9 - Networks, clusters and technology parks

9.2 - Participating in cluster initiatives


The business cluster concept was introduced in the 70s by Giacomo Becattini but was popularised later by Michael Porter in the 90's. The importance of the so-called "Economic Geography” was also highlighted during the same period in works carried out by Paul Krugman. Since then, the creation of clusters (cluster initiatives) has become a main focus of attention of numerous governmental programmes because they encourage the concentration of knowledge and resources in a single area. Although the policy of promoting the generation of clusters around the key companies in a region is nowadays reasonably widespread, it has still not been exploited to its full potential.

Porter defined clusters as geographic concentrations of interconnected companies, specialised suppliers, service providers and associated partners (universities, chambers of commerce, public administrations) which are all working in the same field and playing a complementary role. There are various different types of clusters: geographic, sectorial, horizontal and vertical. The ultimate objective of cluster initiatives is to increase the competitiveness of all the bodies and organisations which are involved in them and the methods which are typically used to achieve this are based on technological innovation, the improvement of processes of commercialisation of products and services, and the expansion of target markets (internationalisation).

There is extensive documentation which shows that companies which are integrated into well-consolidated clusters generally obtain better results. Therefore, integration into well-defined clusters is highly recommended and where these are non-existent, efforts should be made to develop them by cooperating with other companies and Universities and seeking the active involvement of public administrations.


Clusters in Karlsruhe (Germany)

The region is an international leader in terms of ICT-related clusters. They are part of the CLOE Programme - Clusters Linked Over Europe (see recommendation 10.3), a cooperative inter-cluster project involving eight European regions: Karlsruhe, in Germany; Linz, in Austria; Lyon, in France; Tartu, in Estonia; Värmland, in Sweden; Timisoara, in Romania; Kaliningrad, in Russia; and Nottingham, in the United Kingdom. The most important regional clusters are:

Cyberforum: a public-private organisation with over 640 members which acts as a forum for all the technology-based companies based in the region of Karlsruhe. It employs 49 experienced mentors dedicated to supporting start-ups and SMEs. Apart from the companies themselves other organisations which are involved include the KIT (the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology), the FZI (Forschungszentrum Informatik, an international leader in Living Labs) and the Fraunhofer Institute.

Mobile Region Karlsruhe: A Cluster focusing on mobility solutions which comprises more than 40 members from both the entrepreneurial and university worlds.

The car industry cluster: comprises more than 60 members in France and Germany, including research centres, SMEs and logistics centres. It focuses on the value chain of the car industry, principally in the field of engineering, with Daimler Chrysler acting is its main driving force.

Nanovalley: forms part of the German NanoMat nanotechnology network. It comprises more than 60 companies from the region, as well as 11 universities (from Germany, France and Switzerland) and several German research institutes.

The Karlsruhe Energy Forum: focuses on the energy management sector. Its membership comprises more than 60 companies and some 30 research organisations, with the KIT playing an important role, particularly via the KIT Energy Centre.

The KAIT-SI IT security cluster.

Clusters in Styria (Austria)

In 1995, the regional authorities in Styria formulated a technology strategy which focused on supporting the creation of clusters to boost the region’s economy. This was the basis of a broader policy which was successfully implemented throughout the whole of Austria following a pilot project which was developed by the AC Styria car industry cluster.

The Austrian administration finances the implementation and support structure of a cluster during its first few years. Once it has become sustainable, the management of the cluster is transferred to an institution which is directly linked to it. Initially this institution is not entirely funded by its members, although the medium to long term objective is to make it completely privately financed. At present, the strategic decisions concerning the nature and scope of clusters are defined by the regional government. The following clusters have been created in the region:

  • AC Styria: Car industry cluster.
  • BioNanonet: Nanotechnology and Microtechnology cluster.
  • Creative Industries: Creative Industry cluster.
  • Eco World Styria: Environmental cluster.
  • Timber industry cluster.
  • Human Technology: Living Sciences cluster.
  • New materials cluster.
  • Nanonet: Nanotechnology cluster.
  • Techfortaste: Food industry cluster.

 The following characteristics are common to all of them:

  • Participation of the Regional Government, through the Business Promotion Agency (SFG), local administrations, companies and research centres.
  • Support from universities and research centres in the development of activities and a policy of continuous training.
  • Common strategy for marketing and image. Meetings and information exchange events.
  • Joint vision and objectives. The cluster defines strategies in areas such as new research areas, shared projects or forms of collaboration by common agreement.
  • Support services for the management of intellectual property: patent analysis, valuation of a new Innovation, identifying partners for collaboration and project development.
  • Strategic support for all members in terms of markets, technologies, potential partners and alliances.
  • Support for financing and the process of internationalisation: organising interaction with other centres and sourcing potential subsidies for specific activities.

Clusters in Veneto (Italy)

Created using public funds, with the active involvement of companies and the four universities in the Veneto region, their success lies in the development of a strategy of shared evaluation between Universities and Companies, both of which assume a coordinated and proactive approach to achieving the common goal of establishing long-term relationships. The Nanotechnology cluster is the most successful and was set up with public support. In general, over time, companies have become increasingly aware of the importance of promoting this initiative in conjunction with the region’s universities and, as a result, the cluster is now fully operational and beginning to yield tangible results.

Cluster initiatives in France: Pôles de competitivité

The Pôle de competitivité concept originated in France, with the aim of developing sectors and areas of research which are key to enhancing competitiveness. In order to achieve this objective, it was considered essential to bring together any public or private agents who could add value and generate knowledge. A Pôle de competitivité is defined as the concentration in a specific geographical area of public or private companies, training establishments and research centres, which form a partnership to develop innovative projects. Its objectives include: the consolidation of alliances or partnerships between agents with proven and complementary expertise; the development of strategic collaborative R&D projects which can benefit from public subsidies (particularly those originating from specific inter-ministerial funds); and the promotion of a global environment which encourages innovation and interaction among all the agents involved by designing support strategies in specific areas such as training and human resources, intellectual property and private funding, international development, etc.

As of 2011 there were a total of 71 such clusters around the country and they have successfully managed to channel the benefits of promoting innovation and collaboration between Universities and Companies. A good example is Nord-Pas de Calais. Another key aspect to their success is that they offer personalised support which is adapted to the real needs of businesses. They have also succeeded in changing the approach and mentality of universities towards the concept of collaboration, by establishing the principle that participating in competitive clusters offers them an interesting source of finance. Each cluster operates as an independent entity although they may seek involvement in complementary projects and work in partnership with others. Similarly, a project can receive support from two different clusters. An example of this is the DECARTE project (http://www.polemaud.com/actualites-pole-competitivite/le-projet-decarte-prime.html).  

Implementation process

Agents required for implementation

Creating clusters such as those described above requires the direct involvement of Government, companies and research institutes.

View explanatory caption


  1. http://www.ae-network.de - Automotive Engineering Network.
  2. http://www.clusterforum.org - Clusted Linked Over Europe.
  3. http://www.cyberforum.de
  4. http://www.eco.at/cms/223/English/ - Eco World Styria.
  5. http://www.energieforum-karlsruhe.de/ - Energy Forum Karlsruhe.
  6. http://www.mobileskarlsruhe.de - Mobile Region Karlsruhe.
  7. http://www.nanomat.de - Nanomat, ein überregionales NETZWERK für Materialien der Nanotechnologie.
  8. http://www.venetonanotech.it/it/- Veneto Nanotech, Nanotechnology applied to materials.
  9. www.competitivite.gouv.fr