Local – regional – national – international

Each ecosystem has a geographical centre of gravity. Places such as Menlo Park, Mountain View and Palo Alto in Silicon Valley and Eindhoven and Veldhoven in Brainport, for example, are above average important for the development of these innovative top regions. From the perspective of companies in particular, the question of what the boundaries of such an area are is not usually relevant to their activities. The discussion about the geographical scope may seem trivial, but it is not.

For governments, geographical boundaries are important. After all, certainly in Europe, they are often involved in the funding of support organisations, such as cluster organisations and development agencies. In many cases, regional governments, in particular, contribute directly to the organisations’ budgets. By definition, this implies that it will be necessary to justify where that money goes and therefore what the effects of this investment are in the relevant area.

This accountability mechanism is regularly at odds with the scope of the work of the organisations concerned themselves. Certainly activities in the field of innovation will not be curbed by regional or even national borders. In fact, any attempt to restrict activities beyond a geographical area reduces the chances of survival of an ecosystem in the longer term.

A good example of cross-regional connections is the relationship between the Stanford ecosystem and that around UC Davis. Stanford, located in the heart of Silicon Valley, has, from its history, hardly been active in the field of innovative food solutions. This is in contrast to UC Davis, some 100 miles from Palo Alto. UC Davis has been one of the leading knowledge institutes in this field worldwide for many years. In recent years, however, the interest of start-ups, investors and researchers around Stanford has increased sharply. The contributions from Silicon Valley to innovation in food systems are in most cases complementary to the solutions produced by the UC Davis system. Think, for example, of sensor and imaging technologies and big data solutions. 

In addition, many social problems, certainly where our food system is concerned, are essentially global in nature. This calls for cross-border connections. The question is, of course, how to deal with the restrictions imposed by (government) financiers – for reasons that may be understandable – on this? In the first place, it should be clear that it takes political courage to explain that one’s own region will flourish better the more connections are made with elsewhere. Support organisations can certainly be helpful in this. Not only by systematically keeping track of successful cross-border partnerships with regional players, but also by communicating this on a regular basis. But also by emphasising that a good business climate in one’s own region is of the utmost importance for the blossoming of that ecosystem. Only then will the fear of local administrators of alienation from their own region’s ecosystem be curbed.