The New Approach for How to Make a Place Innovative

imageTo drive the development of an innovation ecosystem, four different sectors must be linked together: government, business, civil society and academia. This is what we call the Quad Helix and they need to be engaged in collaboration forums and projects and together drive development.

Also within and between the academic and business sectors, the innovation support system can have a role to strengthen value-chain thinking and collaboration.

In such an environment, creativity need not wait for the unpredictable “aha” moment. It is continually nurtured. The decisions made at every level – entrepreneurs, investors, corporate engineering teams, bank managers, regional planning agencies, business angels, academic faculty reviews, and many more – are naturally aligned.

In most places, this quad alignment can be deliberately developed if place managers put three measures into effect.

  1. First, we need to “construct a context management”. This is a project organisation or managed cross-sector network that is richer, more diverse, and more deliberately structured than those of the past. Building Silicon Valley took 30 years and Bangalore took 100, but we now know how to accelerate the process by drawing on the collective efforts of leaders in all four sectors of the quad.
  2. Second, these leaders should continually reform the way their organizations are managed, creating a climate that fosters innovation, and adjusting the incentives and organizational structures to reward creativity and collaboration. That’s what venture capitalists provided in Silicon Valley, and what bureaucracy driven places tends to prevent.
  3. Third, leaders should invest in talented, innovative individuals, attracting, retaining, and empowering the right mix of people who can foster serial innovation. This is what Silicon Valley, Barcelona and other successful locations benefited from having large demographic groups of young, gifted entrepreneurs. Other places sometimes have to attract or develop them.

When all four sectors act together, they can pull and push one another into game-changing collaborations, beyond what any of them could achieve alone. The communities of practice that grow around them become creative havens where people build careers that transcend any one particular company or organization.
At the same time, each plays a particular role:

  1. Government at national, regional and city level provides the necessary infrastructure investment, for example, in facilities, transportation, universities and schools, power transmission lines, and land that can make or break a would-be innovation district. In Uppsala we find that the local city government have a good understanding of its role in the Quad Helix context, not the least driven by the European Union membership and requirements of integrated project planning to fulfil criteria of EU funding of projects.
  2. Universities provide a steady supply of highly skilled people and experiments that feed the constant hunger for new knowledge. Most universities are established enough to take a long view in their investments and activities, beyond the quarter-to-quarter focus of many firms. The university environment also provides a high quality of cultural life. In Uppsala with two strong universities and campuses, this environment has a strong presence.
  3. Civil Society is a category that provides a larger contribution than many people recognize, especially through leadership and engagement of public opinion. A Place Manager from the Civil Society can be just as efficient as elected public sector leaders.
  4. Businesses provide the cluster with its economic engine. Because they will close down if they fail to innovate successfully, they take the many risks that innovation entails. The private sector furnishes a large part of the capital needed to fund strategic innovation. Most fundamentally, it is a unique source of vitality and creativity, and the only sector that attracts customers in large enough numbers to support a growing economy. For all these reasons, business leaders have a particularly important role to play in moving an innovation cluster forward.

To bring these four sectors together, a quad cluster needs to nourish a high level of mutual trust and collaboration. Leaders in all four sectors must work cooperatively, knowing that their interests will be protected well beyond the transaction at hand. You can tell when this trust is missing in a prospective cluster; in those cases, people act only on their short term interests, transaction by transaction, ready to pull out quickly with the first faltering step. Trust must be built gradually, through social infrastructure such as professional associations, social clubs, and other forms of on-going contact and exchange.

The Right Organizational Climate

imageBecause entrepreneurs are generally open to organizational reform and opposed to unproductive bureaucracy, clusters can and should become seedbeds for organizational innovation. A successful quad system needs organizations that are willing to continually reform themselves, and to collaborate on building the cluster. For this, networking events, cluster organisations and support with entrepreneurial and business training also beyond graduation from Universities are very important mechanisms, together with an innovation support system such as the chain illustrated to the right.

Investment in Talented Individuals

Sustained innovation flows from the ideas and actions of creative, capable entrepreneurial individuals. They are especially critical to innovative clusters. For this reason, Talent Attraction by the public sector and academia and Employer Branding from exciting businesses needs to interact to retain and attract the talented people who will drive innovation in Uppsala, and for this we need the crisper and clear place brand which has been mentioned above, and the place brand needs to encompass not only the destination and visitor industry but be just as clear for talents and investors.

The Spatial Dimension

Based on our general experience from many Innovation Environment and Innovation Ecosystem projects we typically combine a comprehensive set of approaches to create economically, dynamic and environmentally sustainable urban development with elements from Third Generation Innovation Environments and general investment strategies. Also, we have benefitted from our systematic insights into R&D and innovation activity in some of the world’s leading-edge labs by our detailed benchmarking exercises at top universities and centres of learning, widely recognized for their educational, training and research facilities.

As a rule of thumb, though with variations from case to case, a conceptual design and implementation strategy of any new sustainable innovation ecosystem will rest on five major headings. Each of them will be elaborated as ‘design elements’ or ‘success factors’. Ideally, when implemented, the five design elements should overlap and be closely integrated with the area’s overall implementation strategy.

Sustainable urban development as a holistic approach, is key to delivering better connectivity between the city and its residents, and for creating a sustainable and healthy innovation district like Campus Ultuna and an innovation ecosystem, as well as taking city centre refurbishment and enhanced integration of disconnected areas and better social inclusion into consideration. These are fundamental mind-sets which should be central to effectively and efficiently improve the quality of life in the city.

In addition, the key to the success of creating an Innovation District will depend on the development of an effective implementation strategy based on benchmarking and by using extensive expertise and experiences in investment strategy, management by public-private partnerships and multi-actor involvement in relatively large and long- term development projects.


The five main success factors summarised in the illustration above should be considered “pillars” on which the creation of an inclusive and comprehensive strategy, which if followed carefully, will enable a well-designed and successful implementation projects.

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