As part of its effort to aid regional businesses, the U.S. Small Business Administration on Tuesday announced funding for 10 economic "clusters" through a new pilot program called 'Innovative Economies.' The awardees will each receive a cash grant of $600,000.

Clusters, by the SBA's definition, are collaborations between small businesses, the public sector, economic developers, and local institutions to advance a local industry sector. This pooling of resources is intended to help businesses commercialize products, conduct research, and ultimately compete on a national and global scale. 'Sometimes small businesses get a lot of market force by clustering together,' said SBA administrator Karen Mills.

The funding can be used to provide services to small businesses, like counseling or mentoring, and to attract other businesses to the cluster. Chosen from 173 applicants, the winning clusters met four criteria: the potential for commercialization, the potential for job creation, the ability to fit into the existing supply chain, and the ability to keep their industries thriving in their areas. 'Our goal is to foster an environment where small, high growth firms can flourish,' Mills said.

For example, the Enterprise for Innovative Geospatial Solutions was chosen for its impact in the Gulf Coast. In 1998, the University of Mississippi brought the rising geospatial technology industry and thousands of jobs to the region. 'High tech and South Mississippi really didn't go hand in hand prior to that time,' said Craig Harvey of the Magnolia Business Alliance, a development organization for the industry. Now he says the Gulf Coast is the 'Silicon Valley of geospatial technology,' developing innovations like GPS devices and emergency response systems.

Another large component of the program is an emphasis on commercialization. NorTech of Northeast Ohio, for one, received the award largely to boost its initiative – FlexMatters – in the 'flexible electronics' field, which involves mounting electronic devices onto flexible plastics. 'For FlexMatters, funding could not have come at a more opportune time,' said Rebecca Bagley, president and CEO of NorTech. Apart from this initiative, NorTech also works with other businesses, universities, and both public and private funding sources.

Other awardees came from industries including energy, agriculture, and green aviation. The SBA also placed a special focus on defense technology, providing funding to clusters working on defense innovations from San Diego, Minnesota, and Huntsville, Alabama.

Here is a list of all the clusters to receive funding:

  • Agriculture Innovation Cluster of Monterey, Santa Cruz and San Benito, California
  • Carolinas' Nuclear Cluster in North and South Carolina
  • Connecticut Hydrogen-Fuel Cell Coalition in Connecticut, New York, Massachusetts, Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire and Rhode Island  
  • Enterprise for Innovative Geospatial Solutions of Mississippi and Louisiana
  • Illinois Smart Grid Regional Innovation Cluster in Illinois
  • NorTech of Ohio
  • Upper Michigan Green Aviation Coalition in Michigan
  • Defense Alliance of Minnesota in Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin
  • San Diego Advanced Defense Cluster
  • Von Braun Center for Science and Innovation of Huntsville, Alabama