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January 19, 2009
Volume 87, Number 3
Web Exclusive


Tight Focus Helped German Clusters Compete

Patricia L. Short

When it established a competition for high-level technology clusters, the German Ministry of Education & Research did not specify categories or establish preconceived boundaries as to the kinds of technologies that were eligible.

The ministry created a new department—Department 112, New Instruments for Promoting Innovation—to conduct the competition. In August 2007, it published a call for entries in the first of a total of three rounds of the German Top Technology Cluster competition. The prize was a respectable €200 million—roughly $260 million???for a maximum of five clusters.

In all, 38 would-be clusters applied. Twelve finalists were eventually invited to make a 10-minute presentation to the prize jury. Christian Tidona, managing director of Heidelberg-based BioRN Cluster Management, says that there was a 10-minute pitch, followed by 40 minutes of intensive questioning. Five winners, including BioRN, were announced in September 2008.

Focus was one of the key components to winding up a winning entry, Tidona believes. For example, he points out that one of the 12 finalists was a biotech cluster based in Munich. Its application, he says, was very similar to that of BioRN. "They emphasized the same things???drug discovery, drug development, and so on," he says. They could even point to more venture capital advantages and more companies near maturity and profitability.

However, Tidona says, "our highly focused strategy and our excellent team of highly ranked and motivated executives from industry and academia finally convinced the jury that our concept was more promising."

BioRN, which will focus on cell-based and molecular medicine, was joined by four other winning clusters: an aviation/aerospace cluster in Hamburg; "cool silicon" energy-efficient innovations in Dresden; photovoltaics in Halle, near Leipzig, and in Dresden; and organic electronics in the Rhine-Neckar region—where BioRN is also located.

The organic electronics cluster—Forum Organic Electronics—is managed by Heidelberg-based Innovation Lab. It will focus on products such as luminous wallpaper and solar absorption coatings for energy-efficient heating and cooling. The Universities of Heidelberg and Mannheim, BASF, Freudenberg, Heidelberger Druckmaschinen, Merck KGaA, Roche, and SAP are all involved in this cluster.

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