While the features of cluster development have caught a lot of interest in the research literature on cluster policy, cluster initiatives have rarely received researchers’ attention up to now. Cluster initiatives are no natural component of cluster evolution, but have developed as a result of cluster policies as intermediary organisations. They operate as mediators between the cluster population and the cluster programme administrators and also facilitate the coordination between cluster actors. This contribution asks for the origin and development patterns of cluster initiatives which are analysed by looking at Germany’s Spitzenclusters, the initiatives funded by the federal programme Spitzencluster-Wettbewerb (Leading-Edge Clusters Competition). Starting from a life-cycle model of cluster initiatives that distinguishes five development stages, we find that the Spitzencluster initiatives essentially followed rather similar cyclical development paths. The patterns of public financial support and the set of regulations imposed on the initiatives by the programme turned out to be the most important factors that influenced the evolution of the clusters initiatives. Multiple other internal and external influences like international competition, interaction between cluster actor representatives, or decisions of core firms in the clusters were responsible for the differences observed within the group of the Spitzenclusters. All in all, we find that peculiarities of cluster programmes strongly influence the shape and duration of the initiatives’ developmental cycles.
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