances permitting, is the migration to a 3rd generation innovation environment.

Background to the third generation innovation environment

For fifty years, science (and technology) parks have been exploited as an institutional solution to the problem of technology transfer and related knowledge sharing between R&D institutions and business enterprises.

University Heights Science Park - New JerseyA Science Park is the generic term for “an organization managed by specialized professionals, whose main aim is to increase the wealth of its community by promoting the culture of innovation and the competitiveness of its associated businesses and knowledge-based institutions”.

This is the broad, authorized definition from the International Association of Science Parks (IASP). The term ‘science park’ may be replaced in the definition by research park, technology park or just a managed innovation environment anchored in a local or regional context.

The most resourceful science parks will provide a comprehensive assortment of value-adding services together with high-quality labs, office spaces and other facilities. According to the IASP membership criteria, a science park should facilitate the creation and growth of innovation-based companies, for example through incubation or spin-off processes among existing firms, but also assist in the creation of entirely new firms.

To enable its goals to be met, the science park should also stimulate the flow of technology and related knowledge and knowhow amongst business firms, universities and other R&D institutions, as well as the wider markets. In many instances, strategic partnerships between academic institutions, local and regional governments and the private sector are seen as particularly instrumental.

All over the world, science and technology parks of today tend to ‘go urban’ to become ‘science city areas’. Increasingly, they are moving their activities from park locations outside of the city or in a suburban area. They are coming in from the suburbs and even going into the very center of a city.

This is a major shift of location, caused by practical experiences. Such moves are stimulated also by better analytical insights into the workings of contemporary innovation processes. Location oriented innovation theory has come to recognize the importance of local and regional footprints of global business enterprises.

From Science “Parks” to urban innovation “clusters”

cluster chartScience parks and other managed innovation environments are increasingly being perceived as integrated parts of urban clusters and not as independent entities.

As in the past decades, each science park, regardless of location, tends to be projected by its management as special and unique. It should be multifaceted through its own, distinctive variety of professional skills and the social capital available in its particular locality, city or region.

Now, at least in Europe’s metropolitan regions, the entrepreneurship and the dynamism that drive today’s innovation environments come as much from outside the region as from within. More and more, the borders become blurred between a park and the capabilities embedded in the city it is part of. Borders are becoming indistinct also between science, technology and other economic activity on the one hand and areas of living and recreation on the other.

The science park principles and modes of operation may prevail, but the science parks of today seem definitely to be ‘going urban’.

Third Generation Science Parks and urban dynamics

abstractThe traditional science parks, clearly separated from the urban context into a designated, even detached zone, may surely be effective for some types of innovation, whilst being less effective for other types.

The traditional conception of science parks was based on the assumption that the high-tech component of the economy would have grown faster than the other components of the economy, and in the long run it would have become the larger part of employment and value added. This traditional forecast has somehow failed to consider the transition occurred from an industrial society to a post-industrial society.

Although the manufacturing sector has certainly become more and more knowledge-intensive, and the high-tech industries have become larger at the expense of the low-tech industries, the shift from manufacturing to service industries has substantially changed also the spatial dimension of knowledge generation and distribution.

The Third Generation Science Park management recognizes that ‘postindustrial’ economic activities need a much closer interaction with the knowledge suppliers and the wide range of services that support the innovative firm. Therefore, a successful local cluster of competencies relies on the capability of the producers of innovation to interact successfully with potential users as well as with many other economic players and not just with the high-tech ones.

Barcelona Innovation District

The 22@Barcelona innovation district in Barcelona, Spain – an example of a 3G innovation environment

These tendencies force the old generations of science parks to transform and to connect better to the wider resource base of the city. From a policy point of view, focus is put on emerging innovation environments, which are designed to be deeply embedded in the urban and regional economic fabrics. On the other hand, there is no simple ‘spatial formula’ for achieving what could be perceived as a locally (or regionally) ’embedded dynamism’ that fosters innovation more effectively.

To provide a background to the third generation of science parks, we will explain the development of the first and second generation.

First Generation Science Parks: “Science Push”


In Europe, the very First Generation Science Parks were founded already in the early 1960s, inspired by Stanford University and other US universities that made it more trouble-free for academics to become entrepreneurs. A First Generation Science Park is an extension of a university into a dedicated neighboring area that includes incubating facilities for start-up firms, related business services and, as importantly, pathways into new, research-based technology (and know-how) for potential investors and other business persons. If possible, it should operate as a science-based technology zone.


Cambridge Science Park in England – Europe’s longest-serving and largest center for commercial research and development.

The innovation philosophy of a First Generation Science Park is ‘science push’. The many new ideas stemming from research and experimental development (R&D) should be channeled without difficulty to new firms established in or aggregated around the science park.

Second Generation Science Parks: “Market Pull”

The Second Generation Science Parks are somewhat more recent institutions. A Second Generation Science Park or technopol remains an extension of a university (or other major R&D facility) into a dedicated high-tech zone. However, the drive and the decisive energy come from businesses, interested in the creation and growth of innovation-based companies. Managers of Second Generation Science Parks respond to such business needs by making available a mix of high quality facilities in the Park, by streamlining the flow of technology and related knowledge, and by advancing and combining value-adding business services – from early incubation of newborn firms to a variety of spin-off and spin-on processes of technological significance to already established firms.

Sophia-Antipolis WTC office

Sophia Antipolis in the south of France – an example of a 2G Science Park

The innovation philosophy of a Second Generation Science Park is ‘demand pull’. It is market-driven to a higher degree than the First Generation Science Park. A Second Generation Science Park is less concerned with the early exploitation of scientific results and capabilities, than with the final stages of the innovation process. Research results and techno-scientific findings are regarded as ‘raw materials’ for the innovating firms.

Emerging varieties of contemporary Science Parks


In the current evolution of Science Park generations, a more comprehensive type of park is being tested and implemented, typically located within a vibrant urban community. For some urban planners, the Third Generation Science Park is perceived as the quintessence of science-industry-government relations, increasingly functional and specialized along with its participation in local, regional and even global innovation activities.

At the same time, this science park generation is becoming a contradiction in terms, as its management is striving to eradicate the fixed boundaries of the park for it to become a truly embedded catalyst for innovation in the urban spatial context. The park is transformed into a city area or, even, becomes embedded into the existing urban fabric.

Still, like its two predecessors, a well-functioning Third Generation Science Park (or ‘3G Innovation Environment’) is an organization managed by professionals, experts on innovation support. The objective remains to increase the wealth of the community by promoting science industry-government relations in a number of ways. However, a fully fledged ‘3G Innovation Environment’ offers a more comprehensive blend of innovation-related services simply by tapping directly into available and new innovation support services of the city it is part of.


Tsinghua Scientific Park in Wudaokou, Beijing, China, Asia

Furthermore, it goes beyond such methods and means to incorporate also the flow of technology and related know-how inside the city as well as in the surrounding urban and regional space. In these local and regional contexts, it tends to serve also as a model of governance for how to foster innovations throughout the broader economy. It answers questions like: how to create and maintain communicative linkages among a broader spectrum of entrepreneurial activities than in the two other science park generations?

As already indicated and underlined, a key difference to the previous science park generations is its urbanized nature that makes the park integrate better into other socio-economic activities, conducive to innovation. In this way the Third Generation Science Park could operate as a ‘catalyst’ for a range of innovation activities while setting examples for entrepreneurship and influencing the local culture of innovation.

The innovation philosophy of a Third Generation Science Park could be labeled ‘interactive innovation’. It is both ‘science push’ and ‘market pull’. It departs from an underlying ‘linear model’ of innovation, while making more effective use of the network overlay of communications in university-industry-government relations. In a Third Generation Science Park innovations, even those mastered by a single company, may stand out as comprehensive outcomes of these interactive, functional relations.

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