Clusters: collaborate to compete

A few weeks ago, the Health Technologies Cluster was presented in Barcelona. This cluster brings together 17 organizations with a total turnover of 650 million and 6,500 employees. The organizations include hospitals, companies and suppliers of knowledge and technology, such as the CIT UPC through CREB UPC.

Michael Porter, an American from the Harvard Business School, defines a cluster as “a geographic concentration of interconnected companies and institutions in a particular sector or market segment that collaborate to be more competitive”.

It is a relatively modern concept of relationships between organizations that has developed rapidly. According to the European Cluster Observatory, 38% of employees work in companies that are part of a cluster. In Europe alone, over 2,000 clusters have been identified.

Clusters are based around companies that compete in similar markets. But what is it that makes firms join platforms such as clusters? The answer is the advantages and opportunities resulting from this collaboration, which boost their competitiveness. For example, cluster members can access specialized suppliers and services, and find technological partners who provide applied knowledge or specialized training programs.

IMG_0494All cluster members have similar benefits; the difference lies in how each one takes advantage of its membership of the group and to what extent the collaboration enables it to develop or improve its own products and services and thus become more competitive.

Other advantages increase the importance of these networks, which become channels for communicating with governments to design relevant technology policies (on legalization, calls for grant applications and training programs, for example). Clusters help to identify joint needs on which to act, such as shared operating platforms or R&D activities. They become spaces from which to manage alliances, in order to take on larger projects and enter new markets.

The Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya Technology Center (CIT UPC), and its member centers, form part of several clusters as the Catalan Automotive Cluster; SECPhO, in the photonics and optics sector, through the Centre for Sensors, Instruments and Systems Development (CD6 UPC); the Spanish Platform of Innovation in medical technologies of Fenin, a medical technologies platform; the Health Technologies Cluster through the Biomedical Engineering Research Centre (CREB UPC), mentioned at the start of this piece ; as well a European technology platform for the rail industry, SHIFT²RAIL. In all cases, CIT UPC and its members bring their knowledge and the capacity to develop comprehensive R&D solutions in collaboration with companies and with other research centers.

Collaboration between public and private entities in specific sectors and in a certain geographic environment makes these kinds of experiences possible. A mid- to long-term vision is needed to achieve this, and a balance between collaboration and competition, which is not easy to achieve, but is the key to the system. This sums up the philosophy of clusters: collaborate to compete.

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