1. The NRW Cluster Agency
The NRW Cluster Agency acts on behalf of the state of North Rhine-Westphalia. Its task is to advise and support the 16 NRW state clusters, particularly with regard to the initiation of multi-sector and multi-technology innovation projects. For this purpose, the NRW Cluster Agency operates an effective know-how management system and supports public relations work presenting NRW as the top federal state for competitiveness, innovation and sustainability.
2. Strength in unity
The NRW Cluster Agency initiates and supports professional and project-oriented exchange:
Cluster portraits provide an overview of the areas of strength in North Rhine-Westphalia.
- Cluster profiles in facts and figures provide orientation on performance.
- State clusters, regional clusters and networks are presented with their topics, activities, support provisions and competent contact partners.
- Highlights give an insight into current successes.
For qualified communication and joint activities, together with the state clusters,
- Cluster Foresight Reports are prepared,
- an online Dates and Events Calendar and a News Channel are operated and
- a large number of joint communication activities are carried out.
Direct, personal communication and exchange of experience is also indispensable in the Internet world. The Cluster Agency therefore organises events and issues invitations to working groups as required.
3. A team of experts
The Cluster Agency staff have been performing functions in similar projects for many years. They know the factors which lead to the success of a project. They are experienced specialists in the preparation of master and detail plans and in project control. As competent partners, they put this know-how at the disposal of the Cluster Managers in the acquisition, planning and execution of complex projects. As advisors and coaches, they oversee the projects of the Cluster Managers and help to set them on the path to success.
4. One common label
The Cluster Agency supports the Cluster Managers in the planning and execution of their publicity work. Consistent communication under the joint label "ExcellenceNRW" generates an enduring brand name that establishes itself in the minds of partners, journalists and multipliers. The Internet site www.exzellenz.nrw.de offers clusters a prominent platform for presentation of their projects and numerous tools enabling them to identify and contact potential partners in the state of NRW and also internationally.
In addition, through its "Public Relations" hotline, the Cluster Agency advises the Cluster Managers in their daily work. For those who wish to go into the subject more deeply, workshops provide specific and practical everyday tips for successful press and public relations work.
5. Interview with Dr. Bernhard Hausberg, Manager of the NRW Cluster Agency
The NRW state government is pursuing a cluster strategy for North-Rhine Westphalia. What target is it aiming for?
The aim is the better exploitation of existing potential for innovation. The state government’s declared goal is to make North-Rhine Westphalia the top federal state for innovation. Clusters play a special role here by using regional and topic-related focussing of know-how and experience to get innovations on to the market faster. Clusters aid the cooperation between partners who possess different expertise. Multi-sector and multi-technology collaboration between high-performing partners from the fields of science and business is more important than ever before in order to serve key markets flexibly and according to their needs. We talk about “cross innovations” and consider their initiation and implementation as the greatest challenge for the years to come.
The present study shows that not all clusters work. What is necessary for success?
The locations with the best prospects for the future are those that feature intensive and trusting cooperation between all players along the whole value chain.
It is vital to have partnerships where businesses, universities, research establishments and service providers are all on an equal footing. The presence of universities as a “talent pool” as well as an efficient research infrastructure is an extremely important factor in the competition between locations worldwide. Major technology companies in clusters often assume the role of promoter for the entire innovation process. Small and medium-sized companies can use their proximity to science and large companies to huge advantage in getting new products on to the market in a flexible and creative way. We firmly believe that establishing and nurturing a sense of team spirit brings strategic success because this is the only way that all key players are prepared to commit themselves to common goals in the long term. Clusters provide an excellent framework for new contacts between business, science and politics in opening up future markets.
What is the central principle of the development policy in North-Rhine Westphalia?
The NRW government has realigned its economic and innovation policy. It is looking to strengthen and advance existing expertise and infrastructures present in North-Rhine Westphalia for the most impressive growth markets. The principle here is “Making strengths stronger”. The NRW government has identified 16 areas of strength based on comprehensive studies and intensive consultation, dubbed “state clusters”: chemicals, mechanical engineering/production technology, automotive, plastics, biotechnology, energy industry and energy research, healthcare industry, medical research, nutrition, logistics, media, cultural sector, information and communications technology (ICT), environmental technologies, nano/microtechnology, new materials.
The marginal subsidies available are allocated to projects in the 16 state clusters. The aim of this subsidising is to provide impetus that extends beyond the scope of the individual projects.
The subsidies will be allocated within the scope of competitions – what does this imply?
There are cluster competitions aimed at funding innovation projects that promise great success among the 16 topic areas already mentioned. The tenders will take place as part of a competitive process. Unambiguous decision criteria are laid down and it is a transparent process – from application via approval through to the monitoring of success. Project partners must, among other things, demonstrate what effects their projects have on employment and economic growth and what they are doing to ensure the projects lead to success. Expert panels of judges from the 16 cluster areas assume responsibility for assessing subsidy applications. Financing comes from both regional state funds as well as EU funding – a total of 2.5 billion euros is being administered between 2007 and 2013 to the best technology and structure development programmes.
Who can apply?
Eligible applicants include ‘classic’ joint projects featuring partners from companies and scientific establishments. Applications from small and medium-sized companies are given preferential consideration. In regard to infrastructure activities, important features that are looked for in the projects are their integration into regional development plans and the collaboration between corresponding partners. Respective competition calls feature specific wording in this regard. It is very pleasing that applications are of the highest quality. Unfortunately, some applications have to be rejected, as they fail to meet either any or some of the subsidy criteria.
Cluster managers are said to play a key role here. What is their remit?
A professional Cluster Management provides the 16 state clusters with support for their growth and further development. Cluster managers, alongside firms involved, representatives from the science sector and partners from educational establishments and services are called upon to initiate innovation projects in collaboration with politicians and in cooperation with regional networks and key players – both with and without public funding assistance. They are required to subject topics to systematic monitoring, organise discussion groups to deal with pressing issues, specialist topics and matters regarding the funding of potentially risky innovations, or provide support during the opening up of markets abroad and the initiation of cooperative efforts. They conduct qualified publicity work. North-Rhine Westphalia has a lot to offer and this needs to be made more visible at a national and international level. It is essential that all expert partners from the fields of industry, science and education are involved. We need a new culture of cooperation and communication.
This interview appeared in: “Economy in North-Rhine Westphalia 2009 – Growing stronger together. Networked for new strengths”, published by: Ministry of Economic Affairs and Energy of the state of North-Rhine Westphalia.