Water Alliance, an active network organisation for businesses in the water technology and part of an unique ecosystem, Water Campus.
This good practice demonstrates how a cluster organisation kickstarts an evolution in the water technology sector in the Northern Netherlands and how Smart Specialisation and ERDF funding supported this.
The Water Alliance was founded as a cluster organisation to contribute to the social challenge which was set out by the Smart Specialisation Strategy of the Northern Netherlands: ‘clean and secure water supply’.
Within a decade, the cluster and institutes in the water technology evolved in a very strong innovation ecosystem, playing an important role on national, European and global level. Strong commitment, use and development of regional assets, clever use of funding resources and a clear choice not to become a huge organisation but to really build an innovation chain are the ingredients of this success. The Water Alliance kept their focus on supporting the SMEs and subsequently the economy of the region.
The ecosystem ‘Water Campus Innovation Chain’ consists of the three managing partners:
• Water Alliance, the cluster and network organisation
• Wetsus, the European Centre of excellence for sustainable water technology, for scientific research
• CEW, the Centre of Expertise Water Technology, for applied research and product development
These organisations chose to combine their expertise within this ecosystem, formed by them, partners and members. Together they bring new products and services to the market, from know-how to business and share a worldwide network.
Costs of establishment: € 4,8 million, of which €517.000 from Operational Programme ERDF.
Main funders are governmental institutes within the region. Member fees are 10% of the finance, which is approximately €1.500.
There are currently sixteen people working for the Water Alliance, 10 FTEs.
Evidence of success
The growth of the network. Water Alliance started with zero members and a couple of stakeholders. Currently 110 Dutch members (mainly SMEs) and a wider international network. Established an unique innovation chain within the water technology sector and set up more than 30 start-ups. Water Alliance is partner in the Enterprise Europe Network, which encompasses more than 50 countries worldwide, and Water Alliance participates in the Innofest project, European projects VIDA and Water Test Network.
The start and positioning of the cluster was a real challenge.
Combining success in achieved numbers and impact on societal challenge was very difficult.
It was very difficult to establish a secure and sustainable financial base.
Potential for learning or transfer
Transfers and learning:
1. How 'chain thinking and acting' can improve cluster performance.
2. How to organise activities that are also interesting for organisations outside your region/country that will impact the growth of a network.
3. How to establish suitable financial conditions for new enterprises which makes it more attractive for start-ups to join the network.
4. How to set up a Smart Specialisation Strategy which strengthens the innovation ecosystem and how to programme ERDF or other funds to promote this.
5. How to stay 'lean and mean' and productive as a cluster. Learn and transfer from the Water Alliance how to share the work load efficiently in your ecosystem instead,
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