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Clusters and Partnerships for New Global Value Chains

Bianca Dragomir, European Cluster Manager of the Year 2016 held the keynote during the workshop on clusters and partnerships for stronger EU value chains moderated by Marc Lemaître, Director-General, Directorate General for Regional and Urban Policy of the European Commission during the EU Industry Day on 23 February 2018:

„The European industry imagines a future mastering digitisation and decarbonisation. Achieving  a ‘well below 2C’ Paris Agreement target requires a speed of decarbonisation six times faster than anything Europe has achieved so far.  Therefore, more impact, more quickly, is needed to accelerate this transformation. I am passionately convinced that only systemic innovation is capable to trigger the exponential change we need  across all European regions and sectors.

Clusters play a crucial role in this context.  They offer solutions to test our ways into the future, the possibility of experimentation and of scaling up new innovations. Clusters are brokers of innovation, impact muliplyers and the ideal tools for regions to accelerate their transition. Clusters are the spark plugs of Europe’s industrial modernisation!

A year ago, I was named European Cluster Manager of the Year for the turnaround of Avaesen Cluster - The Valencian Region Renewable Energy Cluster - which is a regional cluster encompassing 120 stakeholders in the cleantech industry. At AVAESEN we managed to create an open, interconnected, multicollaborative, cross-sectoral and financially self-sustaining cluster model.  A regional cluster which managed to unlock a market of 1.5 bn euro cleantech business opportunities for SMEs, scalle up 275 start-ups and SMEs not only in the Valencian Region but in 12 European regions, and bridge the internationalisation of more than 100 SMEs to the global market.

In a time in which the domestic renewable energy market was gridlocked in Spain, this cluster has seen how the sector and its entire value chain has pushed its boundaries to other markets, like Japan, for example.

Vice-President Katainen referred yesterday to the EU-Japan trade agreement. The first foreign company to build a photovoltaic plant in Japan is actually a European SME, a Valencian SME member of our cluster. This happened as a result of AVAESEN Cluster participating in the European Cluster Mission to Japan a few years ago. In their slipstream, 6 other Valencian SMEs followed and have now established a branch office there. This is a proof of European SMEs getting traction and access to new value chains, even in very competitive, high-tech mature markets as the Japanese one.

Over the past year since I’ve been awarded as European Cluster Manager of the Year, I’ve had some excellent - personal and targeted – inspiring discussions with almost a hundred cluster managers regarding the success formula for creating open, innovation-driven clusters for a renewed industry in Europe. And I can now say that we, clusters, are able and ready to lead the industrial modernization in Europe!

Doing this is certainly not rocket science. But doing this at the speed and with the focus Europe needs, requires some essential keys. Some of these were given and co-created by more than 300 experts last November at the Grow Your Region European Conference in Valencia.

First, we need to branch out more with cross-sectoral collaboration. Alllow me to convey an example in this context. A year ago, AVAESEN launched the Valencian smart cities innovation ecosystem (www.thinksmartcity.es). 127  corporates, cities, banks, investors, regional agencies, research institutes, and now the citizens themselves, are co-creating the cities of the future, by developing value projects which integrate energy, water, ICT, waste, mobility and security. The first 5 projects are being executed as we speak. 

A second essential key is the Interregional collaboration through clusters. This is vital for supporting innovation, industrial modernization and the scaling up of SMEs.

In my view, the magic starts when we ‘marry’ cross-sectoral and interregional collaboration, as new value chains are being created. An example is the European Strategic Cluster Partnership: Energy in Water in which AVAESEN Cluster together with other 7 EU clusters have supported 180 SMEs in the energy-water nexus. You can find them online on our database www.energyinwater.eu. We are now taking this success to the next level by linking up with textile and plastics clusters, for whose competitiveness,  energy and water efficiency are decisive. We even push this one level further by connecting bioplastics made from waste water by Dutch SMEs and introducing these as a feedstock in the Valencian plastics industry. In this way, new global value chains are being created, SMEs punch above their weight and clusters do what their are best at, namely, accelerate smart investments to market.

We need more of these. Smart specialisation strategies guide more than 120 billion euros of European Structural and Investment Funds in regions to boost research and innovation. Clusters are the right tools to maximise their impact and unlock interregional collaboration.

The big challenge, remains in my view, to hit every single corner of Europe with excellence. Because ‘Europe needs to breath with both its Estern and Wastern lungs; otherwise it will stuggle for air’, as President Junker mentioned in the opening of last year’s European Industry Day.

And allow me to convey another example in this sense. AVAESEN, although a regional cluster, launched the first cleantech accelerator in Spain, in a systemic concentrated effort of the business, regional government, university, cities, and the investment community. Based on this success, together with the EIT Climate-KIC, we expanded this formula across 12 European regions from Romania, Bulgaria, Portugal, Italy, Hungary. 275 startups have been supported to reach the market, having generated hundreds of green jobs. So, regional clusters can generate growth even beyond their boundaries. They can invent the future within their region and leverage impact outside of it.

Moreover, I am pleased to have collaborated in this past year with EIT Climate-KIC to expand its climate innovation clusters in Central and Eastern Europe. And I am happy to see that this is the first KIC to launch a dedicated programme on clusters. I look forward to other KICs to follow their model.

It’s inspiring to see COSME, INTEREG, H2020 and now the EIT acknowledging clusters as key to unlock breakthrough innovation and SME across Europe. Some of our emerging tech SMEs are already game changers. For example, AEROX start-up, which developed an innovative coating system for wind power turbine blades that reduces the blade’s maintenence cost and increases its efficiency to a 30%. The team is taking their business to the next level now through collaboration with big industrial players like Vestas.

So, to affect rapid change in Europe, we definitely need champions. Champions seeking alternative ways of being and growing; champions building new repeatable, scalable business models; and being inspiration to others.

We also need sound partnerships, like the European Strategic Cluster Partnerships or like the European Battery Alliance, which was launched earlier this week by Commissioner Sefcovic.

We need more dedicated support. We need European bodies and programmes ‘clustering’ their efforts in support of European clusters, especially post 2020. We need new, agile and cutting edge instruments if we really want to reinvent sectors. We need mission-oriented innovation policies with clusters at the heart, as key drivers of growth.

Europe’s industry is constantly seeking its identity. And we need innovation ecosystems that don’t suffer by fear, partnering shamelessly, showing by doing, and being the change.

We need clusters in the driver’s seat of the industrial modernization. Thank you.”

Bianca Dragomir 

bdragomir@avaesen.es

You can also watch the video here (starting at minute 26:00)

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