GEN Policy and OECD look to Cambridge, UK for Lessons in Policies Driving High-Tech Clusters
What conditions make for thriving high technology clusters? What can government policymakers do to support them? Are there common drivers leading to policy success around the world? GEN Policy and the OECD Centre for Entrepreneurs (CFE) partnered to answer these questions in a recent webinar featuring entrepreneurship policy experts from the United Kingdom, United States, Canada, the Netherlands, Ireland and Poland.
Cristina A.
Fernandez
7 Jun 2021

What conditions make for thriving high technology clusters? What can government policymakers do to support them? Are there common drivers leading to policy success around the world?

GEN Policy and the OECD Centre for Entrepreneurs (CFE) partnered to answer these questions in a recent webinar featuring entrepreneurship policy experts from the United Kingdom, United States, Canada, the Netherlands, Ireland and Poland.

Dr. Jonathan Potter, Head of the Entrepreneurship Policy and Analysis Unit at OECD CFE, presented the findings of the recent OECD report on Local Entrepreneurship Ecosystems and Emerging Industries: Case Study of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, United Kingdom. Cambridge, UK is one of the world’s leading high-tech clusters and has had extraordinary recent success generating research-based start-up and scale-up enterprises, including 20 locally-produced “unicorns”.

The cluster has a high concentration of scale-up enterprises (900 in 2017) and 4,700 knowledge-intensive firms with 60,000 employees overall. Key sectors are ICT and life sciences in particular, but advanced manufacturing and agri-tech are also important.

Potter argued that the Cambridge cluster has largely evolved in a bottom-up manner rather than as an outcome of a deliberate government cluster policy. He identified seven growth drivers for the Cambridge cluster:

  1. A major knowledge and talent anchor (University of Cambridge);
  2. Strong commercialization of University research (science parks and incubators);
  3. Entrepreneurial finance (investors and venture capital);
  4. Entrepreneurial culture (spin-outs from the university and other local start-ups);
  5. Entrepreneurial networks (collaborations and information exchange amongst firms and with the university);
  6. Ecosystem leaders (some key serial entrepreneurs committed to the development of the cluster); and,
  7. Attraction of further knowledge and talent anchors alongside the University (international inward investors such as Microsoft and Astr Zeneca).

He also discussed four key challenges now faced by the Cambridge cluster in maintaining its development:

  1. Congestion has emerged because population and employment growth has not been matched by housing and transport infrastructure growth;
  2. Uneven regional development within the broader Cambridgeshire and Peterborough region, with areas outside the city of Cambridge lagging behind economically and not well linked to the cluster;
  3. Constraints in accessing talented labour, reflecting international competition for key skills like data scientists and the impacts of Brexit on immigration; and
  4. A limited public sector role in ecosystem leadership.

He identified policy recommendations to address the constraints, with an emphasis on expanding cluster activities and networks to the immediate region surrounding Cambridge and providing public sector support to cluster management organizations to expand their operations.

Following a group discussion with additional experts from the United Kingdom, United States, Canada, the Netherlands, Ireland and Poland, it was concluded that inclusiveness is an important issue in cluster policy that has not yet been widely addressed. To improve access to ecosystems and develop sustainable cluster growth, policies should be adapted to engage more fully under-represented groups.

For more information on the OECD Centre for Entrepreneurship, SMEs, Regions and Cities, visit www.oecd.org/cfe/

Cristina A. Fernandez

Vice President for Policy + Research | Global Entrepreneurship Network

Cristina Fernández focuses on integrating public officials into startup ecosystems across the world, creating platforms for them to exchange ideas… More