As the Welsh Government attracts life science firm ReNeuron to Cardiff, can it kickstart the capital?

If universities are looking for ways to expand their surrounding tech clusters, then the recent deal to lure life sciences firm ReNeuron to Wales is a good place to start.

Through its investment vehicle, the £100m ($150m) Wales Life Sciences Fund, the Welsh Government chipped in £13.8m of a £33m package alongside venture firms Investco and Abingworth which will see ReNeuron relocate from London’s commuter belt to Cardiff.

The investment is very much a two-way street. The cash injection will allow ReNeuron to bring its stem cell products to market, amongst them being a treatment for stroke which is the first in the world to be approved for clinical trials. Alongside the monetary value of the investment, ReNeuron’s move will open the doors to collaboration with Cardiff University, a leading centre for steam cell and neuroscience research in the UK.

It will also allow ReNeuron to take a commanding presence as Wales rolls out its £50m Sêr Cymru research programme, designed to attract the talent and businesses required to turn South Wales into a thriving innovation hub for life sciences, advanced engineering, and clean tech.

There is also no shortage in the graduate pool in the area, with not only Cardiff, but Cardiff Metropolitan University and the newly-formed University of South Wales, created out of a merger of Glamorgan and Newport universities, operating in the city, and Bristol, Bath, and Swansea a short train ride away.

In return, Wales acquires one of the building blocks essentially to creating a thriving tech hub. Having leading companies either born out of the focal university or attracted to the area can act like a beacon to other firms and investors that this is a good area to set up camp. It also ensures that graduates can find work in the area, as is the case with ReNeuron as it plans to nearly treble its workforce as it makes the move over the next two years.

It marks the start of a bold direction for the South Wales area, which has declined since the loss of the mining industry and has been hit by high unemployment and a brain drain of both graduates and potential Welsh graduates leaving the area as Wales and its universities struggle to endure the UK’s prolonged economic stagnation.

But through creating an innovation centre based around Cardiff, Wales could well see its graduates stay and breathe new life into the area, bringing with it jobs, investment, and higher numbers of students. How successful Wales’ Sêr Cymru initiative is now depends on what else it can attract to the capital, but ReNeuron is far from a bad start.