Entrepreneurship, knowledge, learning and the evolution of industrial/territorial clusters and regions”




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Diversity of entrepreneurs and diversity of clusters in nanotechnologies.


Patrick Cohendet and Émilie Pawlak1.


DIME – LIEE / NTUA ATHENS 2006 CONFERENCE


Entrepreneurship, knowledge, learning and the evolution of industrial/territorial clusters and regions”

November 30 and December 1, 2006


Introduction


Public, supranational, national and regional institutions of the leading industrialized countries have placed achieving excellence in nanotechnologies as a top priority. All over the world, there is a growing conviction that nanotechnologies are forming the new high-tech wave central to the future performance and competitiveness of nations, regions and firms2. As a set of generic technologies, nanotechnologies could considerably impact products and production processes in many industries such as, electronics and communication (storage capacity, processing speed…), chemical and materials, pharmaceuticals and medicine (drug delivery system, diagnosis, bio-compatible replacements…), and manufacturing (precision engineering, self-assembling structure…). Already, some nanotech applications have penetrated mass-market products (mainly to improve existing products or to improve their properties).


However, with regards to the full potential of nanotechnology, the issues involving this high-tech domain remain fuzzy. In fact, little has been done to identify the changes stemming from the emergence and the development of nanotechnology; or to understand the co-evolution between nanotech and industries (actors, division of work/knowledge, creative and learning processes, external constraints, the role of public research organizations, or the importance of intellectual property), and the potential risks on the environment. The development of nanotechnologies is still facing many uncertainties of different nature that prevent any precise economic analysis of this emerging activity. The risks are thus high because of misunderstandings, excess of positive “buzz”, disillusions, or misuse of creative resources.


In this fundamentally uncertain environment, economists tend to focus on the leading role played by diverse types of entrepreneurs who will take the risk to turn opportunities into the building of new competences and bodies of knowledge. To a large extent the pace of evolution of nanotechnologies will be determined by these active agents who will pave the creative paths of this emerging domain. However, our view is that the creative behaviors of these entrepreneurs are not purely random and independent in terms of time and space. They are constrained and shaped by the specific contexts in which nanotechnologies will emerge.


Assuming the existence of a co-evolution between the types of entrepreneurs and the contexts of emergence of a new technology, the objective of the present contribution is thus to characterize the nature and role of entrepreneurs in nanotechnologies. The analysis is conducted with regards to specific contexts of emergence of this new technological domain that we characterize by two different dimensions, the first one being related to the temporal evolution of nanotechnologies, the second one to their spatial evolution.


The temporal dimension expresses a two-stage paradigmatic vision of the development of nanotechnologies: The first stage is the present tendency in which nanotechnologies follow the pace of the long-term movement of the mastering of microscopic matter. Important changes are associated with this progressive evolution, but, to a large extent, these changes take place on a rather unchanged industrial scene which is shaped by the existing division of activities. The main changes are the conception of new tools and equipments for measuring, characterizing, testing and producing at the nanotech scale, the modifications in the science/industry relationships expected from the need to couple on-line relations between industrial production and scientific research (experimental learning), and the industrial changes in the conception of products associated with the convergence between structural and functional materials. All these new applications are controlled and used by large existing firms in traditional domains such as electronics, automotive and aeronautical which drive the pace of innovation. All these large firms are generally operating from traditional geographical localizations of activities, with minor regional reorganization of activities.


It is only in the coming years and decades that a major revolution associated with nanotechnologies will probably occur with incommensurable impacts on society. This second stage of evolution of nanotechnologies associated with a drastic technological revolution will take place when convergence between, on the one side nanotechnologies, and on the other side ICT and biotechnologies, is achieved. All experts agree that at this moment, there will be a dramatic change in the scientific and industrial way of doing things that will lead to the birth of new types of enterprises, new lines of products and processes, and new ways of solving problems in society. This stage will correspond to a radical transformation of the industrial and scientific landscape implying a new division of activities and the emergence of new bodies of knowledge. As Roco (Roco, 2004) wrote: "Unifying science based on the material unity of nature at the nanoscale provides a new foundation for knowledge, innovation, and integration of technology".


The spatial dimension refers to the fact that, as any high-tech domain, a large part of the development of nanotechnologies will result from what will happen in a restricted number of local clusters in the world that concentrate the dynamics and potential of development of these technologies. The concept of creative clusters has received a growing interest in recent literature (Saxenian, 1994; Andersen and Teubal, 1999; Bathelt et al. 2002; Bresnahan et al. 2002, Rullani, 2001; etc.). Creative clusters are generally viewed as small geographic locations centered on a particular industry, which facilitate close face-to-face communications between the participants of the cluster. A creative cluster can thus be interpreted as a localized network that uses the territory to provide the dissemination of creative ideas (Rullani, 2001). The literature on creative clusters has extensively examined the conditions of success of clusters. Some of the main determinants of success include the existence of large pillar firms (Bathelt et al, 2002), of small innovative firms (Athreye 2001), of specialized financial institutions, of research centers of excellence (Athreye 2001), of anchors (Feldman, 2003), of a sophisticated workforce (Walshok et al., 2002), of management skills (Knuckey and Johnston 2002), etc. All these variables have been extensively used to characterize the strengths and weaknesses of a given cluster or to compare different creative clusters.


This explains the importance of analyzing the local dynamics in this emerging domain: local clusters are the active milieu where opportunities can be turned into competences, where the power of attraction of a given region can be progressively strengthened, where the entrepreneurial decisions are undertaken, and where the competitiveness of the country is progressively built. Referring to nanotechnologies, our view is that contrary to biotech or ICT, there is no dominant form of clusters in nanotech, but a diversity of types of clusters that will shape and drive different attitudes in terms of entrepreneurship. However a shared feature of these nanotech clusters is the important role played by large corporations which constitute one of the major expected development engines in nanotech.


With regards to the temporal and spatial dimensions that have been exposed, we propose to analyze the role of entrepreneurs in nanotechnologies along the following steps:


In a first part we discuss the different types of entrepreneurs and propose a typology of entrepreneurs on which we will base our identification of the diverse forms of entrepreneurship in nanotechnologies.


In a second part, we address the pace of development of nanotechnologies by discussing the different periods that can be identified in the phenomenon.


In a third part, we will consider the on-going phase of development of nanotechnologies. We argue that in this context some specific forms of entrepreneurial activities tend to emerge as the result of a co-development of industrial concentration of activities centered on large firms and scientific centers which is triggered by a specific form of learning in nanotechnologies (experimental learning).


In last part, we will see how convergence between nanotech biotech and information technologies leads to the appearance of clusters characterized by an integrated approach of innovation and see how they are associated with the new types of entrepreneurs identified in the first part.


The results and theoretical debates exposed in this contribution have been discussed during interviews made by Émilie Pawlak, in particular in the nanotech cluster of Grenoble (MINATEC).
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