Despite a legacy of engineering and science that would be the envy of many nations, Northern Ireland came late to an aspiration for a Knowledge Economy and hence to the founding of the NI Science Park in 1999 and the opening of its first buildings in 2003. But buildings alone do not a Science Park make!
Any successful 21st Century Science Park must be a key node on an open network (both real and virtual) in its own economy and well linked to Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Mathematics, and to Business, Commerce and Industry. It must be friend of Government with huge parochial support but it must be able, without fear of censure, to offer new ideas and critical comment on policies to hasten the drive to the Knowledge Economy. Accordingly, it must act with the utmost probity and have the widest possible funding base, to include public, private and philanthropic.
The last is not easy in middle European culture, where philanthropy has developed to support (among other good works like religion, medicine and the alleviation of poverty) research but not the commercialisation of that research. NI Science Park has had the good fortune to be allied to the global CONNECT movement, whose guiding principle is that education and cultural change must create the trust and the environment long before the transactions that lead to commercialisation can begin. These early phases are charitable and so NI Science Park established the NISP Trust in 2012 and began its search for a patron.
Our relationship with the Duke of York and his office began in September 2012, through a mutual contact, and within a matter of weeks we were having our first meeting with the Duke’s office. There were many areas of common interest and synergy with the Duke’s other activities and we very quickly put together an exciting programme of events including a visit to NI Science Park. It was an honour to host HRH at the NI Science Park and enable him to witness firsthand the fruits of our activities in education and research and in the conversion of that research into innovations that have begun to change the nature of the Ulster economy. In addition, HRH hosted a dinner at Hillsborough which was focused on the NI Science Park Trust and the role of Business Philanthropy in supporting and driving economic development and sustaining Peace. The Duke of York spent an unprecedented amount of time with us, talking to the Board, the senior executive team, tenant companies and young innovators and officially opening The Here and Now, our showcase of innovation in Northern Ireland. He asked many informed and incisive questions of everyone, underlining his firm grasp of, and indeed deep interest in, the innovation economy.
He led debates with both the public and private sector, impressing and challenging all to “just do it!”.
Happily, HRH the Duke of York operates a most extensive and sophisticated network and even before he agreed formally to become our Royal Patron, he and his team have linked us to those engaged each in their different ways of exhorting public and private sectors to redouble their efforts to produce for the UK and its allies a new Elizabethan age of peace from prosperity. Most importantly of all, he has connected us to those like the Baker Dearing Trust, changing the nature of our education agenda and the way we bring forward our entrepreneurial talent to inspire each and every child, irrespective of colour, class or creed, to aspire for a role in this new Age.
We are still in the early days of our relationship with The Duke of York, yet we are already seeing enormous benefits for NI Science Park Trust and it has reaffirmed to us the importance of the work we are doing in Northern Ireland to achieve our vision of having the most entrepreneurial economy across Europe by 2030.
Norman Apsley, CEO, Northern Ireland Science Park