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Networks, Collective Learning and R&D in Regionally Clustered High-technology Small & Medium-sized Enterprises

Aims & objectives

This project served to draw together an international group of scholars to study networks and collective learning. This European research network was funded under the TSER Initiative of the Fourth Framework Programme on Research and Technology Development and was coordinated and organised by the CBR. It brought together 11 European research teams from eight countries to analyse the role and importance of regional and European-wide research and technology linkages, and networks, in the evolution and competitiveness of regional clusters of innovative high-technology SMEs. The clusters being studied included those in some of Europe’s most dynamic regions - Munich, Grenoble, Cambridge, Oxford, Nice/Sophia-Antipolis, Goteborg, and the Dutch Randstad.

The project found that successful SME growth in these areas during the 1990s often reflected the combining of competencies and technologies, usually by individuals possessing differing expertise, to create new innovative products and firms (as in Sophia Antipolis, where firms are combining multimedia, image processing, computing and telecommunications technologies, or Goteborg, with software applications, mechanical engineering and electronics). Thus the most successful European regional clusters were those exhibiting a balance between sectoral and technological specialisation and diversification, often with the development of specialised ‘micro-clusters’ (biotechnology and telecommunications in Cambridge, for example) within an overall diversified high-technology regional economy. In general, the clusters studied exhibited a relatively high level of intra-regional networking and linkages between local high-technology SMEs and other firms, especially for manufacturing SMEs. However, wider national and global linkages were extremely important as well.

Confirming earlier CBR work on territorial clustering, transnational comparisons suggested that successful globalisation by high-technology SMEs was associated with above-average local embeddedness. The project also identified a key role for universities and research institutes as ‘regional collective agents’ with a more important and strategic role in SME growth than would be suggested by a simple focus on their formal links to high technology firms. In relation to collective learning processes, the movement of scientists, technologists, managers and entrepreneurs and hence transfer of embodied expertise between firms, in the form of new firm spin-offs and labour market recruitment, was found to be more important than formal supplier links or research collaborations. These findings were published in a special issue of the journal Regional Studies, edited by Keeble, Moore and Wilkinson.

Working papers

Keeble, D., Lawson, C. Lawton Smith, H., Moore, B. and Wilkinson, F. (1997) Internationalisation Processes, Networking and Local Embeddedness in Technology-Intensive Small Firms, Centre for Business Research Working Paper 53.

Lawson, C., Moore, B., Keeble, D., Lawton Smith, H. and Wilkinson, F. (1997), Inter-Firm Links Between Regionally Clustered High-Technology SMEs: A Comparison of Cambridge and Oxford Innovation Networks Centre for Business Research Working Paper 65.

Keeble, D. Lawson, C., Lawton Smith, H., Moore, B. and Wilkinson, F. (1998) Collective Learning Processes and Inter-Firm Networking in Innovative High-Technology Regions Centre for Business Research Working Paper 86.

Principal investigators

David Keeble
Clive Lawson
Frank Wilkinson

Project status

Completed