Connections and the New Vogue
Kyushu Bio Cluster Conference
Kumamoto Technology & Industry Foundation
A mission that brought members of France’s F2C Innovation and the Kyushu Bio Cluster Conference together in the city of Toulouse became a place for ‘yui’, or connection, between the two—just like the name of the plates presented as commemorative gifts. ～In 2011, the Institute for International Studies and Training worked with the Kyushu Bio Cluster Conference and METI Kyushu to send missions to France and Korea and organize seminars and other events related to these with the aim of promoting and strengthening partnership among Japanese, French and Korean food-related biotechnology companies. This article was contributed by Minoru Murakami, Manager of the Secretariat Office for the Kyushu Bio Cluster Conference, who participated in the mission to France.
The Kyushu Bio Cluster Conference (KBCC) is a voluntary organization established in September 2007 as a biotechnology industry project focused on Kyushu functional food products. The KBCC has undertaken various projects in areas ranging from R&D through to sales channel development toward the formation of an R&D and mass production hub for functional foods and materials that exploit Kyushu’s regional characteristics, the ultimate aim being to collaborate with the preventive medicine and service industries to position Kyushu as “the island of food and health”. The KBCC currently has a membership of around 200, more than tripling over the four and a half years of its existence from the original 65. Drawing particularly on networks among local authorities, economic associations, companies, universities, research institutes and individuals in Kyushu’s different prefectures, the KBCC is working on a range of projects in conjunction with the biotechnology industry stimulation initiatives being operated by METI Kyushu and the various prefectures.
One such project entails collaboration with other prefectures and offshore deployment to broaden member companies’ sales channels overseas and elsewhere in Japan. In 2011, missions were sent from Kyushu to support the expansion into Korea and France by Kyushu health product and functional food product companies in terms of R&D and business with universities.
The October 2011 mission to Korea included exchange among KBCC members and Korean food-related companies, universities and other research institutes, as well as exchanges of business-related information and views. Tangible business results included specific negotiations and contracts, as well as a number of ongoing negotiations. The visit also spurred the Korea National Food Cluster to send a mission to Kyushu in February 2012, where mission members exchanged views with the KBCC Secretariat and member companies, opening the way for closer partnership in the years ahead.
The mission to France took place at the end of November last year, when KBCC members visited Toulouse, a key city in the southwest of France. Details of that mission are as follows.
Toulouse is called ‘La Ville Rose’, or ‘the pink city’, for the old red-brick houses which line its streets, and the city is certainly soaked in a long history which stretches back to medieval times. On the other side of the coin, the cutting-edge technologies of Toulouse’s aerospace industry can make you feel as though you have slipped through a time warp into the future. Our meeting with F2C Innovation, the French agri-food ‘super-cluster’, in this city represented the KBCC’s first mission to France and was extremely valuable in terms of thinking about the KBCC’s future direction.
F2C Innovation comprises four clusters, each of which has outstanding expertise in a certain area and particular characteristics and pursues large-scale industry-government-university projects in their particular region.
Based in Toulouse, Agrimip is an agricultural industry cluster with around 150 members. Its projects include NEOFERTIL, which deals with organic cultivation and the use of microorganisms for plant bio-fertilization. Vitagora, based in Dijon in the east of France, is a taste, nutrition and health-related cluster with more than 100 members. Key research areas include health and functional foods, such as the Vitalim Senior project (VITALIM'SENIOR), which is developing beverages and other products that help to prevent excessive weight gain. Valorial, which is strong in the areas of food improvement and innovation, is based in Rennes in the west of France, where it is developing foods of the future and pursuing research on animal feed, meat and dairy products, and protein. One of its key efforts involves omega 3 fatty acids extracted from linseed. Aquimer, located in Nord Pas-de-Calais in the northernmost part of France, specializes in R&D on fishing, aquaculture and processed fish products. Its SEAMINEROIL project aims to develop processed sea foods that incorporate sea minerals and fats.
Of the above, the methods which Valorial is using to develop its dietary improvement and health promotion projects were particularly valuable in terms of considering the KBCC’s project formation and marketing. A massive group of 250 companies are apparently participating in the development of livestock (cattle, pigs, chickens, etc.) feeds containing specially processed linseed and seaweed to create final processed products which are natural and rich in omega 3. These products are then marketed under a common label.
I was also surprised by the structuring method, strategy and grant, as well as the strong partnership among project members, in the development of the Toulouse White Biotechnology project in the Midi-Pyrenees region. This project comprises leading biotechnology research spearheaded by clusters, national-level research institutes, educational institutions and technology transfer institutions in close conjunction with industry. Local governments, investment institutions and major companies are supporting the project. Epitomizing public-private partnership, the project is characterized by organic partnership and long-term support.
The strategies, network formation and structuring methods used by the F2C Innovation super-cluster provided useful tips in terms of developing the KBCC’s own activities. Within the KBCC, the visit to France has spurred consideration of project development across KBCC’s membership, including inviting a Valorian representative to address a study meeting in early March. This broad-based, locally-grounded approach is becoming the ‘new vogue’. To ensure the further advance of the KBCC, which is now in its fifth year, project development strategies and project formation that exploits regional characteristics seem likely to become key themes in the years ahead.
KBCC mission members too made the most of their time in France, actively engaging in company visits, presentations, and information exchanges with F2C Innovation companies. Particularly in the case of the presentations and B2B meetings on the fifth day, although this was the final day, participants were so absorbed in information exchanges and negotiations that they went over time. The detailed information exchanged and the chance to provide product samples opened the way for companies to move on to the next stage, and partnership is expected to strengthen still further in the future, with the mission consequently also producing solid business results. We have also heard that some companies intend going to France to visit F2C Innovation companies for further information exchanges.
In addition, the mission took advantage of lunches and dinners to hold exchanges with local government institutes and discussions with F2C Innovation member companies. Interaction with Toulouse’s Deputy Mayor and other key officials, as well as information exchanges with companies that did not participate in the B2B meetings, were so intense that venue walls seemed to shrink around us. The mission also visited JETRO Paris and looked into European economic trends and markets in the food and cosmetic industries.
At the end of the six-day itinerary, we promised to meet again in Kyushu and set off home. For those companies participating in the mission, business prospects are bright, while partnership with F2C Innovation and its strong performance record and experience will undoubtedly make a substantial contribution to KBCC members and companies. We look forward friendly relations and exchange deepening still further and continuing to develop into joint projects and new business development between KBCC and F2C Innovation member firms.
This first mission to France since the KBCC was established operated on a tight schedule that ran from early in the morning till late at night every day, but the head of the mission and mission members all came home full of enthusiasm. To ensure that the results of the mission don’t stop with mission participants but permeate widely across all member companies, we are determined to make KBCC’s offshore expansion efforts even more profitable and make sure that they lead on to the next stage.
Finally, the Arita-yaki plates which the mission presented at our main destinations in France were called ‘Yui’, the Japanese word for connection. Featuring two cords tied together, this design elegantly captured the future strengthening of ties between the KBCC and FC2 Innovation.
(original article : Japanese)