Life Sciences – nurturing a new kind of property management

June 2020

Managing Partner Angus White reflects on what the life sciences sector has taught him since Naylors Gavin Black’s appointment on The Biosphere.

Stepping into the world of life sciences as a property professional has proved to be a very interesting and exciting challenge for my team, and our experience tells us that the wider property sector has much to learn from this emerging field.

Since the launch of The Biosphere at Newcastle Helix in July 2019, our role as managing and leasing agent has helped the building reach 50% occupancy within 9 months, and is expected to exceed 60% this summer.  This level of occupation is considerably ahead of expectations and represents a very encouraging start in the development of a recognised life sciences cluster in Newcastle.

The Biosphere’s development follows close collaboration between Newcastle Council and Newcastle University. The University continues to successfully nurture numerous commercial ventures, which previously had little in the way of growing room, effectively filling the university’s limited incubator space and potentially stunting growth.

As managing agent, we have witnessed first-hand how life science occupiers view the property they occupy as an important part of the infrastructure required for their business to function effectively. What is required is essentially a menu of wider business support and advisory services, far removed from the concept of just simple bricks and mortar.

As property professionals, once we embrace this different viewpoint we can transition very quickly from the traditional landlord and tenant relationship to one that assists in a more meaningful way, focusing on our customers’ needs to help facilitate their growth and prosperity, as well as managing the day-to-day running of the property they occupy.

For example, I am currently in discussions around the sourcing of capital to help businesses in The Biosphere grow. This includes initiatives such as the Northern Accelerator Project and the four combined North East Universities collaborating to provide support for spin-out businesses.

We are also engaged in discussions with sector specialists to provide the occupiers with advice on business plans, legal support, HR and marketing. Whilst all of this is very sector specific, it does challenge the conventional thinking of the role of a managing agent and equally what it is that an occupier really wants and needs when taking space in a building.

Turning back to conventional commercial property, the office sector has seen some dramatic changes in recent years with the growth of co-working operators, such as WeWork, showing a new way to serve the needs of modern office users with greater flexibility and innovation.

The effects of the Covid-19 pandemic will now expedite changes in the office sector so that conventional office buildings can better accommodate the evolving needs of occupiers. Many people have adapted well to home working, and therefore the need to be office-based is going to come under increasing scrutiny, as occupiers look for greater flexibility and adaptability.

How we use the workplace is going to change in the months ahead. Landlords need to take a proactive approach and work closely with their managing agent to start reviewing these issues now, addressing the needs of the occupier is the first step on this path.

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