Daniel Gonzalez, Director General of Smart City Cluster in Spain, notes that: “Clusters can play a huge role in supporting economic ecosystems by providing knowledge and support, as well as by connecting members – and that can save businesses.”
According to Gonzalez, successful clusters need a diverse range of players, from big companies to start-ups that are agile and quick to innovate.
“You also need research in the mix, whether that’s from a company or a university, and contact with policymaking. Whether or not they are members of the cluster, you need public administration, because at some point you will rely on a regulated environment. You need to be aligned with the authorities and with the public administration because there will be public funding available, which connects to the next ingredient, which is financing. You need funds, or banks, or investors who are willing to put money into projects to move them forward.”
Clusters need to be financially sustainable. Gonzalez believes that this can best be achieved through inclusivity: “We (Smart City Cluster) have learnt how to make all of our products, services and projects inclusive, which has helped us to design cities that are more open to everyone. I think it's crucial to take that into consideration when we design or manage our cluster policies.”
Christian Ketels believes that it may be time to adapt the traditional approach of clusters focusing on activities, individuals and firms that are already performing quite well: “To focus more on sustainability and inclusion, we need to rethink the selection of clusters we work with. Perhaps we need to bring in more tourism and food processing, not just biotech and events business services.
“Within the clusters we need to recognise that it's not just about making the top performers better, where the returns might be the highest, but about helping everyone to improve their performance. Then you can fully leverage the potential of your location. Many challenges we face in terms of social economy or environmental transition require systemic solutions, which clusters are well placed to do, because those solutions often require more than one company or one technology.”