NCA – helping clusters to harness the potential of new technologies and services

The National Cluster Association (NCA) brings together a range of organizations – clusters, innovation infrastructure specialists, universities, regional institutions and consultants. All NCA members share a common goal: to support the establishment and development of clusters and to promote collaborative efforts on both the national and international levels. The NCA is a partner in the CluStrat project, an initiative that aims to create a new concept for cluster support, helping clusters to harness the potential of new technologies and innovative services to provide solutions to the most pressing needs of today’s society.

The CluStrat project – co-funded via the Operational Programme Transnational Cooperation (Central Europe) – will be launched this December at a conference in Stuttgart presided over by Baden-Württemberg’s Minister for Finance and Economic Affairs. The Czech Republic will be represented by the NCA and the Business Development Agency of the Karlovy Vary Region. The project has a total budget of almost 3.8 million € and brings together 19 partners from 8 different countries. It was first conceived as a response to a call for strategic projects to implement seven pre-defined concepts, announced in July 2010. The first of these seven concepts was entitled ‘Boosting innovation through new cluster concepts in support of emerging issues and cross-sectoral themes’. That is the full title of the CluStrat project, which will run for three years and involves a range of activities enabling clusters to harness their competitive advantage in order to boost their performance by creating new national and regional concepts.

One of the activities within CluStrat involves mapping emerging technologies and new innovative services that respond to current social and economic needs. Key challenges include addressing the issues of an ageing population, ensuring sustainable growth in emerging sectors, meeting the need for interdisciplinary research solutions, facilitating technology transfer across sectors, and spotting regional innovation ‘hotbeds’ with the potential for synergic cross-fertilization between traditional sector clusters and a broad range of new sectors – including social services, health and sport, housing, the food and drink industry, sustainable materials, nanotechnologies, green technologies, logistics, transport and more. The scope of the CluStrat project extends far beyond the boundaries laid down by current Czech cluster policy in terms of the range of sectors that can be supported via structural funding. However, it is essential that new technologies and services are embraced by clusters cutting across all sectors – this is a key step towards boosting the competitiveness of companies, clusters, and regions as a whole. Inspirational examples include the improvement of service quality within the tourism sector by harnessing the potential of the creative industries and IT, or the use of nanofibres in new surface treatments to enhance the properties of traditional products.

All around the world, solutions such as these have been successfully implemented via clusters – associations of cooperating companies, universities and research organizations supported by public institutions. Dr Pavla Břusková, President of the NCA, explains: “The key focus in Europe nowadays is on cluster excellence – and this requires networks of highly specialized clusters supported by a professional management structure. To have high-quality clusters, you need to have high-quality cluster policy – which must include funding for clusters and training for cluster managers, enabling them to maximize synergic potential and move from local commercial objectives to global goals. That is a very complex process, so we are using the CluStrat project to address ‘cross-cutting themes’ of relevance to clusters and innovations – themes such as internationalization, gender and diversity in innovation processes, and the effect of the knowledge economy on research, markets and business.”

The main methodological tool used within the CluStrat project is mutual dialogue in the form of national forums, specialized seminars and themed workshops. At these events, partners will discuss the results of the mapping process and draft recommendations for concepts and policy on the national level. This will provide a much-needed boost to Czech cluster policy: at present, only manufacturing and ICT clusters can receive state funding, and there is not enough focus on training and human resources development – essential components in such a complex and demanding area of activity. Project partners will meet at transnational forums and project meetings. At the end of the project period, an action plan will be drawn up and a joint strategy will be created to address the key issue: How can the new cluster concept best be supported and promoted? The CluStrat project will also include practical pilot programmes to test the effectiveness of the new systems in real conditions by implementing them in innovative sectors.

The National Cluster Association provides its members with the latest information from European Commission initiatives regarding new developments in cluster policy, new challenges and new priorities. The NCA works closely alongside relevant national institutions, facilitates new cluster initiatives in the Czech regions, helps clusters to create networks of international links and promote their activities, and works to involve Czech clusters in the European Cluster Excellence Initiative.