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Evaluating the Region

Since most successful cluster initiatives begin in regions where the targeted industry already has a strong presence, organizers should evaluate their regions before undertaking a cluster initiative.

The Clusters Program has identified several approaches that cluster organizers can use to help characterize their regions.

Ecosystem Mapping

Several cluster initiatives have mapped the “ecosystem” of an industry in their region. These ecosystem maps allow cluster initiatives to identify potential stakeholders by cataloging all the organizations in their industry, including businesses, universities and other research institutions, government agencies, utilities, and nonprofits.

Patent Mapping

Patent activity is an important measure of technological innovation. By searching for and mapping patents relevant to their industry, clusters can gauge how they compare to other regions and identify which organizations are driving innovation in their region.

Before a joint effort with the Small Business Administration to launch a water technology cluster in the Cincinnati, Ohio area, EPA commissioned a report mapping water, wastewater, and stormwater patents across the U.S.

Cataloging SBIR Awards

Under the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program, participating federal agencies must allocate 2.5% of their extramural R&D budgets to grants for businesses developing or commercializing new technologies. Cataloging relevant SBIR awards in the region can help cluster initiatives identify startups with innovative technologies in their region.

The Clusters Program maintains a database of SBIR awards for water technologies from 2006-2012 and SBIR awards for air technologies from 2008-2013. For more information, contact the Clusters Program.

The complete database of SBIR awards is available at

Identifying Federal Partners

Federal agencies with assets in the region and an interest in environmental technologies can be strong partners for cluster initiatives. Federal laboratories offer considerable research and development expertise, and often hold patents that can be commercialized under the Federal Technology Transfer Act.


In addition, the Small Business Administration supports the development of clusters throughout the nation.