Getting to Know Canada’s Innovation Superclusters
What is the innovation supercluster initiative?
In 2018, the Government of Canada announced the launch of 5 innovation superclusters. These organizations were meant to foster innovation in key economic sectors, increase collaboration between the private sector and researchers, create jobs and increase Canada’s competitive advantage in technology development.
The Federal Government planned to invest $950 million over 5 years when launching the program. As of December 2020, close to $1.2 billion had been invested in over 265 approved projects across Canada (Government of Canada).
The requirements to be selected as one of the superclusters were quite stringent: each organization had to demonstrate they would be able to match the government funds to finance selected projects. The superclusters also had to be led by a new or existing not-for-profit, represent firms of all sizes (from both the public and private sector), and include at least one academic institution (Government of Canada).
While a variety of relevant activities can be funded by the different superclusters, the eligible costs applicants can expect to see covered are restricted to administration, operational and direct project costs. Research and development activities, recruitment of new talent, market expansion, equipment purchase and installation and more can constitute eligible projects.
Each supercluster offers its own programs, with targeted goals, timelines, and specific funding amounts. Below, you will find out more about each cluster, their industry focus and the programs they offer. You will also discover how some of them leveraged Canadian innovation capabilities and technologies to face the pandemic.
Scale AI Supercluster
Scale AI is “an investment and innovation hub focused on accelerating the application of artificial intelligence (AI) for supply chains” (Scale AI). Its main hub is in Montreal.
At launch, they received $230 M in federal funding, with an additional $54.3 M coming from the Quebec Provincial Government. The key industry sectors in which they work to implement AI technologies include areas such as retail, manufacturing, transport, logistics and construction.
Although this cluster is based in Quebec, Scale AI is expanding its program offering to other regions of Canada. In 2020, they launched initiatives in British Columbia, Ontario, and Quebec as part of their Acceleration Program, with even more projects planned in 2021. Announced in 2019, the Acceleration Program’s goal is to support—via cash infusions to certified entrepreneurial institutes—100 startups a year across the country.
To apply for broader project-based funding, applicants must collaborate with other members of the cluster to create a proposal that meets Scale AI’s objectives. This cluster is also developing training initiatives: Scale AI and partner organizations across Canada offer individual skill development, as well as custom training programs for businesses.
According to their 2019-2020 annual report, 75% of their investments so far have gone to SMEs (small and medium enterprises), and 73% of investments were made in Quebec.
Next Generation Manufacturing Supercluster
This supercluster, also known as NGen, leverages the innovative capabilities and talent pool found in Southern Ontario and Quebec. Machine learning, robotics, cybersecurity, the Internet of Things (IoT) and 3D printing technologies, along with even more applications of advanced manufacturing capabilities, are all relevant to this cluster.
NGen’s goal is to “leverage Canada’s technology and industrial strengths to accelerate the development, adoption, and scale-up of world-leading capabilities in Canadian manufacturing.” (NGen) Regular project funding from this cluster usually varies between $50k to $20M depending on the nature of the demand and the need for program funds.
During the summer of 2020, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, NGen launched the Made Smarter Strategic Supply Challenge. The goal of this call for proposals was to scale up the Canadian production capacity of health products and devices instrumental in fighting the global pandemic.
In January of 2021, the Financial Post reported that NGen awarded over $27M to a number of projects. This does not include any co-investments, which bring the total funding amount invested in this call for proposals to over $60M. (Financial Post)
Digital Technology Supercluster
Based in British Columbia, this cluster aims “to solve the world’s biggest problems by developing, deploying and scaling Canadian made digital technologies in ways never seen before”. (Digital Technology Supercluster) Like the other superclusters, they support companies across Canada. Members of the cluster are found in 9 provinces, with 40% being located outside of BC.
The wide-ranging possibilities offered by data science and digital technologies are reflected in the diversity of industries – health sciences, cybersecurity, agrifood and more – targeted by this supercluster.
Their Capacity Building program is focused on helping Canadians expand their skills and opportunities. It is divided into 2 kinds of projects: strategic initiatives and exploratory projects. Funding recipients for the strategic initiatives will obtain between $2M and $4M, whereas the exploratory project can access between $50K and $500K.
They also offer a Technology Leadership program, dedicated to using data science to address important, global issues such as the accessibility of health services, climate change and more. The program will co-invest up to $30M in 5 to 7 projects in each targeted field.
Protein Industries Canada Supercluster
The Plant Protein Supercluster’s headquarters are in Alberta. This innovation cluster seeks to develop new plant-based protein alternatives and strengthen Canada’s agri-food economy, leveraging Western Canada’s agricultural strengths. As of the publication of their 2020 annual report, an estimated 569 jobs had been created by 17 funded projects.
Protein Industries Canada offers two main funding programs to member organizations: The Capacity Building Program and the Technology Program. The first is focused on cross-industry initiatives to create long-term benefits for the agricultural and food processing sector. This is done through collaborative projects aiming to train a more skilled workforce, increase intellectual property literacy, improvements in infrastructure and more. The Technology Program creates partnerships to create new and innovative plant protein products that will develop Canada’s value-added food processing potential.
In response to COVID-19, Protein Industries Canada made changes to their technology program. Until March 31st, 2021, projects could see eligible salaries funded at 75% – as opposed to the usual 50% – and applicants could receive advances on their funding.
Canada’s Ocean Supercluster, based in Atlantic Canada, has the mandate to leverage Canada’s uniquely vast and resource rich ocean economy potential. To do so, this supercluster collaborates with several industries, from aquaculture and transportation to offshore energy, national defense, ocean resources, and more.
Their Ocean Startup Project aims to double the number of ocean technology startups operating in Atlantic Canada. The program is in partnership with notable accelerators like Creative Destruction Lab (CDL) and Innovacorp. Bootcamps, innovation competitions and dedicated accelerator programs are being created to meet this goal. Like other superclusters, they also have a Technology Leadership program to fund collaborative projects with total costs ranging from $500k to $20M.
Their most recent call for proposals, the Ocean Supercluster Resilience (OSCR) program, took place in February 2021. A response to the massive disruptions caused by the global pandemic, this program accepted EOIs for projects able to increase the ocean economy’s resilience by addressing supply chain efficiency, sustainability issues and more. Projects will see up to 50% of their eligible costs covered, and selected applicants should be announced shortly.
Have questions about these Superclusters, or think your company is a good fit for any of their funding programs? Don’t hesitate to reach out to our team.