This week, Bearing has delivered a strategy report to the Swedish city of Uppsala. The report is an interim delivery in the Uppsala county RIK strategy development project, which aims to prepare for a new regional development strategy to be decided in 2016.
On the macro level and in the context of competitive smart specialisation, stable political, economic and financial systems are an important asset. In Uppsala, many of the assets which usually characterise prominent innovation systems are already in place. The clusters in a number of high value-added economic sectors such as bio tech, med tech, other life-science industries are strong in the local context, and so are also cleantech and information technology, even if neither cluster is prominent in international comparison.
Given this, what are then the sweet spots, in terms of unique market offerings, that are made possible by smart utilisation and combination of the strong fields of competence and three current, strong clusters of life sciences, cleantech and information technology in in Uppsala?
The review of industrial and academic strengths together with their alignment with international and national strategies as well as international research does not give at hand that the three clusters areas by themselves currently have the potential to form globally unique offerings.
In the world of 2015, specialising only on tech or life science, without making the niche offering more narrow and focused, is not visible on the world market. Such broad focus would be to do what everyone else does, which means that the offering becomes an unnoticed commodity. Something which is made painfully clear by KPMG´s survey of site selection for life sciences companies and European life sciences clusters in 2013, where Uppsala is not even mentioned.
However what Uppsala has which can be developed, as we have found clear evidence for in both background research and internal world interviews, are a set of strengths which are not common in many places:
Strong Innovation-support system
Strong alignment and will to collaborate among the actors
Long traditions of being both a business place and a knowledge city
Fundamentally strong academic research within the three main clusters, and also within the field of advanced materials.
All regions cannot be advanced within the same fields and niche industries, however yet most regions in Europe use labels such as “excellence” and “cutting edge” in how they describe themselves, often when the description is about broad knowledge focus areas such as ICT, cleantech and renewable energies.
To really be attractive in today´s Europe will be about doing things in a different way, but what can Uppsala do then, as no industry niche is unique and strong enough yet, to be visible on the global stage?
The approach we recommend is to utilise the concept of smart specialisation to enhance how the innovation enabling system works and collaborates. By disseminating knowledge, process and value chain thinking, and cross-fertilise this with classic program and project work methodology in how to structure collaboration initiatives across the Quad Helix, we believe Uppsala has the potential to be an innovation system in world class.
What then will develop as smart specialisation areas over time will depend on evolution rather than selection. Naturally the key competitive niches can be expected to come from a subset focus of the current three strong clusters. It may even be likely that the strengths of the future will come from cross-fertilisation between clusters, for example cross fertilisation of life science and ICT, advanced materials and ICT or why not life science and advanced materials. Therefore, value chain thinking and integrated collaboration project development can be a key to enhance Uppsala´s innovation system.