Business clusters: what are they and how can they help me?

Businesses with common interests coming together to solve a shared problem. Now there’s an idea. By Andy Millar

Posted on: 10/09/2017

Business clusters come in all shapes and sizes, all over the world. The term ‘cluster’ can be used to describe something that has evolved, something which is fairly tightly defined, with specific members, rules and structure, or anything in between.

Silicon Valley, for example, is a well known cluster of IT companies in California. It didn’t come about by design (at government policy level) but its development has been encouraged by the public sector.

Contrast this with the North East of England Process Industry Cluster. The 1,400 companies in this cluster manufacture 50% of the UK’s petrochemicals and 35% of the UK’s pharmaceuticals. Companies can apply to join, paying fees, and there is a clear structure.

City skyline with world map and technology icons overlaid

Why should I concern myself with clusters? There are two big reasons why:

Consider a cluster as a target market

…or a gateway to a target market. If you had developed a new kind of electric vehicle that could replace delivery vans in cities, it might be worth speaking to Andalucia Smart City cluster, which has 100 members all looking at ways to make cities greener and more efficient.

You could just email them, but a better way might be to contact your local EEN who would speak to colleagues in Malaga and see what sort of introduction could be made.

Taking that one step further, I’m taking CSIT, Titanic and Anomali, (3 organisations involved in that sector) to a brokerage event at Cyber Security Week jointly organised by EEN and the Dutch Cyber Security cluster, Delta Hague. The attraction for them won’t be meeting similar companies from the cluster; it will be meeting other companies drawn to the event because of the weight the Dutch cluster brings to it.

Solve your technical problems or exploit opportunities

Finally, you could look to clusters to help solve a technical problem. At the brokerage event in The Hague, for example, Titanic IC Systems will be able to present their advanced pattern-matching algorithms to companies who need to process more data in a shorter time. These businesses will not come with a specific solution in mind, they’ll come simply because they have a problem. They’ll guess that among the many participants attracted by the cluster there may be one with technology to help them.

Join a cluster

Even though clusters tend to be geographically-focused – and you may have heard of those local to you – the EEN can identify which ones might be useful. Membership brings various benefits such as shared knowledge, joint procurement and collaborative project opportunities.


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