The main objective of the conference was to explore how regional and national players in the triple helix can work effectively together to improve competitiveness through innovation. Speakers from a wide range of countries (Sweden, Finland, Austria, Great Britain, Northern Ireland, Italy, France, Spain, Hungary, New Zealand ) shared their experience of successfully building their economies through cluster initiatives and support for innovation infrastructure (technology-transfer centres, science-and-technology parks, incubators, etc.). Successful Czech clusters were presented, as was the experience of private entities and multinational companies with effective innovation management processes. Discussions concerning problems that clusters in Czech Republic are facing today took place: financing of innovations, tools for measuring competitiveness (benchmarking), and experience with clusters facilitation. At the end of the conference the potential for development of new clusters in the ten new member states of the EU was presented together with the first phase of the Czech National Cluster Study. The conference successfully concluded with a presentation by the director of the CzechInvest’s Division for Business Development Division, Luboš Lukasík, on new support programmes for innovation in the Czech Republic within the framework of the new programming period 2007 - 2013.
There were more than 200 participants at the conference, one third of whom were business representatives; over 40 of the participants were from academia, while others came from state and regional government and regional development agencies.
Many opinions, experiences and examples, problems and proposed solutions were given during the conference. A key element of the conference was the action workshops during which participants were encouraged to raise questions and debate the topics under review. The following are key points of interest from the conference:
- Under local conditions, Czech universities show mixed success in dealing with a wide range of problems associated with the commercial utilization of their innovation activities (legal, administrative, adaptability and flexibility of management, motivation, benchmarking).
- Industry is the driving force of innovations; universities offer the co-operation of their top experts and their activities are followed by practical activities (spin-offs, etc.).
- Innovations can be defined as anything new or different that creates added value.
- The involvement of firms in clusters can facilitate the innovation process; development, testing and prototype production is faster and research and patent-protection costs can be shared (these costs would otherwise be incurred by a single firm).
The role of public-support organisations in driving innovation in clusters
- Every European region has a specific approach to public-support organisations that stimulate innovative activities aimed at achieving global competitiveness.
- In order to manage a cluster successfully it is necessary to identify an “honest broker”, an independent arbiter associated with guidance, regulation, decision-making and responsibility within a cluster.
- The role of public investments in the knowledge economy in Europe is unique because of the need to shorten the pre-competitive phase that would otherwise be ignored by private capital.
- In the early phases of a firm’s existence, public funding can be essential for its survival.
- The main sources of financing in the Czech public sector are programmes managed by regions (Micro-loans Fund, Patent and Licence Fund in the South Moravia region) and CzechInvest (the new Operational Programme Business and Innovations 2007-13).
Tools for measuring innovation in companies
- Innovation cannot be created in a vacuum; benchmarking is the setting- up of the framework to which a firm should refer.
- The Czech benchmarking index enables firms to compare their output with domestic and foreign competitors and thus reveal their strengths and weaknesses.
- Benchmarking is the first step in making changes – on the basis of its output a firm must take action to improve its competitiveness and successively repeat the benchmarking process.
The role of technology-transfer organisation
- While research institutes need additional funding, they are also trying to obtain financing from their own activities and want to employ their graduates.
- The private sector is looking for knowledge, access to infrastructure of research and talented students as eventual future employees.
- Technology-transfer centres provide assistance to spin-offs, support R&D project presentations, and assist in patenting and licensing (top-down system) – the goal is to succeed in the market, while universities are motivated by international recognition.
Best practice in cluster facilitation
- A key factor in establishing a cluster is to gain the trust and interest of the firms involved; their motivation should not be driven by the opportunity to receive grants, but by taking advantage of common marketing, research and development, information sharing, etc.
- Successful clusters need an experienced facilitator and an enthusiastic and committed leadership group a realistic time schedule, early setting of goals and defined projects, efficient involvement of universities and many others elements.
We look forward to seeing you at the Cluster Conference 2007!
For this occasion we are considering some of the following topics: international best practice in financing innovations, foresighting, cluster benchmarking, trans-national and multi-modal clusters, presentation of the National Cluster Study Phase 2, and related topics.