Capitalising on opportunities through enhanced cluster management: the Biobased Economy in the northern Netherlands

Published on
January 11, 2016

Creating a Biobased Economy is a complex task as it involves the construction of new value chains, which in turn requires cooperation between parties from different value chains and between links within new value chains. According to scientists from Alterra Wageningen UR, it is helpful in this context to consider the biobased economy from a cluster perspective. They examined the elements needed to capitalise on opportunities provided by the Biobased Economy in the northern Netherlands.

Partners learning to work together in a new value chain often first have to learn each other's language and culture. Workable business cases must then be developed and implemented while a part of the required knowledge is still lacking and a number of uncertainties loom. The first steps and risks associated with economic innovations are often taken by government authorities (Mazzucato, 2011). Once the risks are reduced, banks and companies can take over. All in all, this tricky combination of innovative and conservative forces makes it difficult to make progress in this challenging arena.

Clusters offer some help, however - networks of companies that cooperate to develop and cultivate innovations in a competitive environment. Clusters can be strengthened through a targeted reinforcement of the relationships among companies, and with governments, schools and institutes, financiers, other clusters and global networks.

This is also known as ‘cluster management’ (Lindqvist, Boilers and Sölvell, 2013) or ‘cluster governance’ (Ebbekink et al., 2015). Cluster management is deployed in many countries in Europe and elsewhere in the world, including the US, the UK and, especially, Scandinavia. There is even a global network of cluster management organisations called TCI.

After Alterra Wageningen UR's exploratory studies (see Kranendonk & Gerritsen, 2015, and Gerritsen & Pleijte, 2015), four development tracks can be distinguished for the cluster management of the biobased economy in the northern Netherlands:

Development of biobased markets

Biobased companies develop products that meet consumer needs. Provinces, municipalities, district water boards and central government can create markets by setting up legal, financial and organisational frameworks. Consumers of biobased products influence the operations of public and private parties.

Treating the biobased economy as an integrated theme

The approach to the biobased economy should be founded on what central government and the provinces recognise as the overarching themes of water, healthcare, energy and agro-food, and less on the concept of independent themes. This includes care for organisational aspects such as business models, value chains, consumer behaviour and governance, in addition to, and in conjunction with, the relevant technological aspects which already attract plenty of attention.

Strengthening deployment

Strategic choices should be made in close cooperation between government authorities, the private sector, schools and institutes within the region, and with parties outside the region. This requires continuous monitoring of events in and around the cluster, and collective decision-making regarding appropriate measures.

Cooperation between Delfzijl, Emmen and Veenkoloniën

Ways to strengthen the sub-clusters of Delfzijl, Emmen and Veenkoloniën (in connection with Zwolle and Weser-Ems in Germany) should be defined and shaped through concrete and result-oriented projects. Each of these regions has its own dynamics and cultivates some of the opportunities mentioned by Bos et al. (2015). Cooperation will be crucial to permit the emergence of a biobased economy in the northern Netherlands.