Networking ICT Clusters in Europe / Nice
During recent years clusters have attracted more and more attention from policymakers in their quest to improve regional competitiveness. Clusters are predominately a market-driven phenomenon. While most successful clusters emanate as a result of self-organised bottom-up processes, market forces or simply by chance, others are inspired and mainly financed through national and regional cluster programmes. In this respect, cluster initiatives aim at activating synergetic potential by initiating self-organisation. Today, cluster and cluster policies stand for efficient, self-organised, spatially rooted economic processes and for a competitive model which goes beyond cost-cutting and mass production. Clusters have become a key element in tackling the challenges of knowledge society and globalisation in Europe. Although clusters are not new phenomena, their advantages for boosting countries' and regions' competitiveness has been put under the spotlight and influenced policy thinking.
Following this notion NICE – Networking ICT Cluster in Europe aimed at strengthening the European ICT sector by facilitating the growth of networking clusters, sourcing the skills and experience of successful businesses to guide the creation of new jobs and help develop innovative business ideas.
According to the project rational the project addressed likewise the improvement of cluster management practices and networking ICT SMEs. Building on the experiences gained from the project, as well as from regional, national and EU cluster policies and through the exchange within Europe INNOVA network policy recommendations were formulated to improve future cluster policies.
The project consortium was comprised of 11 partners from 5 countries (Germany, Finland, Czech Republic, Switzerland and Turkey) and embraced cluster management organizations, regional development agencies, research organizations, ICT companies and a science park.
With regard to clusters and cluster management the outcomes of NICE illustrate that excellence is not only a key to further strengthening competitiveness in the EU, but is also crucial to unfold the full potential of clustering. In this regard, transnational cluster co-operation fertilises learning processes and thereby furthers efficient and professional cluster management. The lessons learnt can be summarised as follows:
- It is people and their interactions not the underlying concept which make a difference in cluster performance.
- Striving for excellence requires the adoption of more professional approaches in terms of strategic orientation and monitoring.
- Networking ICT clusters across Europe and cross-clustering are crucial for the future competitiveness of the sector.
- A solid, truthfully and open atmosphere opens new for trans-national cluster and entrepreneurial cooperation and, thus strengthens clusters' competitiveness.
Another major effort of the project was to support cooperation between ICT companies across Europe by bringing together industry-leading actors and small and medium-sized companies to network, collaborate, exchange experience and expertise, learn from each other and exploit synergies.
In the framework of NICE business matchmaking has proven to be a successful instrument in supporting SMEs internationalisation efforts by simplifying entrepreneurs' access to information about new business opportunities. Considering different business cultures and risk taking attitudes, one had to come up with a highly attractive program both, in terms of contents and social activities. Following this notion the workshop programmes combined company/solution presentations, pre-arranged one-on-one meetings allowing qualified time with preferred partners, virtual matchmaking and site visits to highly attractive companies.
To the point
- Five regional cluster studies covering Ankara, Berne, Ostrava, Paderborn and Tampere were conducted. They provide insight in the regional ICT sector, the clusters' evolution and structure as well as regional and national cluster policies. The results were consolidated in a comparative cluster study.
- Three cluster management workshops which dealt with the topics “Evaluation & Monitoring”, “Supporting SMEs to go global” and “Business-University-Government Collaboration” took place and attracted more than 100 participants.
- The applicability of the balanced scorecard as instrument for strategic cluster management was successful tested with IT Cluster Ostrava, Czech Republic.
- Five international business matchmaking events attracted more than 190 SMEs. Approximately 50 pre-arranged entrepreneurial one-2-one meetings took place and some 15 of which have been or are in process of joint business. The cooperation activities range from informal exchange and joint projects to opening new branches.
- The NICE findings were consolidated in a concise set of policy recommendations addressing EU, national and regional policymaker as well as cluster management organisations.
The following statements illustrate the success of the applied methods and concepts of the project:
“Based on the belief that clusters create manifold benefits for SMEs we see ourselves as 'clusterpreneur' that actively promotes the cluster and the idea behind it.”
(Timo Väliharju, CEO, Mediamaisteri Group, Tampere, Finland)
“The exchange between Western and Eastern European countries was very successful and beneficiary with regard to future business activities.”
(Josua Regez, CEO, Isolution AG, Berne, Switzerland)
“The reality has overcome my expectations! Through NICE we got the opportunity to meets these firms personally and to launch our co-operation.”
(Radek Dybal, Sales Director, 3Dsoft, Ostrava, Czech Republic)
“The matchmaking events full paid off only by the pre-arranged one-to-one meetings.”
(Manfred Faulhaber, CEO, StageX, Paderborn, Germany)
“Although there are many events a company can join to seek future business opportunities and to widen its prospects, the NICE workshop has been a very beneficial event not only for the relevance of the business contacts, but also the business-friendly atmosphere set up by the NICE project partners.”
(M. Ali Turker, CEO, Sebit LLC., Ankara, Turkey)
In conclusion, clusters are important drivers of innovation and contribute to the competitiveness and sustainable development of European industry and services, and boost the economic development of EU regions. However, to make clusters a viable instrument for regional development we do not need more, but better cluster policies. These policies need to take into account regional distinctions and provide leeway for alternative strategies to fully unfold the competitiveness of regions and companies through improved innovation capacities. Regarding the way ahead we identified three main challenges:
1. A European Cluster Policy Framework
To further improve cluster policies in Europe which aims at a higher level of efficiency, policy dialogue as well as policy design and implementation, need to be intensified. A joint European cluster policy framework, which combines growth and cohesion objectives, takes into account regional distinctions and promotes a clear division of labour between different policy levels could serve as a reliable frame of reference for future cluster policy design and implementation.
As has been outlined in this report, there is not a general lack of clusters in Europe but there is a lack of globally competitive that is, excellent clusters. Aiming at “world-class” clusters requires quality criteria in relation to interactions, scope and impact, and standardisation in cluster management. Both, standardisation and quality criteria require further improvement.
Overall, the significant efforts undertaken by the Commission with initiatives such as Europe INNOVA and Pro INNO Europe have resulted in good progress in promoting clusters' trans-national co-operation and to awareness rising in less advanced cluster regions. In order to prevent excessive investments or duplication of cluster management practice and instruments, a better valorisation of the insights gained and the tools developed is required. This calls for a European information service on clusters which not only captures clusters and cluster organisation, but also business opportunities related to clustering and international networking. Regional decision makers should not try to imitate other regions, but should combine the information available from such platforms with existing, cumulated cluster know-how in the region, in order to create new possibilities for advanced cluster concepts.
As the experiences in NICE and other Europe INNOVA projects have show, commitment and enthusiasm of the partners involved provided opportunities to develop common initiatives, and to contribute to the opening of new routes for trans-national cluster co-operation and entrepreneurial networking. Addressing the aforementioned challenges will further this positive development. This requires however, an acceptance of global thinking by policymakers, cluster managers and entrepreneurs.