Engaging Actors for the Development of a High-Tech Cluster: The Case of Biotechnology

Engaging Actors for the Development of a High-Tech Cluster: The Case of Biotechnology

Marcia Villasana (Universidad de Monterrey, Mexico)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-1646-2.ch009
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This chapter introduces the case of the northern state of Nuevo Leon, Mexico, where particularly after 2003 the state government began implementing actions aimed at developing high-technology clusters in the region around strategic knowledge areas, biotechnology being one of them. In this context, the chapter presents findings from an empirical investigation on the interactions between academia and industry, focusing on the university biotechnology researcher’s viewpoint. The author hopes to contribute to not only to the growing body of empirical literature on how relevant actors within a regional innovation system engage in working relationships particularly with high-technology industries, but to inform policymakers for the better design of instruments aimed at strengthening university-industry interactions.
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Biotechnology is an industry regarded by many national governments as an essential area for ensuring long-term economic development and environmental sustainability, and for which both government and private companies are employing large amounts of financial and human resources to develop and acquire scientific and technological capabilities (Somsen, 2007). Given that biotechnology impacts across different industrial uses of the life sciences, it has come to acquire a relevant role in addressing challenges faced by world economies such as those related to food, water, energy and healthcare provision. Beyond that, it has become a very profitable business. The global biotechnology market annual growth between 2003 and 2007 was 10.7%, being the health sector the most lucrative with total revenues equivalent to 69.4% of total market value (Business InfoBytes, 2009).

As with other knowledge-intensive industries, biotechnology and its commercial application require a highly qualified pool of human resources trained in different scientific areas (Bartholomew, 1997; Gonsen, 2000); proximity to knowledge-generating sources; as well as strong linkages among key actors (Cooke, 2002). International patterns of the supply and demand of biotechnology demonstrate a strong presence of university-based scientists. For example, in the UK close interactions between the science base of the public sector and industry have been evidenced (Chiesa and Chiaroni, 2005; Swann and Prevenzer, 1996). For the US, a bio-industry has emerged mostly from universities in the form of DBFs – dedicated biotechnology firms (Bartholomew, 1997; Shan, Walker, and Kogut, 1994). A strong science base is a local context factor that can be enhanced through the design and implementation of mechanisms to attract key or star scientists to the already existing higher education institutions (Chiesa and Chiaroni, 2005) to support such industries.

Other factors that support the birth and development of biotechnology as an industry are an entrepreneurial and networking culture as well as technology transfer mechanisms to allow universities for the commercial exploitation of research outputs and firms to access new technologies and procedures (Chiesa and Chiaroni, 2005). The most prominent examples are those of Northern California, San Diego County, and the Boston Metropolitan Area where half of the US biotech firms are located (Powell, Koput, Bowie, and Smith-Doerrs, 2002). In Canada the combination of institutional assets such as universities, research centers, technology transfer offices, commerce chambers, among others, have supported the development of a strong biotech industry (Canobbio and Ibarra, 2006). In addition, evidence from developed countries show that the success of biotechnology deriving in benefits to society has been in great part the result of a strong government commitment in investing in R&D, human resources and infrastructure (OAS, 2004).

Following an international trend, and supported through initiatives such as the Regional Scientific and Technological Development Program by the OAS - Organization of American States (Bas, 2006), some countries in Latin America began tapping into their local institutional assets to support the development of biotechnology, all of which are key for producing and reproducing a regional context for innovation patterns to prosper (Gertler and Wolfe, 2004). In the region, despite the relatively small size of its biotech industry, Mexico is considered one of the countries with more potential for its strong development due in part to the geographical and commercial advantage that its proximity to the US represents (Quezada, 2006).

Overall, there are 375 firms with processes, products, inputs or systems related to biotechnology in Mexico of which:

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