The Canadian government’s supercluster initiative shortlist has been revealed, and the reactions have been positive, both from those with successful bids and from those who were unsuccessful.

For the nine consortiums that made the cut, such as the BC-based Digital Technology Supercluster, this marks an exciting opportunity to further hone their bid and job creation plan before the final applications deadline on Nov. 24.

“I support the Canadian Digital Technology Supercluster consortium in its effort to position BC and Canada as a global leader in digital technology that will translate into new growth opportunities for B.C. companies and new jobs for British Columbians,” says Bruce Ralston, Minister of Jobs, Trade and Technology, in an Oct. 12 press release. “The province will continue to work to create a climate that supports BC’s world-renowned technologies to drive innovation and growth across all of our province’s economic sectors.”

The Digital Technology cluster wants to make the country faster, smarter, and more collaborative in inventing, developing and applying digital technologies, such as advance data collection and analytics. It plans to drive competitiveness across environmental and resource tech in particular, as well as health and manufacturing. It includes several BC firms, as well as Telus Corp.Timberwest Forest Corp., and six postsecondary institutions.

Josh Blair, executive vice president at Telus Health and Telus Business Solutions West, which is a partner in the Digital Technology cluster, adds that the partnership of private sector, academia, and non-profit organizations will continue working to “bring forward a national initiative that can deliver major economic, employment, and social benefits across multiple industry verticals such as healthcare, bioscience, environmental technology, smart cities and digital media.”

The Innovation Supercluster Initiative is a $950 million (CAD) competition looking to fund industry-led groups promising to innovate in sectors such as advanced manufacturing, agrifood, clean tech, digital technology, health/biosciences, clean resources, and infrastructure and transportation. The Canadian government accepted first round applications until the end of July, and will choose up to five finalists for the program in early 2018.

Navdeep Bains, Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development, tells IT World Canada that the Canadian government was “very happy” to see such a high level of coordination within the 50 proposals it received.

“The fact that we had over 50 proposals is impressive because they include over 1,000 companies, both small and large, plus more than 250 not-for-profit partners and 100 academic institutions is a testament to how successful this competitive process has been,” Minister Bains explains. “We based our shortlist decision on key outcomes; we’re focused on how these superclusters can grow the economy, how we can grow good quality, full-time resilient jobs, how can we promote skills development, as well as the innovation benefits and supply chain benefits. How can we unlock more money for companies trying to invest in research and development, how can we help them commercialize quickly and get their ideas and products to the market, and how do we strengthen our supply chain in Canada so that our businesses can succeed both at home and globally? Those are our priorities.”

Five winning superclusters will be chosen from the nine shortlisted. Myant Inc., a smart textile technology and advanced manufacturing company in Toronto that has committed $100 million to the Ontario-based Advanced Manufacturing Supercluster, is hoping to be one of those.

“We believe that the Supercluster Initiative will address significant gaps in the existing advanced manufacturing ecosystem on which we depend,” Tony Chahine, CEO and founder of Myant, says in an Oct. 11 press release. “If it’s done right, it will generate tangible results and funding for people who want to create and innovate, right here in Canada. I believe that in order to allow for true innovation, one needs to be able to actually ‘make’ the invention. The quick turnaround from prototyping to full scale production is the missing link to advanced manufacturing.”

The Advanced Manufacturing Supercluster aims to improve manufacturing inefficiencies and speed up adoption of technology within the industrial sector. Companies involved include auto parts maker Linamar Corp., Maple Leaf Foods Inc. and software startup Miovision Technologies Inc., plus the MaRS Discovery District and the University of Waterloo.

Chahine commends the initiative, calling it “the kind of foresight innovation the world needs – Minister Bains basically just turned the lights on for Canada’s future as a global leader in advanced manufacturing.”

“I am very proud that Myant is a member in this supercluster that brings together over 100 academic institutions, not-for-profit organizations, healthcare groups and manufacturers to establish high quality and resilient jobs, and talent and training in leading industries that intersect manufacturing and technology. It’s time to repatriate ‘Made in Canada’ manufacturing solutions,” he says.

Moving forward, Minister Bains wants to see “a greater level of ambition” and “a more robust set of ideas” in the final proposals.

“We’re seeing so much success with companies, academic institutions, and not-for profits coming together for this supercluster initiative, but how can they be more bold, more ambitious, more global in their outlook? That’s what we’re looking for in this final round,” he expands. “This is all about building the economy of the future and creating jobs for today and tomorrow, so we want proposals detailing exactly how these groups will do that.

Unsuccessful bids not losing hope

Unfortunately, the Supercluster Initiative is a competition and not everyone can make the cut. But for those groups who failed to see their applications reach the shortlist, this is far from the end of the road.

Namir Anani, president and CEO of the Information and Communications Technology Council (ICTC), helped put together a blockchain supercluster application, and while it was unsuccessful within the government’s program, Anani plans to convert the proposal into its own standalone cluster.

“This whole initiative has created such a strong momentum and sense of urgency within our blockchain community, and after raising more than $50 million in pledged support from 60 partners, we’re going to continue with our work and create our own blockchain technology supercluster,” he tells IT World Canada. “Blockchain will be a $2.5 billion industry and create 107,700 jobs by 2024, so needless to say, we’re going to take this to the next level.”

The blockchain supercluster has members that deal with research, commercialization, industry adoption, policy creation, and regulatory standards, which Anani believes will enable the consortium to take shape in Canada and compete in a global environment, even without the help from the government.

“We have an entire holistic approach so we’re going to spend the next couple months finetuning the construct of our new ecosystem and moving our agenda forward. We hope to launch this by January 2018 with all the mechanisms in place and how we see the cluster taking shape,” he continues.

Anani also mentions that he’s looking at “all available channels” to move blockchain forward, including potentially partnering with one or more of the nine shortlisted bids.

Minister Bains and the federal government has encouraged members of unsuccessful bids to join other applications.

“We want more coordination and more people working together because creating a culture of collaboration was one of the objective of this initiative,” the Minister points out. “If these nine shortlisted supercluster bids want to succeed and be part of the final selected group, they need to really work and reach out to other proposals. This is a competitive process and with so much innovation happening across the country, we hope the proposals that did not make the shortlist partner up with those that did because diversification is a strength.”

While they could not comment at the time of publication, leaders of the unsuccessful Advanced Microelectronics Supercluster application previously told IT World Canada that if their bid did not make the government’s final list, it would also carry on with its work.

“Whether we get it or not, we’re going to keep moving forward with our microelectronics supercluster because the partners we’ve teamed up with for this government initiative, they’re organizations we’re either already partnered with or would have partnered with eventually anyway,” Melissa Chee, chief operating officer at VentureLab, said in August. “This supercluster initiative is just accelerating our work; it’s been a catalyst to bring additional people to the table. These collaborations will continue and expand as we move forward.”

This is the type of initiative the federal government had hoped for when creating the supercluster program.

“The specific proposals that did not make the shortlist still have great promise and still have the opportunity to make a difference going forward. Our government is committed to innovation and growing companies and sectors in Canada to be strong global champions through investments in people and technology,” Minister Bains concludes.

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