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Cluster managers shared their experiences in making the cross-sectorial collaborations work

Clusters in Europe are increasingly becoming a very relevant and ubiquitous form of organizing the involvement of SMEs in internationalization and cross-sectorial activities helping to create new business opportunities across the different regions within the EU and beyond. It is, generally speaking, a bottom-up process which connects in a cost-effective way individual capabilities of firms within a highly-specialized business and innovation ecosystem on the regional level to support the new product development as well as joint marketing and sales functions.

Clusterization can emerge from below (through the initiative of the companies sharing or even pooling their resources) and from above (as part of the sectorial policies driven by large enterprises in vertical markets). Where the challenges emerge for the bottom-up cluster organizations is when a collaboration between different clusters and/or business intermediaries is sought to involve different sectors. On one hand, the clusters are keen to expand their reach to other sectors in order to find new application markets, yet, one the other, each is keen on keeping its competitive advantages through a higher-level of specialization which gave rise to the cluster in the first place without compromising on the focus on the current niche. The switching costs between sectors are prohibitively high as they require not only additional resources to adapt the products and operations but, more importantly, require more expert knowledge.

In order to share some of the experiences from managing cross-sectorial cluster initiatives a panel was put together as part of the EU Industry Days outreach activities. The panel took place at the seminar “European SME clusters in the global value chains: the experience from the cluster cooperation partnerships in high-tech and health tech” which was held on 5 February at the Permanent Representation of the Republic of Lithuania to the EU. The main objective of the panel was to discuss how clusters and cluster partnerships and/or network organizations can support the development of new global value chains, helping the European high-tech companies in general and the SMEs operating in the field of medical technologies in particular to reach out to potential new customers in the third countries. Five big questions have been raised by the cluster policy makers to the cluster coordinators which would be addressed during the individual presentations and the panel discussions.

  • Can the cluster partnerships (e.g. INNOSUP value chains or COSME supported cluster partnerships) serve as the springboards for facilitating and empowering SMEs to become global leaders in their niche and/or creating new ventures for global markets?
  • Can the products based on medical technologies be co-developed in cooperation with companies across different cluster organizations?
  • How the IPR can be managed in the cluster partnerships in alliance with the counterparts from the non-EU countries (especially those where IPR is most frequently jeopardized)?
  • What is missing in EU support to help cluster SMEs to scale up, e.g. intra-EU B2B and Business-to-technology centers matchmaking events, more INNOSUP new value-chains grants but targeting the full cycle of innovation.
  • How to make the knowledge and skills base of the European RTOs more accessible to the high-tech SMEs developing and offering the products in the health tech application markets? 

The speakers included Alberto Baldi, director of bioPmed cluster (Turin, Italy), the coordinator of ESCP MAGIA, Emilie Romeo (Lyon, France), a project manager from Lyonbiopole, a partner in the ESCP MAGIA, Kathrine Myhre (Oslo, Norway), CEO of Norway Health Tech, Linas Eriksonas (Vilnius, Lithuania), the coordinator of ESCP LASER-Go Global, Marc Pattinson, the ECCP project coordinator, Roi Villar (Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain) Head of Internationalization at Biocat, Waqar Ahmed (Oslo, Norway), the coordinator of INNOSUP projects INNOLABS and CROSS4HEALTH. The panel was moderated by Anaïs Le Corvec, Network Manager for the Council of European BioRegions.

A keynote presentation on the EU cluster policy and the funding instruments was delivered by Dr Anna Sobczak, Policy Officer for clusters and emerging industries in the context of smart specialisation in industrial modernisation at DG GROWTH of the European Commission. In her presentation, Dr Sobczak focused not only on the ongoing cluster initiatives dedicated to challenging innovation to European SMEs via cross-sectoral, cross-regional and international cooperation but also she explained what to expect from the future European Joint Cluster Initiatives post-2020.

In response to the posed questions, the participations shared their practices and experiences gained by running individual cluster collaboration initiatives. Their contributions and the follow-up discussion yielded three major take-away messages:

1) Clusters are the effective form of organizing the SMEs into the ecosystems defined according to the specific capabilities available within the region where clusters are situated;

2) Public intervention through the support of clusterization is necessary to leverage the SMEs and connect them with the large companies in the vertical markets; 

3) Involvement of RTOs in the clusters increases the capacity of the SMEs to innovate and further specialize to sustain their competitive advantages.

The overall discussion was concluded by emphasizing the need to increase the cross-sectorial collaboration between clusters by creating incentives for SMEs to explore new business opportunities in vertical markets, while using the cluster organizations as disruptors for innovation in creating new business opportunities in the high-growth markets.

 

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