Interview with Magnus Thure Nilsson, cluster manager Media Evolution, Malmö, region Skåne
ECCP: With more than 400 members in the cluster, with a yearly budget of around 3,5 Million Euros, it would be very interesting to learn what are you actually doing to reach such a size in the region of Skåne? What was the evolution of the cluster over the last years to get to this current stage?
M.T.N.: The ground principle is that we understood quite early in our development – at our starting point we were very much a top-down organisation – that we needed to change the approach towards a bottom-up structure. And what happens in this process is that you get a very engaged community of members. This also explains the size and the budget – we are simply doing activities that attract our members and for which they are willing to pay, we offer them services that are helping them to innovate and grow. So we started in 2005 with a budget of 150.000€ from the municipality of Malmö (public money) and about 3 years later we “mutated” into a different type of cluster, with more regional impact, that had a funding of 7,5 Mio. € for 3 years.
That money was 100% subsidised and it was allocated to project managers and partners instead of on the cluster management organization. During that time we started to make strong efforts to create a“member-driven” organisation, we listened to the members very carefully, understood what they needed, what their demands were, what were their obstacles and challenges – and then we turned to develop and do activities for the companies based on their needs. And this way we work to date. Everything that we do today is based on a need identified within our member organisations. The experience has shown that we can actually create services that don’t exist on the market and we create them together with our members. We are looking as well to create opportunities for the members to help each other do better business and heighten their level of innovation. They are sharing knowledge, sharing problems also, and we are the ones making it happen. We are an organisation for doing what the members cannot do by themselves.
If we are back to the budget, today amounting to 3-3.5 mil EUR, about 10% of that budget is governmental money or money that is subsidised form the city of Malmö, the region of Skåne or EU, so you see that it is a very small amount, the largest part of the budget is actually coming from services that we sell to our members.
ECCP: Can we go more in detail? What kind of services are you offering, are they tailor made?
M.T.N.: Firstly, indeed, most services are tailor made, developed together with the members and based on their current needs - or even the needs of tomorrow - needs that the members do not know yet they have. We try to be the forerunners, since the market conditions are changing all the time. More concretely: an usual scenario is that we come up with a service together with some our members and we implement it for them for a year or so and after this development-testing-initialisation-phase of the service, one or more members pick it up and make a business out of it. Then we let it go and we look into the opportunity to create other new services. When we speak of “services” we mostly mean processes and in many cases it is about enabling people to meet other people, people whom they wouldn’t have met if we weren’t there and provide the service. For a long time we have been seeing a problem for the companies that provide services to customers whose needs they don’t really understand, or the rapid change of the needs of the customers. That is why many organisations are built in a wrong way, they are not as diverse as they need to be, and since the customers‘ behaviour changes fast you must mirror your customers or users to understand why their needs or behaviours change fast.
What I am saying is that future companies/organisations within the cluster community that are providing services to customers need to look the same way as their customers do. Otherwise they don’t know what their customers will need tomorrow. For example, since many companies/organizations still do not have women in leadership roles and are mostly represented by middle class white male persons the fact that their customers don’t look that way, that will be a problem. So they have to be diverse when it comes to the gender and diverse when it comes to the cultural inheritance, too. The companies know they have to, but the problem is they do not know how to build the new organizational model to reflect this need. We try to help our members to build tools for addressing this issue. As said before, it is about processes related to knowledge sharing that could be done in a conference mode or workshops, the processes could be short or long ones, but processes in different ways are the answer. Processes to get new knowledge and to actually help companies look at themselves (vision, business, attitude) in new ways.
A very clear example is the largest architect firm in Sweden - White Architects – the third largest in Europe, about 1,000 people, most of them in Sweden, some of them in Norway and London and some other places. They have a new CEO for more than half a year and she wanted to create a new business plan. She is smart and knows they will not be doing business in a couple of years the way they are doing it now. Why? Because what architects do is actually changing very fast; it may well be that for many years they were designing and building houses, nowadays they are developing and constructing houses AND the context the houses are in. They are working more with city development. And they have to understand the rapid change in people’s behaviour, dgitalisaion/IoT, etc.. So we build a series of processes with them (for example a round table discussion) and we bring special people to the table, people whom they would not be able to find and bring themselves. It is because we are a neutral organisation that we can get around their table not only IKEA, but also very small and highly specialised (niche) companies working with edging digital technologies, design companies, banks, insurance companies and so on. All these participants are there to give White Architects feedback on their new business plan. Impossible for them to do without the help of the cluster organisation – and they are willing to pay for such a service.
ECCP: I see the evolution over the 5 years – you started with a very low number of staff and continuously increased its number, enlarged the portfolio and the diversity of services offered to the members, increased as well the number of members. What is “your biggest achievement” or something that makes you very proud to have built over these past years?
M.T.N.: There are many things actually, but if we are to start with one thing that was super important, I know it sounds shallow - it is the House that we built, which today hosts 500 people, 80 different companies and we are actually opening a new House, in March, 2019. There is an increasing urge from the market to be a part of a house with a community such as ours. For our stakeholders it is also very, very important to have a geographic spot. This House is not just a house, it is a place for innovation.
A second activity that makes us proud is our conference, The Conference, gathering now up to 5000 people compared to 150 when we started. At the beginning in 2006 it was a local conference, now it is very international, about 30% of the people coming to the conference are from different parts of the world, and that is important.
And the third thing is the diversity. We decided many years ago that gender diversity is very important and we started to address this issue with our members, so now it is in our soul, in our DNA if you want. Take a look at our conference, we tried to make it equal, more diverse equal, and it was difficult to succeed. We managed to get 30% female speakers, this is very unusual for a conference with a world-format, but this is not enough: we have to reach 50/50. And we had a really hard time finding the women speakers. That is not because there are not good female speakers but because the structures do not allow to be easily found.The problem was in our organisations. So we decided: it has to be 50/50, it can be expensive, it will cost us money and time, but we have to go there and we did, it took us a couple of years and now it is not a problem anymore.
So I know for sure that if you decide and spot the problem that you see as very important for your members, then you can work towards solving it, it can be done. If you want to learn more about the concrete programmes we do for and with our members to help them thrive by using gender diversity as a competitiveness factor, read our article here.
LS: Thank you very much for your time and for sharing the ingredients of your recipe for success with the cluster community.
MTN: Thank you for the opportunity to do it!