At the starting seminar (December 2009) in Estonia many business promotion organisations and government agencies (MAPs) were invited. In Sweden the MAPs were involved later at a seminar during autumn 2010. It seems like the MAPs in Sweden haven’t been quite as rooted in the project as for example in Estonia where there has been a new tourism program developed during the project period. The timing was most successful in Estonia; in Sweden we were a little ahead of the time-table. But in Finland the timing made us more forced to just accept what was already in place.
Contacts with the organisations and authorities who are to absorb the experiences from the project and implement them in their ordinary operations should be established already at the start of the project and then be maintained with all knowledge derived from the project.
At the start-up SEMINAR in Norrtälje there was theory mixed with good practical examples from clusters in other industries. At a brainstorming workshop a common vision as well as several local visions emerged. Participants realized that it was important to find what was common and unique, and decide whether the cluster should be a large common cluster or several local clusters.
Start with a workshop including entrepreneurs and other involved parties where the vision and the cluster are defined. If there is to be a cross-border cluster begin to build the national sections, local and from the bottom up, while keeping the vision of the cross-border latent in the meantime.
According to the project time-table there where a lot of work that should be done simultaneously. One lesson learned is that it is important to start with the actual target group first so that you have something concrete to report in order to get the business promotion players interested. Input from scientists has been good ever since the start, highlighting differences in men and women in business and living conditions in different countries. In the project we went from the abstract to the concrete; perhaps it would have been better to do the opposite.
Start with the entrepreneurs. Get them to formulate their vision and start building from the bottom-up considering their own common interests. They must be able to see the gain in order to put in time. The clustering should be done by them, not for them.
The project showed that cluster coaches were needed to form entrepreneurial groups. But it was unclear who would have this role, someone in the group or outside it. Also, it was unclear what the coach should convey.
A cluster coach is needed in the formation of clusters, someone who leads the group and provides the tools to work from. Cluster coach can be a consultant on the basis of leading the work on the development program. It can also be useful to designate any group as a supervisor with responsibility to carry on the network after the project period.
The development program for entrepreneurs
During 2010 there were several conferences on themes of women’s entrepreneurship in a more global perspective, networking and social media, marketing on the web, environmental consulting and more. There were also brainstorming sessions about development of ICT services for mobile phones, suitable for the tourism industry.
During the autumn of 2010 the work of E-teams in Sweden decided to make a mobile map and mobile guide for Roslagen hiking path. Then the idea of developing a package around a bicycle route emerged.
In Estonia the project provided entrepreneurs with an opportunity to develop. It also provided an opportunity to internationalize co-operation. The project has led to a new development plan for Läänama tourism. The project has given good knowledge for coming activities on different levels. Especially appreciated is the joint marketing and the project’s technical product – the mobile guide.
Hire a skilled consultant as cluster coach, who is familiar with the industry and the situation of the entrepreneurs. Get the entrepreneurs to unite around a common idea or vision. Help them to develop and package their services and products. Offer them necessary knowledge in technical support, pricing, marketing, market analysis. Encourage them to do joint marketing, online magazines, mobile application and trade expos. Increased marketing opportunities as a group instead of as fifteen separate companies.
It has been immensely valuable to have researchers in the project who have been able to follow the development and give input at the right moment. At the beginning of the project researchers made overviews of gender relations in the various countries that showed similarities and differences. Later, researchers analysed the concept Quadruple Helix and especially what the non-profit organisations brought in the process of cluster building. The technical research was based on the entrepreneurs’ activities’ and built up an application according to their needs. It was a long time quite unclear what this part would lead to but it was still interesting for entrepreneurs to reflect about their businesses from a technical point of view. At the end the application became very real, considered needed and added value to the project.
In a clustering should be included various kinds of researchers. According to the surveys made in the project very small business owners usually do not have a single contact with researchers or specialist and to facilitate such contacts is essential in building clusters. A cluster will be constantly evolving.
Gender researchers focused on entrepreneurship and practitioners, the county administrative board gender expert and women resource centre BalticFem were involved in the project. Jointly the project possessed broad expertise on gender equality. The project followed up the entrepreneurs in the tourism industry in three countries from a gender perspective. It was found out that the industry was dominated by women, many small self-employed or small businesses. Government relations were characterized by inspection and regulatory constraints. They had the most contact with regard to compliance with environmental and health administrative regulations, building permit regulations.
When the cluster is built it should be supported and monitored by local and regional authorities. It is important that authorities and others are just as willing to support female-dominated industries as male-dominated. They should recognize that innovation and development can take place even in the new female-dominated industries and the actors should take women in business seriously and not discriminate against women with regard to loans, land, investment and grants. Often the differences between men and women in business disappear after several years of operation.
The technical perspective
The task of Åbo Akademi University was to introduce new innovative means to promote entrepreneurs in the archipelago in the three countries. In these areas the electronic infrastructure is often weakly developed so mobile phone applications are a great addition.
A mobile guide for tourists has been developed as part of the project. The application provides information about interesting tourism targets. Developing such an application implicates difficulties as data comes from three different databases and combining them in the projects database/server, which is a challenge since all three countries have their own way to range their data. Another challenge is to make the application work and being up to date without constant Internet connectivity.
At the beginning of the project we believed that the application would be ready and up and running during the project but that was not the case. The task was larger and more complex than anyone realized initially. The application is truly a concrete product of the project and something that will really give entrepreneurs a joint marketing boost when in use.
It always takes longer than you think to develop new things. If you are dependent on getting other actors cooperating before you can start building your product. Make sure you have enough time so you can benefit from the product in the actual project. It is always possible to try and get the product sustainable and run by someone else (like a consortium of participants) after the project but then it will be difficult to evaluate the effect of the product within the project period.
Thus, achievements of the project are:
- strengthened local, regional and international cooperation
- development and action plans
- common marketing by mobile guide
- good studies and analysis made by the project
- opportunities for future cooperation
- involvement of authorities, research and NGOs
Weaknesses and threats:
- short time and many objectives at the same time
- difficult to motivate entrepreneurs
- international cooperation is not achieved yet fully
- weak local networks
- language problems (not everyone speaks English)
- future cooperation may not evolve because of lack of money or low interest – that could be a threat.