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Building an Organization

Once cluster stakeholders have made a commitment to proceed, they must form a steering committee and develop an operating framework.

Form a Steering Committee

The early-stage cluster’s steering committee is responsible for drafting an operating framework for the cluster. The committee should consist of the cluster’s champions, active and engaged stakeholders, and at least one anchor company.

Anchor companies are both leaders in research and development in the field and significant suppliers and exporters. These companies act as role models for other businesses in the cluster. They contribute valuable knowledge of suppliers, distributors, and competitors in the industry, and can advise clusters on what technologies may be important in the future. Anchor companies often support clusters by donating executives’ time to cluster efforts.

Develop an Operating Framework

Once formed, the steering committee should develop an operating framework for the cluster. This document should set out objectives and outcomes for the cluster, establish an organizational structure, and propose an initial schedule of activities.

Outcomes and Objectives

The operating framework should establish the focus of the cluster initiative by outlining desired outcomes. These may include attracting or creating start-up companies, growing existing companies, bringing high-paying jobs to the region, developing the region’s reputation for innovation, and others.

The desired outcomes of the program will help determine how much the cluster organization should focus on activities such as networking, economic development, start-up incubation, advocacy, and investment promotion.

Organizational Structure

The operating framework should establish the structure and method of governance for the cluster organization. Often this includes a board of directors, an executive committee and staff, and operational subcommittees responsible for carrying out the specific activities of the cluster organization. The framework should identify responsibilities for each committee and outline how members will be selected.

Schedule of Activities

The operating framework should propose a timeline for forming committees and recruiting members. The framework should also identify potential early activities for the cluster organization, such as workshops, conferences, industry focus groups, and marketing activities.

Next Steps

When the operating framework is complete, cluster stakeholders should be reconvened to accept or modify the document. Once the framework has been accepted, the cluster organization can begin carrying out the activities proposed in the initial timeline.

At this stage, the stakeholders should determine how the organization will be funded and formally organized. Early-stage cluster organizations often shelter with a “host” organization (usually a support group or other nonprofit within the cluster) until they achieve financial security, at which point many incorporate as 501(c)3 organizations. Other models are available based on the cluster organization’s funding sources, however.

For more guidance on developing a cluster organization, please contact the Clusters Program.