The influence of academic institutions on regional clusters using the ICT cluster of Waterloo, Ontario as an example
The paper aims to examine the role of academic institutions in the development of the ICT cluster of the Waterloo Region in Ontario, Canada. The regional economic impact of clusters as well as academic institutions relies heavily on its ability to innovate. The ICT sector with its analytical knowledge base depends on radical innovations which are developed through research and development with scientific input from academic institutions. However, the pure existence of technical universities does not automatically result in the development of an ICT cluster. In the region of Waterloo three academic institutions - the University of Waterloo, Wilfrid Laurier University and Conestoga College Institute of Technology and Advanced Learning - shape and stimulate the regional ICT cluster, which now includes up to 700 stakeholders from global market leaders like Research in Motion and Google to SMEs. The paper demonstrates by drawing on 7 qualitative interviews with local ICT companies and supporting organisations that the ICT cluster would not exist without the academic institutions which act as engines of growth for the cluster. The paper shows that the cluster has benefited from the strong ties with the predominantly technically oriented University of Waterloo, which significantly supported the agglomeration of ICT related companies in the region and enhanced the reputation of the Waterloo region. Since the beginning of the evolution of the cluster the University of Waterloo has played a leading role through its openness to patent disclosure, support of spin-off collaborations and partnerships with ICT stakeholders. In recent years, Conestoga College has expanded and upgraded its academic programme especially in ICT related fields to meet the demand of the region and thus has become another success factor for the cluster. Together with the Wilfrid Laurier University, which is located right next to the University of Waterloo and excelling in the fields of social science and business, the three academic institutions are attracting ambitious human capital to the region through their strong reputations. They are educating students and have created a highly successful cooperative education programme, which incorporates mainly regional companies in the education of the students through demanding internships and embeds the university in the cluster. The paper shows that the universities and the college are influencing the cluster by an exchange of knowledge and developing human capital and act as incubators for new companies. Keywords: cluster, university, ICT, regional development JEL classification: O18, O30, R11
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