What is a « French pôle de compétitivité » ?
A French “pôle de compétitivité” is a partnership, based around a specific theme and a specific region
A “pôle de compétitivité” (competitiveness cluster ou cluster) brings together large and small firms, research bodies and educational establishments, all working together in a specific region to develop synergies and cooperative efforts around a shared theme.
Clusters think big
The goal of clusters is to build on synergies and collaborative innovation projects in order to give partner firms the chance to become first in their markets, both in France and abroad.
What objectives do "pôles de compétitivité" have ?
Clusters serving business and job growth
Clusters help to make the French economy more competitive. They develop growth and jobs in key markets by:
- stepping up companies' innovation efforts and supporting mainly industrial activities with a large technological component;
- improving the attractiveness of France through greater international visibility.
Boosting the economic benefits of the clusters' dynamism
The core activity of the clusters is to develop collaborative innovation projects, while integrating the potential economic benefits as early as possible. Clusters meet two priorities:
- reinforcing the economic benefits of R&D projects. The clusters become factories for tomorrow's products. They transform collaborative R&D efforts into innovative products, processes and services released onto the market;
- supporting the growth of SMEs and mid-tier companies (ETIs) by offering collective and individual services in the following areas: access to financing, international development, the forecasting of companies' needs in terms of skills and individual assistance with the development of SMEs, including advice and tutoring.
What public support is available for “French pôles de compétitivité” ?
France is committed to creating a conducive environment for both firms and innovation. It helps companies to derive the economic benefits of innovation.
For instance, at national and regional level, France and its regions back the development of clusters:
- Through calls for projects launched by the FUI and under the Invest for the Future Programme resulting in financial assistance for the best nation-wide collaborative public-private R&D projects;
- By granting loans to member SMEs or ETIs that wish to embark on the industrialisation and marketing of the results of a collaborative R&D project. This loan for the industrialisation of cluster projects (PIPC) is financed by the Invest for the Future Programme;
- By helping clusters and their member firms find the best international partners and set up technological partnerships with them focused on value creation;
- By supporting the clusters' governance structures, alongside firms. This support enables the introduction of theme-based collective initiatives launched by the clusters, in a wide variety of fields and involving the cluster's firms, particularly including SMEs, so as to promote innovation and improve their competitiveness;
- By involving various partners in this policy, including the French National Research Agency (Agence Nationale de la Recherche or ANR), Public investment bank (Bpifrance), the Environment Agency and the energy conservation (ADEME), the Deposits and Consignments Fund (Caisse des Dépôts et Consignations ou CDC) and Business France.
Public-sector support for R&D projects
- Between 2005 and 2013, 1,313 collaborative R&D projects received public financing of €2.37 billion, including more than €1.45 billion granted by the French State through the dedicated fund (FUI). These projects, amounting to nearly €6 billion in R&D expenditure, involved close to 15,000 researchers.
What is the French “pôles de compétitivé”' profile?
The clusters cover most sectors of activity, from emerging high-tech fields (nanotechnologies, biotechnologies, ecotechnologies, and so on) to more mature sectors (automotive, aerospace, etc.).
- In 2011, each cluster had an average of 187 members (108 SMEs, 16 ETIs, 13 major groups and 31 research and training organisations).
- Their average budget was around €1.3m (with FTE employees).
- Their leadership teams were small (8 FTE employees) and stable (more than 3 years in the job).
SME involvement in clusters in 2011
- 86% of SMEs: In 2011, 86% of the clusters' 7,500 member firms were SMEs, 12% were ETIs and 2% were major companies.
- 63% of subsidies: In 2013, SMEs received 67% of the financial support granted to companies by the State fund dedicated to collaborative R&D projects (Fonds unique interministériel, FUI).
A few examples of the support given for the growth of SMEs and ETIs in the various regions of France
Access to private financing:
Bus’Dev to help companies boost their capital (pôle SCS)
In 2009, the Secured Communication Systems (SCS) cluster launched the Bus’Dev programme to help SMEs and micro-enterprises to raise capital from private investors. The programme aims to assist companies with the presentation of their business plans to investors. The cluster preselects member firms. It offers to present their project to a committee made up of investors, industry representatives and experts. If the project is found to be mature enough, the company receives six days of mentoring with a consultant and financial and market experts. After this training, the companies selected are given the "Innovative Cluster Firm" label. The cluster puts them into contact with targeted potential investors. Of the 74 firms that applied for the Bus'Dev programme, 27 ultimately went through the mentoring phase and were labelled "Innovative Cluster Firms". Out of these 27, six successfully raised capital from private investors amounting to €1.5 million.
Supporting of SMEs:
integration of eco-design (pôle Fibres)
The Fibres cluster designed the CIM-Eco® initiative intended to help companies develop their eco-design expertise. These firms drew on a network of professional organisations, technical and research centres and eco-design experts. In the space of three years, as a result of this initiative, 33 companies from the fibre sector were able to acquire and develop their eco-design engineering and marketing expertise. Nearly half of these firms have already released an eco-designed product, with a total of 17 products, including 14 new ones and three "reworked" on an eco-design basis. Seven R&D projects are under way. CIM-Eco® has also enabled companies to renew their strategy and proactively position themselves on the markets in order to anticipate future regulatory obligations, enhance their image and set themselves apart from the competition.
Support outside France:
the creation of a network in Asia to represent the cluster there (pôle Vitagora)
In 2007, the Vitagora cluster identified real potential for partnerships for its members in Asia. This potential needed to be maintained, however, by a local representative. This led to the idea of recruiting an employee under the International Business Volunteer programme (VIE). A person was hired to represent the cluster and its members in Asia and get them known. This was the start of a network able to make trading easier. Very quickly, three partnership agreements were signed, 9 missions were organised in Asia and, vice versa, 13 in France. The cluster's firms have had a contract signing rate of close to 33%.
Intellectual property advice:
training to become familiar with the legal aspect of collaborative projects (pôle Minalogic)
Most of the Minalogic cluster's member SMEs had a poor grasp of the notion of intellectual property and particularly the negotiation of consortium agreements. The cluster therefore launched the "Taste for Innovation" initiative in partnership with the Axelera and Tenerrdis clusters. This initiative gave SMEs and laboratories a better understanding of the legal aspect of collaborative projects and consortium agreements. Between 2009 and 2013, 427 firms and laboratories benefited from this initiative. The cluster noted greater consideration of intellectual property issues, with an increase in the number of patents and faster convergence towards consortium agreements for the collaborative projects that were helped. The consortium agreements also became more legible, reducing in size from 100 to 20 pages for the same legal result.