When is a cluster not a cluster? That’s the question being posed by the UK Government with the European Commission, to try and help regions of the UK and EU identify and celebrate their real sector strengths.
We are very proud that the Agri-Tech East ecosystem has been selected to set the standard for the key attributes of a world-leading cluster. We will be collaborating with the Institute for Manufacturing’s Centre for Science, Innovation and Technology Policy (CSTP) at the University of Cambridge to help them to refine the criteria and learning points.
The concept of clusters is not a new one. Over 20 years ago Mark Porter realised that “clustering” various players in a so-called innovation ecosystem brought economic and social benefits to all the players, and could help translate new innovations into commercial reality. Since then, the cluster model has become widely used – and abused.
The definition of what makes a cluster has been vague and poorly-defined. So in an attempt to define the term, and, importantly, to develop a “tool” to help regions establish where their real strengths lie, the team at CSTP are working with Agri-Tech East’s members and wider network to establish the key features of a winning cluster.
Features of a cluster
We are so lucky in the east of England to be home to many of these features for agri-tech.
- World-leading research to generate new ideas? Check – cue the John Innes Centre, the Universities of Cambridge, Cranfield and East Anglia, Rothamsted Research.
- The ability to develop these ideas into practical reality? Check – reference NIAB, ADAS and the knowledge exchange activities of the research establishments, including academic / industry collaborations to frame the farmer-facing research activities and provide market pull.
- Innovative growers and farmers, with the appetite for new innovations? Check – introducing UK-leading grower groups, such as G’s and Produce World, and farmers keen to host field scale trials, on the wealth of grade 1 agricultural land in the region.
- Range of big and small businesses working together around the concept of “open” innovation – bringing new ideas from other sectors to address key challenges. Check – our large Harvest and small Seedling members sit alongside each other at our events and Special Interest Groups, providing the vibrancy needed to generate new ideas and collaborations.
- Access to investment? Check – thanks to the visionary work of our two key Local Enterprise Partnerships working together around the Eastern Agri-Tech Growth Fund, as well as the funding and support offered by Innovate UK and various research council instruments means the east of England is a prime location to develop new ideas.
- Flexible accommodation and business support is key for small businesses and with the Norwich Research Park and Rothamsted Centre for Research and Enterprise, there is no shortage of impressive, professional lab and office space to nurture small businesses and help them grow.
Over the coming months the CSTP team will be working closely with the organisations within our agri-tech ecosystem to help identify practices, data sources and approaches to help regions develop more competitive “smart” proposals around their key strengths and specialisms. We’ll keep you posted!