The Halfway Mark: Reflecting on ‘Life Sci For Growth’ and Government Support in 2023

As we find ourselves just over the midpoint of 2023, it seems only fitting to pause and reflect on the state of the UK Life Sciences sector. In a new year’s speech on building a better future for the UK, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak referenced the importance of innovation. “The more we innovate, the more we grow”, citing an increase in R&D public funding to £20bn, aiming to enhance the UK’s strengths in AI, life sciences, quantum, fintech, and green technology.


It’s a strong pledge, but now is the time to reflect on progress made so far and priorities for the future. Given the Government’s focus on innovation, we need to sustain investment in life sciences as an area of high growth potential. We know investment in life sciences has a significant impact on GDP, and its promising to see the Government’s recent ‘Life Sci For Growth’ £650 million so called “war-chest” including up to £250 million to incentivise pension schemes to invest in our most promising science and tech firms, helping to keep promising companies on home soil.


Alongside this Government investment, industry has a role to play in providing further support and skills, and I was immensely proud to hear the Minister of State at the new Department for Science, Innovation and Technology, George Freeman MP, remark on Discovery Park as “a world class incubator of new life science technologies and companies.” In reflection of this, we’ve just launched Discovery Spark, a learning programme which lays healthy foundations for future company success and equips early stage life science businesses with the skills needed to thrive.


We need to continue to keep the channels open, allowing Government, industry and academia to work closely together. To be a true life science superpower, we need to ensure we are looking beyond the Golden Triangle. George Freeman MP, spoke following Discover Park’s recent Innovation Summit: “The success of Discovery Park is the result of a strategic long-term public/private partnership between Government in London and Kent. It demonstrates the power of the UK’s £94 billion life sciences sector in driving economic regeneration in clusters all around the UK.” 


Discovery Park works closely with our Local Enterprise Partnership (LEPs), but this relationship will be sadly ending as LEP responsibility is transferred to local authorities. South East LEP helped us to unlock funding to develop our new incubator lab complex as part of the ‘Getting Building Fund’, and we have received huge demand from science and technology companies looking for space to set up. We’ve seen the most need for smaller lab sizes, ideal for spinout or scaling companies. As the LEPs end, we need to ensure there is a continued focus on infrastructure to support early stage companies – especially outside the triangle.


Government life science investment also needs to take an end-to-end approach, with determination on the part of the Government to build a stronger supply chain and manufacturing. While these items are referenced in the recent ‘Life Sci For Growth’ package, from the investment figures it is clear the focus remains earlier in the discovery cycle. Discovery Park has aspirations to create a manufacturing hub and similar facilities need to be replicated across the country, but that will take serious investment.


We must also continue joining the dots between education and academia, showcasing the career opportunities at all levels. Science parks have a leading role to play, but we need Government buy-in to make it work, especially as science is having to compete with other sectors to recruit essential tech skills.

So, as we enter the second half of 2023, it’s pleasing to see Government confidence that life science is a key vehicle to support economic growth. Now, let’s keep momentum for the second half of the year.

New Business Support Programme and Competition for Life Science Start-Ups: Discovery Spark

  • Discovery Park’s new programme ‘Discovery Spark’ provides business support, learning and mentoring over a period of eight weeks
  • Includes a pitch competition for a prize package worth over £100,000, including £50,000 investment from Discovery Park Ventures and free lab space for 1 year at Discovery Park
  • Deadline for applications closes midnight on 20th August 2023

Leading science and innovation campus, Discovery Park, in Sandwich, Kent has launched a new business support programme and competition, ‘Discovery Spark’. The programme will lay healthy foundations for future company success and equip early stage life science businesses with the skills needed when pitching to investors.

The free and hybrid programme running over the course of eight weeks, aims to ignite potential from the best of Discovery Park’s facilities, people and networks. Delivered in four in-person sessions, plus mentoring, networking and group learning, the sessions will cover teams, coherent communications, financials, market impact and pitch prep, all concluding with drill pitches at Discovery Park.

Discovery Spark is currently accepting applications from life-science start-ups, with a closing deadline of 20 August. From the first cohort of up to 12 companies, one business will be selected to win a prize package worth over £100,000, including £50,000 investment from Discovery Park Ventures, 1 year of free lab space at Discovery Park, plus wrap-around business support and dedicated mentoring.

Renos Savva, the original founder of Cambridge-based Drug Discovery CRO, Domainex and now Head of Innovation at Discovery Park, said: “Discovery Spark is essential for all future leaders looking to audit and hone their skills to excel in business and win investment. You will also have unique access to industry analysts, seasoned leaders and executive trainers for advice and support, plus a new network of peer entrepreneurs. 

“The benefits will go even further for one company selected to win £50,000 investment, plus free lab space for 1 year at Discovery Park. This bespoke prize also includes business support from Barclays Eagle Labs and pro bono support from firms specialising in IP and legals, finances and tax, talent and board management, marketing and PR, and web and data management. On top of this, as an experienced bio-business facilitator and mentor, I’ll be providing dedicated and ongoing mentorship, coupled with other specialist colleagues at Discovery Park.” 

Mayer Schreiber, CEO at Discovery Park, added: “Discovery Park is the ideal environment for starting and scaling companies, with a thriving incubator community and room to grow. We understand the pressure to find lab space and the pinch on many scaling or spin-out companies, so Discovery Spark is an important reflection of our commitment to use our facilities and network to bolster the next generation of life science leaders.” 

Those selected for the programme will have the opportunity to pitch for the £50,000 investment and support package at an investment conference, sponsored by Discovery Park, taking place in London in November.  A further ‘wildcard’ prize of free lab space will also be available to programme participants and voted for by attendees.

Applicants should register their interest on the Discovery Spark page for more information.

Key Discovery Spark Dates:

  • Deadline for applications: Midnight 20th August 2023
  • Programme Kick off: 26 September

To enter, companies will have been incorporated in the UK, demonstrated proof of concept and have the freedom to operate, with the end goal of pitching their business concept to a panel of investors, industry experts and partners to secure the prize.

Full details of entry and prize requirements are included at Discovery Spark. 

Branching Out: Lessons From Barclays’ Evolution From Bank To Start-Up Incubator

By Jane Kennedy, Chief Business Officer, Discovery Park


I recently had the pleasure of chairing a fireside chat with Steven Roberts, Chief Scientific Advisor at Barclays UK. This conversation had key lessons about our digital world, and the overriding importance of community.

Opening the 2023 HealthTech Integrates congress, Steven spoke about starting his career at Barclays in ‘digital transformation’ at a time when everyone went into a bank to manage their money. Steven realised the direction of travel and was the person convincing more senior colleagues that digital technology was coming and here to stay.

Fast forward, and technology has indeed changed the way we operate. Many of us bank online and don’t need to visit a branch. Engagement with communities was still key for Barclays, so Steven focused on new ways to get people to visit and use Barclays’ physical spaces. Originally, he piloted ‘maker spaces’, a start-up friendly environment with facilities for companies to rapidly prototype. This prototyping concept didn’t catch on as anticipated, but interestingly, entrepreneurs and start-ups loved the culture of the space, choosing to come and work there. From this observation, the Barclays Eagle Labs were born, now serving as the UK’s biggest co-working and incubator network for start-ups and scale-ups. These labs combine many different verticals, offering expert advice, growth programmes, and crucially, a community, which is essential when being a founder can be a lonely place.

There are lessons for start-ups and scale-ups from Steven’s experience of founding Barclays Eagle Labs. If something doesn’t work initially, don’t despair. Just keep experimenting, listening to the feedback and staying humble. Don’t be afraid to change course, or recognise when something isn’t happening the way you expected. Lastly, don’t underestimate the value of community and network.

We’re very lucky to be the only science park in the UK with a Barclays Eagle Lab, part of a total network of 33 spaces across the country. I see the impact of our lab on the community at Discovery Park, bringing together innovators as a force for good.

It’s inspiring to hear stories of early digital pioneers like Steven. We know the traditional life sciences sector is changing and developing at pace, with 67% of life sciences companies already collaborating with tech software partnerships or expecting to do so in the near future.

Alongside the Barclays Eagle Lab, I see the role of Discovery Park as matchmaker, creating serendipity to bring together like-minded companies and individuals to turn great ideas into great businesses. Splitting my time between the South East and Scotland, I alway strive to make connections far and wide, building a community which stretches right across the UK.

Knowledge sharing also flows both ways. While early stage companies may need advice, support or funding, they’re also a hotbed of fresh thinking and new ideas. More established companies have the resources, but often aren’t as nimble to try new approaches. The perfect community would also include all sectors and organisations, including academia and Government.

Powerful things happen when we build diverse and engaged communities. We’re proud that Discovery Park is a prime example of this, constantly branching out to include new sectors and companies. Whatever the stage of your organisation, our community is here to help.

Contact us