Creating Cleantech Clusters

by Richard T. Stuebi

Shawn Lesser of Sustainable World Capital recently posted on the CleanTech Group‘s website his list of Top 10 CleanTech Cluster Organizations. I was pleasantly surprised to see that four of the ten listings were from the U.S. — in the places you’d probably suspect: Boston, New York (Upstate), California (both Northern and Southern). Interestingly, no place in China made the cut.

As Lesser notes, “creating a cluster is no simple task.” In my research, I really haven’t found any predictable formula or recipe for nurturing along a cluster’s formation. I recall once asking a serious student of regional economic clusters, Ned Hill of Cleveland State University, for his insights. In his view, there are three necessities that must be in place for a cluster to emerge in a given geographic area:

  • First, there must be a critical mass of people and organizations within and between which leading-edge knowledge transfer occurs.
  • Second, the people and organizations that set the standards for the industry must be present.
  • Third, an extensive set of pilot and demonstration projects must exist at which experimentation can be conducted to develop real-world improvements.

Without these three factors in place, it’s very much an uphill push to create an industry cluster.

Here in Northeast Ohio, NorTech — the economic development organization leading efforts to nurture technology-based clusters in our region — has recently launched an initiative in partnership with The Cleveland Foundation called Energy Enterprise to help spur subclusters of activity in our region in various segments of the advanced energy technology spectrum.

In planning the activities of Energy Enterprise, we’ve often talked about what it takes to build a cluster, sometimes getting frustrated at all of the factors beyond the control of any agency aiming to be a catalyst for cluster growth. Although we at Energy Enterprise don’t have a definitive playbook, we take some solace that cluster-building is inevitably a struggle for everyone. We have no illusions that we can enter such a top-10 list very quickly, having come a bit late to the game relative to others, but aspire that we can eventually get there in the years to come.

Richard T. Stuebi is a founding principal of Energy Enterprise, the advanced energy initiative at NorTech, where he is on loan from The Cleveland Foundation as its Fellow of Energy and Environmental Advancement. He is also a Managing Director in charge of cleantech investment activities at Early Stage Partners, a Cleveland-based venture capital firm.

1 reply
  1. Bartlett Interactive
    Bartlett Interactive says:

    Glad to see Boston near the top of the list, but I can see how the real challenge is to nurture development of cleantech enterprises outside of these select (top 10) areas. Is focusing on developing clusters more important than advancing individual projects?

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