What the “connected clusters’ model can tell us about collaboration and innovation.
SSN accompanied the ECCI and Climate KIC ConnectedClusters project on a recent trip to the Provadis School of International Management and Technology in Frankfurt, Germany. Connected Clusters is an alliance of five cities committed to sharing, replicating and scaling what works when developing climate innovation ecosystems for delivering effective climate action. Our interest was in the replicating and scaling bit and what we could learn for Scotland’s public sector. SSN’s Catherine Pearce heard from cluster partners about what makes a cluster model successful and how to innovate in the face of adversity.
The discussion, led by Bianca Dragomir, Director of Avaesen, and European Cluster Manager of the Year, 2016-2018, covered her experience reinventing the Avaesen cluster. In 2013, the cluster was at a crossroads and in the middle of the global financial crisis. With a sudden shift in Spanish renewable energy politics and the regional government having abruptly stopped funding to clusters, AVAESEN and its members were struggling to survive.
The Avaesen Cluster reinvented itself in 3 years, by developing a more resilient cluster business model and a radically new cluster identity.
From cluster as usual to cluster of change
The first step was turning the AVAESEN cluster organisation into a real business generator for its members. Shifting from a public-private subsidy-oriented cluster to a financially self-sustaining service provider.
Next was placing entrepreneurship at the DNA of the cluster. To rebuild an innovation-driven cleantech sector, AVAESEN launched the first cleantech accelerator in Spain and since then has been leading partner of ClimateLaunchpad, the world’s largest green business idea competition.
The third step was branching out. Diversifing the portfolio of the energy cluster members by tapping into other cleantech domains such as water, ICT or industrial processes, working with different industries and also with city councils, tech centres and private funders.
Finally, AVAESEN worked on unlocking the clean energy domestic market in which energy self-consumption was penalized, by working closely with the Regional Government and with other local and national clusters. Through every stage maintaining aligned interests was important. This ensures ownership by all, helps build an agile and responsive structure, and allows delegation of roles.
Creating an innovation ecosystem
It became a true ‘innovation ecosystem’ encompassing not only businesses, but also academia, research, government, investors, entrepreneurs and the civil society. It started as the voice of the sector and it turned into both the voice and the hands of it. What began as an inward-looking local organisation became an open, outward-facing, multi-collaborative, cross-sectorial, entrepreneurship-driven, innovation hotspot where big, small, public and private stakeholders connect and where breakthrough innovation happens.
This cluster seems to be a standing proof of frugal innovation applied to and by a cluster organisation which created an entire ecosystem of mutual success for a plurality of stakeholders, within and beyond its physical, sectorial or membership boundaries.
Lessons to share
Clusters are huge impact multipliers. A cluster not only creates the place and space to experiment and test ways into the future, but is also an ideal setting to scale innovation and export impact beyond itself. Participants need to be ambitious and bold in order drive change more effectively.
All clusters should dare to deliberately challenge and reshape their own cluster formula to generate more impact, ‘defrost’ themselves from the subsidy need and multiply their impact. There’s lots to consider for Scotland’s public sector as it tackles the need to deliver on climate change targets while managing reduced resource and budget. Partnerships and collaboration are clearly key. As is maximising impact.
Regional partnerships – accelerating action
Our event on 13 December will shine a spotlight on the key role of the public sector in using regional partnerships to scale up action, trigger significant investment and stimulate inclusive low carbon, climate resilient growth across Scotland. Find out more about our event here.
Read Andy Kerr’s blog on ECCI’s Connected Cluster project here.