with Terje Handeland and Cecilie Melbye, Managing Director, Ipark
What do you believe that this particular R&D cluster has to offer to Norway and to the international oil and gas industry?
Terje Handeland (TH): In a phrase: interesting technologies and interesting companies. Many of the large organizations from Schlumberger and Baker Hughes to Halliburton are showing increasing levels of interest in Ipark as an incubator for new technologies being developed by innovative small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs). In essence these larger service companies are looking to buy SMEs to acquire creative new solutions for the oil and gas industry.
One example I would highlight is a technology called Swellpacker which was recently acquired by Halliburton. It came up with a solution for separating layers of a reservoir using a type of rubber which expands in contact with oil. This technology can be used to divide the zones of a reservoir between those with too much water content and those which are better for oil production.
Swellpacker has many employees based in Stavanger but they were not capable of taking their technology to the world markets without assistance. Organic growth was simply too slow and complicated. This is where Ipark’s function as an incubator and a vector for these companies into global markets is really at play.
After around 20 years of operation, Ipark is now a recognized center for innovation. Whilst Norway is fairly good at providing startup companies with funds it is not enough to cover all the startups which do have potential. This means that technologies can die out and companies give up on their projects with technology experts switching careers as a result. Ipark is there to bridge that gap between the idea phase and the commercial phase by providing consultation and often a means to commercialize their idea.
In addition to this role of helping startups we work hard to also attract large companies to establish their research departments physically in the park and create partnerships with Stavanger university and the other companies here. Therefore Ipark stands on two main business pillars.
Cecilie Melbye (CM): The overall idea and mission is to facilitate clustering. Today, Ipark mainly consists of 6 large environments (food and nutrition, energy and environment, IT/ICT, health, geoscience and the public support system) and approximately 40% of our 130 tennants are directly related to the oil and gas sector.
NODE specializes in offshore drilling and engineering, NCE Subsea focuses on subsea engineering, what is the central focus for the members of Ipark?
TH: Our members are mainly looking at drilling and well technology as well as enhanced oil recovery. Within Norway, Ipark has a good grip on well technology. NODE in Kristiansand takes care of drilling activity on the drill floor, whereas here we focus more on down hole technology and chemical injection for EOR. Up in Bergen, they take care of the subsea environment, focusing on what to install on the sea bottom. Therefore on the one hand the roles of these clusters are reasonably distinct and there is good collaboration between these clusters. On the other hand, there is a degree competition between these other clusters and Stavanger which is known as the oil capital. There are companies with offices in both Stavanger and Kristiansand but here we speak to them in the dialect of Stavanger and view them as based here.
How do you deal with the competition between companies inside the cluster?
It is important to begin by trying to identify new technologies which the whole industry would benefit from. It may be that not all of our members have something to contribute to a new technology so there is an amount of self selection and for the companies that do develop this technology, they usually take a very practical approach in being able to discuss ideas without focusing on the competitive elements. Mr. Sigmundstad of the Accelerator Program based in Ipark says that the same level of collaboration could not be achieved in other centers like Aberdeen for example. At Ipark we try to capitalize on this strength.
CM: Naturally companies want to protect their intellectual property. Interaction and dialogue does not conflict with that. On the contrary, it often reveals non-sensitive processes and tools that could be more cost efficient to share rather than everyone making their own investment in the same equipment.
The R&D environment is becoming increasingly competitive globally. How will Ipark stay ahead?
TH: One of the key elements in staying competitive is maintaining a strong link with students and building a professional network for their development. Encouraging this grass roots participation in innovation not only leads to the spreading of ideas and the growth of innovative talent but leads directly to the expansion of the Ipark as students will often remember where they studied and want to establish a business there.
Within the professional network established at Ipark, Petrad is a very important element. This organization brings in politicians and oil and gas experts from around the world to give a global perspective on oil and gas development thereby improving the competitive knowledge of our members.
However, it is not just about keeping Ipark competitive but doing the same for Norway. One of the main challenges for the country so far has been managing the distribution of government research grants. Strong competition between various university towns has led to inequities in distribution. More recently our research clusters and universities are starting to work more together than in competition with each other. One recent milestone is the collaboration which has openned up between Sintef, Trondheim University, Stavanger University and the International Research Institute of Stavanger.
Regarding the physical facilities, what is there to attract international players to establish their research divisions in Ipark?
CM:Right next door to Ipark you find the Ullrigg. Ullrigg is the world’s most complete testing site for drilling and well activities. These days, test facilities surrounding Ullrigg are to be built and leased, providing the tenants the possibility of sharing established infrastructure, obtaining synergies and the participation in an academic environment. We believe that the timing of this initiative is right as there is an increasing trend towards more testing being carried out onshore rather than offshore in order to save both time, money and the environment. Weatherford is the first company to have established itself here but we expect many more will come.
Ipark also works as a great meeting place for the industry. We have meeting rooms and conference centers as common facilities for our tenants but also available for external companies.
In a physical cluster it is much easier to knock on a neighbor’s door having met them informally in the canteen and discuss new ideas. Having a physical presence in Ipark lowers the threshold for collaboration. I believe the physical facilities bring a lot to generating new successes in innovation.
Ultimately, Ipark offers differentiated pricing for renting office premises making it possible for smaller and new businesses to establish themselves here just as easily as larger ones.
TH: Many research students are engaging in projects with the companies of Ipark which serves to bridge the gap, brining research closer to the commercial end of innovation. The Ipark is also an open environment for those companies seeking partners and many do find other complementary companies and establish collaboration.
At Ipark we also have the incubator program for SMEs. In this program our staff follow various companies and act as consultants in their development. We arrange meetings for these companies with potential investors: oil companies, service companies and specific funds. We therefore take an active part in developing start-up companies. Once their period in the incubator finishes some of these companies remain in the regular offices of Ipark.
Innovation Norway is also stationed in Ipark and this is the only cluster in Norway where this organization sits in amongst the companies of a cluster. In terms of shaping the overall research direction of the cluster, this has clear benefits to the flow of information.
What would be your ambitions for the next 10 years?
CM: We are aiming to double the park over the next 10 years. Next year it will be 20 years since the first steps of developing the Ipark concept was made. Over that time we have seen an accelerating development which we believe will continue in the years to come.
TH: In terms of people we have grown three-fold from 300 people in 1995 to 900 today.
CM: My motivation is to watch clusters establish and grow. Putting businesses together creates synergies, mergers new opportunities is very exciting from a developer’s perspective.
TH: I am inspired by the growth of projects and seeing individuals and businesses develop. It is about turning ideas into reality. Only around 20 percent of businesses succeed but the ones which do provide me with a lot of motivation to expand this project. As does seeing students come and become excited about these startups – inspiring them to start their own companies.