WHAt is a cluster?

Learn more about innovation clusters

What is an innovation cluster? 

An innovation cluster is an industry-led consortium that works together to drive innovation, pursue market opportunities, and identify and solve challenges that limit growth. 

Cluster membership consists of five pillars:  

  • Industry leaders
  • Entrepreneurs
  • Government
  • Academia
  • Investors

We have gathered a variety of resources to help prospective clusters better understand innovation clusters and how you can develop a long-term successful cluster. 

Content is organized into three levels:

  • Introductory
  • Intermediate
  • Advanced

 Within each of the levels you will find a selection of light readings and examples of real-life innovation clusters from around the world.

Introductory resources

Leadership in Clusters and Networks
This is a short article on leadership and leadership challenges in clusters and networks.  Read more here.

Building an Innovation Cluster
This is a short article on the key elements of building an early-stage innovation cluster. Read more here.

Case study: Industrial clusters fuel economies
A 2014 study by MIT documenting how clusters fuel growth, innovation and job creation. Read the research summary here.

Cluster example: Maritime Blue, Washington State
Washington State’s maritime sector is uniquely poised to become a global leader in innovation and sustainability, ensuring that the state’s maritime industry thrives in the increasingly competitive national and international marketplace for maritime services. https://maritimeblue.org/

Maritime Blue Strategy
The strategy documents developed by Blue Maritime are excellent examples of what a world class cluster strategy document pack could look like. The full document pack is highly recommended reading for emerging clusters and cluster initiatives. Read Maritime Blue’s strategy here.

Cluster example: NCE Seafood Innovation, Norway
The Norwegian Seafood Innovation Cluster is on a mission to triple the industry’s value creation by 2030 and quintuple it by 2050. How will they achieve those targets? By building the world’s leading seafood cluster. Check out the cluster and read the 2020 annual report here.

Cluster example: Queensland Robotics Cluster (Australia)
The robotics industry has traditionally been a high growth industry with a low level of collaboration. With little industry support and significant structural gaps and challenges, founder Andrew Scott initiated the formation of QLD in 2019. Over the past two years, he has built out one of the world’s most interesting robotics clusters. Learn more here.

Intermediate resources

Rise of Innovation Superclusters
A global overview of the latest trends and development of clusters. This can serve as a great one-stop-overview for readers hoping to get a quick overview of modern innovation clusters. Read Rise of Innovation Superclusters here.

Clusters and the New Economics of Competition
Harvard Professor Michael Porter is seen as one of the early founders of today’s cluster theories. This 1998 Harvard Business review article explains the classic perspective on industry clusters. Get the full article here.

On Superclusters and Ecosystems
Short blogpost on how Innovation Superclusters and Innovative Ecosystems overlap and mutually support each other. Read the blog post here.

Cluster Business Models
A growing topic in the world of clusters: “what is our cluster business model?” Read this 2021 report written by Christian Rangen, in collaboration with 18 global cluster experts and cluster managers. Case studies from the Netherlands, Mexico, Slovenia and Spain provide practical advice and guidance. Get the full report here.

Clusters and Innovation Districts: Lessons from the United States Experience
An excellent analysis on what makes US-based clusters successful. Local leadership, government support and market focus are three of the key factors. Recommended reading, as well as the full report.

Cluster example: The Unmanned Aerial Systems Cluster Initiative of Oklahoma and Kansas
The UASCI is a rapidly growing cluster for unmanned aerial systems in the Midwest. Explore and learn from their early work here.

Cluster example: Ocean Supercluster, Canada
The Ocean Supercluster is one of the five national Superclusters in Canada. Launched in 2018, this is the most ambitious cluster program in the world. The five Canadian Superclusters have all had an impressive growth and development since their initial start. We recommend exploring the cluster’s website.

Ocean Supercluster Strategic Plan (2018-2023) and (2021) Corporate Plan
The Ocean Supercluster has also developed an excellent five-year strategy and a more updated 2021 Corporate plan. Both documents can serve as aspirational documents for new clusters.

Advanced resources

Clusters & Capital: 10 Challenges to Overcome
Attracting venture capital is one of the most common – and most difficult – challenges for many clusters. Cluster expert Christian Rangen suggests ten steps clusters can take to overcome this challenge. Read the blogpost here.

Clusters, Innovation, and Competitiveness: New Findings and Implications for Policy
An updated 2008 presentation held by Michael Porter on global cluster policy development.

Building Innovation Superclusters
A 2019 report on how the world’s 7000+ innovation clusters can develop into more high-impact Innovation Superclusters. Widely recognized as a great starting point for understanding modern Innovation Clusters and the economic potential in developing Superclusters. Get the full report here.

Compete and Prosper: the Canadian Cluster Handbook
A strong analysis and recommendation for cluster management for both North American and global innovation clusters. Read the brief or full working paper.

Cluster programs in Europe and beyond
An advanced-level report on global cluster programs. This report shows how different countries, including the US, supports and develops clusters at the national level. For special interest readers. The full report is available here.

Cluster example: COAST (Centre for Ocean Applied Sustainable Technologies)
On the Pacific Northwest Coast, a group of Canadian business leaders and government leaders came together to develop a global ocean tech cluster. Visit COAST or read the full business plan here.

Cluster example: Canada’s Digital Supercluster
One of the most impressive clusters globally right now is Canada’s Digital Technology Supercluster. Based in Vancouver, B.C., and representing members across Canada, the cluster has grown to 950+ members in just 2 ½ years of operation. Visit the cluster’s web site, explore the 2018-2023 Strategic Plan or read the updated 2021-2022 Corporate Plan.

Cluster example: Cap Digital, France
Recognized as one of Europe’s ‘Superclusters’, Paris-based Cap Digital is one of the engines of France’s national digital transformation. Since its founding in 2016, Cap Digital has helped raise €1,7BN in R&D funding and €1BN in venture financing, attracted 1000+ members and a global network of 120 digital experts to support joint projects and company building. Visit Cap Digital here.

Contact Us

Stephanie Scott, Program Director
icap@commerce.wa.gov