The power of clusters: A recap of TCI 2017

Our team, Dorinda So and Saad Usmani attended the three-day 20th TCI Network Global Conference 2017 in Bogotá, Colombia to learn about cluster development and economic growth and to promote the 21st TCI Network Global Conference taking place in Toronto from October 16-18, 2018. In this post, Dorinda shares her highlights of the conference and a preview of what you can expect at next year’s conference – hosted by the Institute!

The global conference is the annual meeting point for the TCI Network, a global network whose activities reach over 9,000 practitioners from development agencies, government departments, cluster organizations, academic institutions, companies, and multilateral organizations in over 110 countries. Cofounded by thought leaders in cluster theory, including Harvard Business School Professor Michael E. Porter, the TCI Network brings together experts in cluster development and economic growth. As cluster development is strong in Europe, Latin America, and Asia, those who are part of a cluster in Ontario will greatly benefit from their expertise at the conference next year.

Day 1 – Cluster tours in and around Bogota

The organizers of the 2017 Global Conference, the Bogotá Chamber of Commerce (or Camará de Comercio de Bogota) has led cluster initiatives in the city for the past five years. In TCI Network conference tradition, the Chamber offered delegates 8 cluster tours, from fashion to energy to Fintech. While Saad attended the energy and construction clusters, Dorinda attended the dairy tour, which toured the region of Cundinamarca, about two hours outside of Bogotá, which has favourable conditions for dairy production.

View from farm in Bogota Colombia for TCI 2017

View from one of the dairy farm in Cundinamarca

This tour demonstrated the power of clusters: by pooling resources and working together, farmers within a particular cooperative can produce higher quality and more milk and milk products for a higher price. Many of these products can also be sold for a higher price because they are artisan products, such as the cheese products below.

CampoReal products

Campo Real’s product samples were a nice snack while on the tour

Those who came from strong dairy producing countries such as New Zealand learned the ins-and-outs of the dairy cluster and its actors, primarily companies. This understanding can translate to business partnerships and export opportunities. This is particularly important for large companies such as Alpina, one of Colombia’s largest companies, that is looking to expand its product line to be integrated into nearly every aspect of everyday life.

Alpina’s canteen for families and groups

Days 2 and 3 – Plenary speakers and breakout sessions

The next two days were split between plenary speakers and breakout sessions. Professor Ricardo Hausmann (Harvard Kennedy School) kicked off Day 2 using Scrabble rules to explain smart specialization, arguing that it is easier for a company/region to move from Bear to Zebra than to Lion by adding the ‘z’ to the Bear and rearranging the letters. It means that regions and companies should look to diversify by adding more “letters” to what they already have instead of trying to trade for letters they do not have.

Ricardo Hausmann on scrabble rules for smart specialization

Dr. Hausmann on how smart diversification, Scrabble style

Hausmann argues that smart specialization is really smart diversification. He recommended that regions should not try to create completely new things without understanding their existing capabilities or what they are good at producing already.

Mary Wolstok, from the University of California San Diego, told the story of how San Diego’s innovation economy and hub began. The US Army had a major part in the city’s development in innovation, thereby demonstrating the importance of policy and government in creating an attractive ecosystem for firms to co-locate together in the same region.

A number of fellow Canadians, including me, gave presentations with other international delegates. I spoke about our clusters data, which draws heavily on the US Cluster Mapping Portal and the work of Richard Bryden at Harvard Business School’s Institute for Strategy and Competiveness. The Mexican experience of cluster mapping, through José Pablo Nuño de la Parra of Universidad Popular Autónoma del Estado de Puebla, and the soon-to-be-launched Brazilian data set (by Álvaro Cyrino) was also explored. Cluster mapping can be used to solve public policy problems and to provide information on the type and location of clusters, but is often too blunt of an instrument to be used to work for cluster practitioners working with companies on the ground. 

Saad Usmani, Policy Analyst and Clusters Specialist at the Institute, talked about the lack of alignment of the cluster policies at each level of government in Canada, while Jeffrey Bell, Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada, explained how the Superclusters initiative addresses some of the geographical challenges of connecting across the country. Both were in consideration of what happens when one level of government is missing from the execution of cluster and development agendas. The experience of Netherlands reflects this as there is no national cluster development agenda. However, the success of the 19th TCI Network Global Conference in 2016 pushed forward a regional cluster policy agenda.

What’s next for #TCI2018?

TCI 2018 mirrors the 2017 conference, with topics and themes relevant to the local conversations in Canada but with an international flavour. Our theme, “Collaborating to compete: Clusters in action” focuses on the collaboration that is already happening within and across clusters in Canada to become more competitive and bringing in ideas and best practices from abroad. TCI 2018 will be your time to join us, to make some unexpected connections (we did!), as we move the conversation forward on making regions more competitive and prosperous.

We hope you will join us next October! Feel free to follow us on social media and join our mailing list to get all of the updates on the conference.

Written by Dorinda So

Photo credit: Dorinda So

Category: Businesses, Clusters, Innovation