Within the framework of the INSMEAcademy, the session held on the 17th of April was dedicated to clusters and SMEs. Insights on the topic were shared by an expert in the field, Mr. Alain Tubiana – Chairman at gnomon sas & Head of Master in Cluster Management at Strasbourg University, France – who firstly introduced the concept of clusters which are, according to the most common definition by Michael Porter, “geographic concentrations of interconnected companies and institutions in a particular field that collaborate and compete at the same time”.
The first one who studied the phenomenon of agglomeration of industrial activities was Alfred Marshall, nevertheless the cluster model exists since ages. Souqs – the typical arab marketplaces – can be considered the most ancient model of cluster, it is indeed evident that an organization characterized by the concentration of companies working in the same field, which are competitors and at the same time collaborate is very similar to a cluster.
A cluster model can be represented by the following elements: a) a territory – in Europe it often is a region, b) a specific field, c) a stable framework and d) a dynamic local market. A specific territory can be populated by a series of companies of different dimensions and by other actors like researchers, investors, training providers, institutions like chambers of commerce or local governments. All these actors are connected and these links are exactly what a cluster is. Cluster is something that exists naturally, stated Mr. Tubiana. When these players decide to formalize the efforts that bring to a closer cooperation to grow faster or to tackle common issues we talk of cluster initiative.
A cluster initiative gives a series of benefits to its participants:
i) shared means and access to finance that produce a cost decrease for companies;
ii) specialization and diversification that drive towards increased quality of production, higher margin and new markets;
iii) strategic intelligence and knowledge development allowing companies to have a better control of their risks.
All these elements enable a faster growth of all companies involved and a significant increase of profits compared to other businesses which are acting alone.
The speaker then highlighted the four main impacts clusters may have:
- Growth and profits: cluster produces shared knowledge among players, it increases the qualification of human resources and also the fluidity of the labor market
- Start-ups establishment facilitated by the knowledge sharing
- Innovation: a constant element in cluster initiative is that companies innovate
- Territorial attractiveness.
By talking about the cluster phenomenon in Europe Mr. Tubiana reported data by the European Commission that identifies the presence of more than 3000 cluster organizations representing 39% of European jobs and 55% of European wages. As an example and by referring to France Cluster data Mr. Tubiana showed that about 400 cluster organizations are present in France and that more than 80.000 companies (representing the 53% of French companies) are working in a cluster. A survey carried out in 2015 in the framework of a cluster policies assessment identified the main motivations bringing 600 interviewed companies to join a cluster: business reasons (40%) to develop the turnover and to increase the profits of the company; innovation (40%) as companies register the need to innovate faster; 20% join for other reasons.
By referring to cluster policies in France Mr. Tubiana highlighted that they are designed to support this phenomenon of cooperation, sometimes they are part of competitiveness policies and sometimes they stand alone which is not the most suitable option. The first legislation on clusters in France dates back to 1997 and was called systèmes productifs locaux (local productive systems) and focused on business development with the objective of saving jobs in declining industries. The most recent legislation was inspired by France Cluster, it was a pilot policy lasting only three years and had a low cost budget of around 22 million euros, it was a quite open policy which registered very good results. Although it was focused on business development this policy also enabled all involved cluster initiatives to produce numerous innovations. Generally speaking according to Mr. Tubiana an efficient cluster policy should help existing clusters to grow faster and support companies in establishing cooperation.
In conclusion Mr. Tubiana stated that the fact that SMEs participate in cluster initiatives enables a faster growth and also encourages innovation within companies. All cluster initiatives which do well their job, rapidly develop inter-cluster cooperation projects for several reasons: to increase their participation to global values chains, to address bigger issues they could not handle alone, to allow SMEs to access international markets. For this reason the European Commission decided to finance the European strategic cluster partnerships.