Interview with Dr. Anna Sobczak: "Most Prominent Clusters Provide Individualized Support to Their SME’s"

Submitted by Alina Danieles… on 05 May 2019

The Agency for Science, Innovation and Technology (MITA), the main governmental institution, responsible for implementation of innovation policy in Lithuania, published an interview with Dr. Anna Sobczak, policy making expert for clusters and emerging industries with the European Commisison, keynote speaker at the Baltic Cluster Forum 2019 that took place on March 19, in Kaunas and attracted participants from 12 different countries. 

"Is it your first visit to Lithuania? What do you know about Lithuanian clusters? 

This is my first visit to Lithuania and my first visit to the Baltic countries. I am very excited to be here. Lithuania has been included in the Smart Specialisation pilot action for regions in industrial transition.  Within the pilot, Lithuania has received support to develop a modern cluster policy. After reading various reports on the Lithuanian innovation ecosystem, I am very glad to be here and observe the innovation ecosystem in person.

I know that Lithuanian clusters are very dynamic and active. Their activities span a wide range of industries, such as digitalisation, medical devices, med/tech or laser photonics. Project Laser-Go was coordinated by a Lithuanian cluster organisation – LITEK - one of the EU funded European Strategic Cluster Partnerships for going international.

Why clusters became a priority in EU policy?

The European Commission’s top priority is to create new jobs and boost economic growth. Clusters can be very effective in helping businesses, and in particular SMEs, be more innovative, improve their strategic positioning and facilitate their access to new and global value chains. At the same time, clusters promote long-term strategic partnerships and business collaborations. Simply put, clusters create favourable regional eco-systems many enterprises can benefit from. That’s why the European Commission supports the development and promotion of world-class clusters across the EU.

What are in your opinion most prominent clusters in the European Union that bring great competitive advantage to EU economy? What are their key success factors? Do you think that clusters in small countries like Lithuania can be as successful and compete with the ones from big countries (Germany, Spain, etc.)?

The most prominent clusters in the European Union are ones that provide individualized support to their SMEs, whether it is innovation, access to third markets or scaling up. It is important to know and understand the needs of different members within clusters to provide personalized solutions. EU cluster policy is focused on supporting SMEs. 

The success of a cluster depends on the right strategy paired with the right set of business support instruments, adapted to the needs of the cluster’s members. SMEs are at the heart of the clusters and all the support instruments and the strategy provided by the cluster organization should be adjusted accordingly to let the SMEs innovate, scale up and flourish. 

What are the newest additions and recommendations regarding clusters in EU policy?

European cluster policy can help promote industrial modernisation and support SME growth, as well as maximize the impact of the €121 billion European Structural and Investment Funds allocated to research and innovation. Clusters provide SMEs with access to key resources such as advanced and specialised infrastructure, research and technology centres or skills providers. Evidence shows that regions with strong clusters are more likely to benefit from enhanced growth. 

Since 2016, the European Commission has published three key documents outlining the policy framework for clusters: the renewed EU Industrial Policy Strategy, the Smart Specialisation Communication on "Strengthening Innovation in Europe's Regions" and the Communication “Europe's next leaders: the Start-up and Scale-up Initiative”. They have all stressed the need to make better use of clusters as a strategic tool of industrial policy, to strengthen interregional collaboration and to support the competitiveness of SMEs in strategic value chains. These Communications aim to support the efforts of EU Member States and regions in boosting innovation uptake, encouraging industrial modernization, supporting scaling-up of SMEs and boosting economic growth in the European Union.

In addition, the European Cluster Collaboration Platform has been identified as a key tool for boosting industrial modernization and strengthening the business environment for SMEs. Moreover, the Single Market Programme foresees Joint Cluster Initiatives as a key tool for boosting industrial modernization and strengthening the business environment for SMEs.

Last but not least, the 2018 EU Council Conclusions on EU industrial policy called for further development of European Cluster Policy with the aim of linking-up and scaling-up regional clusters into cross-European world-class clusters in order to support the emergence of new value chains across Europe.

A cluster can be a hub of innovation, but not all clusters are actively innovating. What could help?

Cross-sectoral and cross regional cooperation is key to boost innovation of SMEs within clusters and between clusters. EU support is available to achieve this. For example, the Horizon 2020 INNOSUP-1 programme  promotes cluster facilitated projects focused on the development of new industrial value chains.

Innosup-1 projects develop new cross-sectoral industrial value chains across the EU, by building upon the innovation potential of SMEs. Many SMEs need support to generate, take up and better capitalise on all forms of knowledge, creativity, craftsmanship and innovation. Clusters represent favourable ecosystems for innovation and entrepreneurship, and they need to be used more efficiently in this respect. 

The presentation by Dr. Anna Sobczak “European Cluster Policy – Using Clusters to Support Innovation in European SME’s” could be found here.

About the Forum

BALTIC CLUSTER FORUM  was organized under the project Promotion and Development of Innovation Networking (InoLink) which is coordinated by the Agency for Science, Innovation and Technology (MITA) and funded by the European Fund for Regional Development. The project is being implemented together with the Lithuanian Innovation Centre (LIC) and aims to encourage companies to merge into clusters, to increase cluster maturity, to promote their growth and international collaboration.

This year BALTIC CLUSTER FORUM was selected to be part of EU Cluster Weeks initiative.

The European Commission has launched the first initiative of EU Cluster Weeks 2018-2019. The #EUClusterWeeks aim to increase European participation at cluster events and raise awareness on the role of clusters and the results they achieve in supporting SME (small and medium sized enterprise) growth, industrial transformation and regional economic development. The campaign shall help interested stakeholders to spot and join interesting events across Europe and meet their peers."

The interview was published on 2019/03/29 on MITA website here.© Government of the Republic of Lithuania

Related Event
Baltic Cluster Forum 2019: Future. Innovation. Strategy  
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