The nanoGateway project incorporates an understanding of how technological clusters are successful and, as such, hopes to avoid some of the pitfalls that have affected other similar initiatives.
nanoGateway can be considered an example of “indicative planning“, whereby an initiative (usually partially directed by the public sector) provides a nexus or focal-point to guide the economic activities (including investment) of a given area, allowing a new economic sector to develop in a coherent manner, responding to a wide range of social needs, instead of having to adapt to these later, in an ad hoc manner. In this context, it is worth briefly delving into the empirical research carried out by a team of academics at the University of the Basque Country, composed of professors Etxebarria, Gomez Uranga and Barrutia Guenaga (2011).
Their research is aimed at nanotechnology clusters in German regions (Landers) as well as two Spanish Autonomous Communities, specifically Catalonia and the Basque Country.
The authors observe that a cluster can fail due to a lack of coherence, either because it does not synergize its parts internally or because it does not adequately concentrate the various elements of a successful cluster, becoming diffuse due to its key players being excessively distant. According to Etxebarria and his collaborators, the Basque Country presents a case of the former, and Catalonia of the latter. In the Basque case, “big cities compete with each other without seeking synergies based on complementarity and geographical proximity”. In the case of Catalonia, companies based in Barcelona, for example, sometimes carry out their laboratory research in other countries, and therefore do not cultivate local scientific knowledge.
The advantage of the nanoGateway project is that it starts with a clear agenda, aiming to develop the nanotechnology sector in coherence with social needs and existing economic sectors in the Interreg Spain-Portugal region, articulating itself by integrating different regional players and adapting through a system of constant feedback (the online nanoGateway Platform). At the same time, it seeks to adapt itself to the international market (producing, for example, a Green Paper of good practices that can be used at European level, and a Barometer of innovation in nanotechnology that seeks to make known the achievements of the eight POCTEP regions globally).
It thus represents the indispensable “key agent” bestowing coherence to the project, without which clusters tend to fail.