In recent months, Innovation Superclusters has become a more frequent topic. Recent keynotes have brought up the need for European Superclusters. Several conferences, including the upcoming Global Peter Drucker Forum is now running special tracks on Innovation Superclusters.
Just returning from the Transylvanian Cluster Conference, we caught up with author of Building Innovation Superclusters, Mr. Christian Rangen, for a short update.
Chris, you have become a vocal advocate for what you call Innovation Superclusters. Perhaps you can shed some light on why you think we need these Superclusters?
Yes, of course. So the answer is really simple; Europe is falling behind – and we need to catch up. I deeply believe Superclusters is a big part of that solution in the coming years.
Let us look at US, China and Europe, arguably the top three economic blocks. Across many key metrics, Europe is already lagging and falling further and further behind. Take the 25 largest tech companies in the world, none of these are European. Not one.
Let’s look at high-growth companies; China has 125, the US has 191, Europe has 41. Company valuations, access to early-stage and growth capital, maturity and quality of entrepreneurial ecosystems, spending on research & development, new patents in key fields like AI, access to data, value capture for investors; Europe is falling behind in all of these. Now, it is not that Europe isn’t innovating; of course it is. It is just that our competition is innovating so much faster. If that trend continues over the next decade, we are going to have a massive problem on our hands, or perhaps we already have?
It is against this backdrop I believe we need to develop an entirely new paradigm around our cluster thinking. It really is a paradigm shift. Today we have around 3000 clusters in Europe. I am not convinced this is the best path to continue on. Rather, I would hope to see visionary leaders – government, industry or entrepreneurial – come together and lay out a roadmap for a few top, truly elite Superclusters. We frequently talk about elite or leading universities, let’s do the same thing for clusters. Let’s decide to lead in a number of key future industries, not only through research, but through company building, talent development, new venture vehicles, corporate transformations and bold leadership. These are the tasks of clusters. Let’s upgrade them, get more visionary leaders in place and start building the clusters that will become Europe’s key engines of future economic growth. It can be done. We know how to do it.
At some levels, the movement is already happening. The movement around Clusters of Change is building, running the world’s first Cluster Accelerator Program in Frankfurt. This is a superb contribution to changing how we think, plan and build clusters in Europe and beyond.
Right, so in your definition, what are Innovation Superclusters?
In our recent report, we lay out the Three Types of Clusters we see. These are Emerging Cluster, Growth Cluster and Supercluster. There are several distinct traits that make a Supercluster stand out.
First of all, they stretch beyond any one local region. Easily, they have roots and members in various regions or countries. Second, they are large in terms of members, programs and impact. Third, they have access to funding and business models that allow for a financially sustainable cluster. Forth, and that is really the key, they go beyond the Triple Helix and connect startups, scale-ups, accelerators, investors, angels and VC funds deeply into the network and community of a cluster. Finally, true Superclusters really become magnets, drawing in the very best talent, capital and companies in the world, because this is really where it is happening.
Now, if we simplify things, a Supercluster is really all about impact and value creation. That’s it.
In a recent interview, I believe you said “Superclusters is nothing new”. This caught some attention. Perhaps you could expand on this?
That is correct, I did mention that. So this is an interesting misunderstanding perhaps.
The term Supercluster has been around in the research, in the literature for at least 20 years, quite possibly far longer. You can go back to some of the original cluster research, and you will see the term being used quite naturally.
For some reasons, it did not catch on or simply remained dormant.
Today, you can find very interesting research sources both mentioning and discussing Superclusters. I think it is very important for us to connect the past to the present and future initiatives on building Innovation Superclusters.
Based on your recent work and research, what is your outlook for Superclusters in the coming decades?
Yeah, so that is a great question. In the report we do write that we will see a number of new Supercluster initiatives toward 2030. Today, I believe we will see even more than I was first predicting.
I think developing economies see the attraction and value in ecosystems like San Francisco, Tel Aviv and London. But rather than developing ecosystems, which by their very nature and definition is very hard to develop, many of these governments and leaders will say, “wait a minute. What we need next is a massive cluster or even Supercluster initiative”. I hear many if these conversations and we expect to hear many more.
For Europe, I think there are already early conversations underway, I would really hope and expect that these lead to a series of EU-based Supercluster initiatives.
You just returned from the Transylvanian Cluster Conference, what were some of your observations?
First of all, the conference itself was very well organized and run. There were some fantastic people and very warm and inclusive culture. It was my first time in Cluj, and I really appreciated that.
My biggest observation was probably the “heroes” I met. Cluster managers and formal cluster leaders described a large set of challenges, financially, culturally, competencies, around clusters. I really see these guys, building successful clusters on a daily basis as heroes.
Second, I see exactly the same challenges in the Romanian clusters as in most places I work with around the world. A need for more success stories, better cluster alignment, the incredible importance of the right leadership.
What I also observed was a shift in conversations and mindset. Several cluster leaders approached me to discuss, “what’s next?”. They had built an early growth cluster, with 80 – 120 members, had staff, ran projects, but they were looking for new ideas, new aspirations, and new ambitions.
For some, I suggested writing a Future Vision 2030 story. For others, I urged them to go beyond the local ecosystem and bring in more international members, partners, scale-ups and simply connect better to international markets.
For some of the clusters I spoke with, I would also urge them to rethink the strong R&D focus and scientific mindset to cluster management. Let’s try a more entrepreneurial mindset for our cluster development, also in Northern Transylvania. Based on the talks I had, I absolutely believe that is going to happen.
Just to build on that, while in Transylvania, what were some of the questions you got that stuck with you?
Yeah, so just building on that, I did get a lot of questions from ecosystem people in the digital and IT space. Their questions were largely on ecosystem development, new venture building programs, accelerators and connecting to investors.
Speaking of investors, that was a big topic with many of the cluster managers I met. There was a lot of questions, but also a lot of uncertainties on how to find, how to work with and really how to be relevant to investors as an entirely new group of cluster members. These were deeply interesting and insightful conversations.
We are drawing nearer to the annual TCI event, this year in Antwerp. What are you most looking forward to and how to you think the TCI event will drive a larger conversation on Europe’s Innovation Superclusters?
Again, thank you for a great question. I have actually never been to a TCI event previously, this will be my first. So, naturally, I am looking forward to meeting like-minded people, connect to new cluster leaders and engage in deep conversations on building future-fit Innovation Superclusters. I am already meeting with a large number of European and Latin American leaders, hopefully, this will drive new mind-sets and we can all combine to drive even more visionary leadership in the global cluster space.
Specifically for building Europe’s Innovation Superclusters, I am looking forward to learning more about the on-going activities, what current leaders are already doing and who the key people are in shaping a new cluster paradigm. So, yes, I am quite excited about the upcoming TCI conference.
The annual TCI Conference takes place in Antwerp, Belgium October 8th – 10th. Learn more and sign up at the official event site.
ABOUT CHRISTIAN RANGEN
Over the past 18 years, Chris has advised companies and governments globally on strategy, innovation, transformation and developing ecosystems. Over the past five years, he has worked extensively on Innovation Superclusters, working closely with the Malaysian and Norwegian Governments to support their national innovation programs. Chris has led multiple National Transformation Projects, including launching new accelerator programs, venture builders and early-stage VC funds. He is an active angel investor in disruptive technology firms.
Chris is also business school faculty, teaching strategy, transformation and the clean energy revolution at BI – Norwegian Business School (Norway) and Zigurat (Spain). He is an active public speaker and presents frequently at international innovation and strategy conferences