Taking cluster serious

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Business clusters are used to facilitate a wide range of goals: innovation clusters, sector networks, geographical hubs, industry focused clusters, knowledge sharing, business development, ...


It’s about time we start taking business clusters way more serious...

If you can’t make up a solid business plan for a cluster, don’t even bother to start at all.

Starting a business is challenging and demanding. Not something done over one night of thin ice. You need a solid business plan, a team, credentials and investment capital to succeed. Investors are very stringent on their selection criteria. Experienced entrepreneurs agree that it's not a good idea to start without a good preparation.

But clusters, that’s another cup of coffee. Clusters currently resemble mushrooms: They shoot out of the ground everywhere and everyday. However, unlike mushrooms, clusters mostly don’t have a solid operations and survival plan. You don’t need a business plan, you don’t need a qualified team, you don’t need experience to set up a cluster. You just pick a random professional to set up and run the brand new cluster. And the strange thing is, nobody seems to have questions about this approach. Nobody realises that setting up also requires tangible and intangible investments. Even when the direct investments are small, a lot of resources are used below the radar of corporate controlling.

Clusters are intentional and steered collaborative efforts that want to attain a goal that none of the participants could attain on it’s own. The core is the goal: clusters need a goal. It’s not a good idea to create or join a cluster with a ‘well see what happens’ mindset.

Networks, ecosystems and clusters are the newest kid around the organisational models block. It’s a highly complex and demanding type of organisations. No wonder the level of failures and ‘zombie clusters’ is high.

When done in the right way, clusters or network organisations are an extremely powerful organisational design.

When done in the right way, clusters or network organisations are an extremely powerful organisational design. It’s perfectly suited to solve very complex or ‘wicked’ problems and catch 22 situations, as all our big societal challenges are. If companies want to stay in business and level up to survive in the future, they will have to start taking clusters and networks serious. This means that organisations need to start assigning resources and build up knowledge in the domain of network management and governance. This, in its turn will require solid business plans for the clusters. A good start could be thinking about the basic building blocks of any good business plan.

When setting up a cluster, try to answer the following questions first:

  • What’s the overall goal of the cluster?
  • Why should organisations join the cluster?
  • How will value be created and distributed?
  • Who’s the customer, and what will the cluster do to serve this customer?

If you can’t make up a solid business plan for a cluster, don’t even bother to start at all. Chances are high that it will only be a waste of time, resources and energy.


Noventus is a boutique partnership that offers advice, facilitation and executive services in the domain of collaboration, network organisations, ecosystem management and clusters. Noventus delivers top level knowledge, experience and skills that allow you to  create collaborative initiatives that really have an impact. Noventus is internationally active and serves a wide range of customers, e.g. SMEs , international corporations, governmental institutions.


Koen Vriesacker is founder and managing partner of Noventus. He advises and supports organisations that want to tackle complex business challenges with smart collaboration. He’s also involved in leading academic research on network organisations.



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