OTTAWA — The most confusing thing about clusters is that many people do not fully understand the concept, experts told more than 100 delegates at the second annual Research Money Conference Wednesday.
The agenda of the
conference was to discuss how clusters come to life, whether by accident or design. Organizers of the all-day event brought together a wide range of professionals from around Canada to discuss their involvement in cluster development. Greg Mumford, chief technology officer at Nortel Networks, began the discussion with his view on the current state of cluster development in Canada.
“Canada must commit to developing a world-class infrastructure,” he said. “Businesses need to give commercial context to university research and development and the government should embrace a national broadband policy.”
Successful cluster developments have common characteristics, said Roger Voyer, senior associate at consulting firm The Impact Group. These include entrepreneurial drive, several means of financing, sophisticated educational and research institutions and staying power.
With 1,400 high-tech firms and 63,000 professionals, Ottawa is still in the infancy of establishing prominent clusters, said Jeffrey Dale, president of the Ottawa Centre for Research and Innovation (OCRI).
“We still have to work on our international profile,” he said. “One of our problems is that we are not asked to compete on an international level.”
The importance of recognition, both locally and internationally, was a common theme with all of the speakers.
“We need to get people in the region to recognize the existing clusters,” said Camille Gagnon, president of Montreal-based Innovitech. “The real competition is worldwide, but we need to promote our cities, infrastructure, dollar, and tax benefits.”
The development of a cluster is directly related to the amount of talent that can be attracted to the community, Gagnon said. Universities have now become the primary gatherer of this talent. “We need more money to go to universities to increase research initiatives,” she said.
Dale said he believes that because of the extremes faced in a boom/bust economy, it is imperative that there is a continual flow of research within universities and government institutions.
“Although governments don’t create clusters — they exist through their own energy,” stated Dale. “The government needs to promote and support the cluster development through funding and research.”