Cluster community leaders synchronised their watches in St. Petersburg

On 16-17 May, 2019, the Northern capital for the fourth time hosted the international Conference “Clusters Open Boundaries. Time for Leaders”. It was organised by the St. Petersburg Technopark with the support of the Russian Ministry of Economic Development, the St. Petersburg Committee for Industrial Policy and Innovation, and the HSE ISSEK Russian Cluster Observatory. More than 500 experts – representatives of government agencies, the diplomatic corps, cluster organisations, and members of Russian and foreign clusters – R&D and business organisations – discussed best practices and challenges of cluster development, and assessed their prospects in the context of specific industries and better formats for members’ cooperation.

Videos of conference debates:

00:00 to 1:45:00 – the plenary session;
2:20:00 to 04:03:55 – the round table discussion “The world’s biomedical clusters: success factors”;
05:02:45 to 6:39:40 – the panel discussion “Best practices of inter-regional cooperation and export-oriented activities”.

Cluster vector continuity, and novel formats

The plenary discussion started with the exchange of advances and discoveries made during the year after the previous conference. The experts agreed that the continuity of the cluster policy, and the successful progression along the selected tracks were an important result. Clusters now have to survive and develop in the new context of national projects focused on digitisation, export, and supporting small businesses. A decision was made to finance industrial clusters’ selected joint projects, subsequently maintaining the support using other mechanisms. A number of regions are trying new formats for cooperation between RECs (research and educational centres) and world-class research centres – “technology valleys”, also based on successful cluster interaction experience. New initiatives emerge, such as the Moscow City Innovation Cluster and the International Medical Cluster (IMC), which we have recently written a lot about.

What makes a cluster a leader?

Different opinions were voiced in answer to this question. Some experts noted quality of management, technological advances, and effective use of public support. Others drew attention to the role of regional authorities in cluster development.

“There are hundreds of clusters in Russia. Some of them emerged as regional initiatives, even before the Ministries of Economy and Industry have launched their federal-level programmes, and are now restructuring themselves to match the current agenda. Others were specifically designed to receive public funding, and when they didn’t, they quickly disappeared. Involvement of, and systemic support by regional authorities is a success factor for many clusters in Russia and abroad”, noted Evgeniy Kutsenko, Head of the Russian Cluster Observatory. “The examples of St. Petersburg, Kaluga, Tatarstan, Novosibirsk, Ulyanovsk, and Moscow show that regional authorities need to have long-term commitment, managerial wisdom, and patience. It all starts with simple steps such as exhibitions, presentations, etc., which build trust. After that you can move on to complex innovative projects”.

Mikhail Yugay, General Director of the International Medical Cluster Foundation, agreed that “for a cluster initiative in the medical field, the regional authorities’ support is sine qua non. For us, the state is a service provider, a customer, and a regulator, all at the same time. The IMC is a healthcare development institution for Moscow, which is being created on the basis of the PPP model”/

“Regarding regional support for clusters, adequate regulation which wouldn’t hamper the work, and the ability to cooperate are also important, in addition to funding”, noted Dr Kai Uwe Bindseil, manager of the inter-regional German cluster HealthCapital Berlin-Brandenburg. He spoke about the federal states of Berlin and Brandenburg authorities’ contribution to the cluster’s development, provided in the scope of a partnership agreement.

Success recipes from biomedical clusters

The debates on the pathways to leadership continued during the round table discussion “The World’s Biomedical Clusters: Success Factors”. In addition to regional support, a joint study by the Higher School of Economics and the IMC Foundation revealed six more conditions for biomedical clusters’ prosperity.

Ekaterina Islankina, researcher at the HSE ISSEK Russian Cluster Observatory, noted that biomedical clusters in different countries became successful by adopting similar practices, namely active communication, combining different types of activities, blending the associative and project management, taking part in shaping and implementing the national health policy, involving patients and doctors, and finally, systemic innovation with a focus on infrastructure, start-ups, and partnerships with universities.

Faina Filina, Deputy General Director of the IMC Foundation, showed how the success factors identified by analysing foreign practices also worked for the International Medical Cluster: “We can see that we reflect most of the success factors. We need to pay particular attention to interdisciplinary cooperation to stay with the global trends, though we do have certain results there too”.

The success factors relevant the world over were verified by representatives of foreign cluster organisations who took part in the study, and leading Russian clusters specialising in the field. E.g. Dr Kai Uwe Bindseil particularly stressed the importance of a systemic approach to innovation based on cooperation with universities, supporting start-ups, and infrastructure development.

Julia Plaia, Communications Manager at Eurasanté (France), emphasised the need to involve users in innovation. Clusters in the Hautes-De-France region collectively managed by Eurasanté actively hold innovative ideas contests, with end users of medical innovations (i.e. patients and doctors) either being members of the jury, or themselves taking part in the competition to improve the healthcare.

Anatoly Sotnikov, General Director of the Innovation Development Agency – Kaluga Region Cluster Development Centre, JSC, spoke about a number of successful projects implemented by the nuclear cluster jointly with the pharmaceutical, biotechnology and medicine one, confirming the importance of the “inter-industry cooperation” success factor.

The presentation by Dmitri Chagin, Director of the non-profit partnership “Medical and Pharmaceutical Projects. 21st Century”, was about the St. Petersburg medical and pharmaceutical cluster’s participation in the development of the “Pharma 2030” strategy, illustrating the role of the “taking part in shaping and implementing national policies” success factor.

Aleksei Nizkovskiy, Director of the Novosibirsk Regional Development Centre, described how the Novosibirsk Regional Medical Technology Cluster applied five of the seven international success factors, and suggested a number of his own recipes for success, in particular actively participating in educational and international activities.

How do clusters open borders?

The main topic of the conference, “Clusters Open Boundaries”, was discussed in detail at the panel session “Best Interregional Cooperation and Export Practices”.

According to Gražvydas Morkus, Managing Director of LitCare (Lithuania), joint marketing strategy played the key role in attracting patients from abroad to the medical tourism cluster where each member offers a unique service in the scope of the common “service chain”, along with steadily promoting Lithuania as a health resort.

Dr Abdo Malac, Science and Technology Counsellor at the French Embassy in Russia, spoke about supporting cooperation between French and Russian clusters in the science and innovation field, and noted that most of the French “competitiveness nodes” rely on inter-cluster alliances in their international strategies.

Ildar Khairullin, Deputy General Director of the IMC Foundation, presented pilot projects in the field of education, experimental production, and new product development that will be implemented in international partnerships. E.g. the University of Strasbourg is going to become a partner in establishing an international medical university in the cluster.

What clusters will look like in five years’ time?

All of the experts agreed the future was in developing inter-regional and international clusters. “Inter-regional cooperation can be the next step in the development of Russian clusters. We can follow international experience here, e.g. the Berlin-Brandenburg cluster where regional authorities were able to come to an agreement and now are developing five joint clusters”, commented Evgeniy Kutsenko. He also noted that clusters of the future will go beyond industry: agriculture, creative industries, and medicine are currently on the agenda.

“I see medical clusters of the future as a blue ocean: associations without borders, with exceptionally diverse participants”, agreed Mikhail Yugay.

Excessively radical opinions hamper the emergence of clusters open to the world, believed Maya Sviridova, Director of the Autoprom North-West Union and Chairman of the St. Petersburg Cluster Council: “Foreign investors are looking for strategic industrial partners. My recipe is to be tolerant”.

Source: Russian Cluster Observatory