Accelerating Cleantech in Canada
To many Canadians, cleantech may sound like an abstract, catch-all term used to describe any innovation aimed at the green market. In fact, it is an industrial transformation that includes any process, product or service that reduces negative environmental impacts. According to a 2016 report by Analytica Advisors, the global market for cleantech is poised to triple to $3 trillion by 2020, which creates a huge opportunity for Canadians to take advantage of this booming sector. Sixth Estate’s Spotlight hosted a panel of experts to discuss what is being done to accelerate the growth of cleantech in Canada. Moderator Lianne Laing welcomed Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development (ISED) Navdeep Bains, who used the occasion to announce $58.6 million in funding for 14 Canadian cleantech companies. The funding is through Sustainable Development Technology Canada (SDTC).
“We want to make sure that Canada plays a leadership role, and that’s why clean technology was such a critical part of our innovation and skills plan, because it genuinely represents a key market growth opportunity for us,” said Bains.
Leah Lawrence, president and CEO of SDTC said that when it comes to cleantech, “data is king.”
“Data and intellectual property are what critically matter, and our lives are increasingly depending on it,” said Lawrence. She added that data is worth protecting.
“That’s why SDTC places a particular focus on working with cleantech start-ups who are looking to harness the power of data to advance pre-commercial demonstration and the technology ideas that they drive,” said Lawrence.
During the panel segment of Spotlight, Audrey Mascarenhas, president and CEO of Questor Technology, who also chaired the federal government’s economic strategy table for clean technology, said that there’s an enormous opportunity for Canada to use digital to grow clean-tech industries and to think of things from a systems perspective.
“[We’re] starting to look strategically at how we combine all of our different technologies to provide a solution, whether it’s on water or air, and then market that strategically,
and globally,” said Mascarenhas. “This is an exciting time.”
Mascarenhas said that the government’s strategy tables were industry-led, and there was a focus on implementing cleantech to grow the economy and create jobs.
James Hinton, IP lawyer and patent and trademark agent with Own Innovation, said that while the good news is that Canada is good at researching cleantech, the bad news is that it’s international companies that are able to take advantage of the research.
“Even though Canadians are creating these ideas and technologies, Canadian businesses lag globally for IP ownership in cleantech,” said Hinton. “Canada decreased 22 percent in filings from three years ago, so it places us dead last in countries that file more than 100 applications.”
Hinton said that while the government has implemented a national IP strategy, it needs to do more to capture the economic value of the technologies Canadians create and it needs to act swiftly.
While the re-negotiated NAFTA agreement, the USMCA, includes intellectual property provisions, some experts have warned they will hinder, not help, Canadian innovation.
Mark Schaan, the director general of the marketplace framework policy branch at ISED, said that increasingly, ISED is trying to meet the paradox of going from a country that leads in development of new innovation and ideas to being a country that leads in commercialization and reaping the benefits of those ideas.
“We’re placing the emphasis where it should be – that we recognize that we need to be net generators and net owners of the ideas that we produce, and of the datasets and the insights that come from those datasets to maximize their potential,” said Schaan.
Michael Gilbert, CEO and founder of the precision agriculture data analytics platform Semios, said that tools such as the internet of things and artificial intelligence-driven machine-learning are making it possible to avoid using physical labour in agriculture and are becoming more targeted in their approach.
“We started out with a relatively simple but odd proposition that we could stop butterflies from mating, and that would prevent a bunch of pesticides from going into the environment,” said Gilbert of a pheromone-based mating disruption technology produced by Semios. “It turns out that it worked out really well, and we’ve displaced ten million litres of toxic pesticides.”
Gilbert said that they hope to use similar tools to help farmers use less water as they scale up their production. Gilbert also said that Canadian companies need to be on the offensive and not defensive in order to become global leaders.
Mascarenhas said that having a patent can make companies competitive on the global stage, but the question is how to take those patents in a strategic direction. She also noted that patents can be of little value if they don’t create companies and jobs, which is why the government needs to close the funding gap for scaling-up.
“If we don’t invest and create scale-up companies in Canada, we’re actually subsidizing the rest of the world’s GDP growth,” said Mascarenhas. “We need to make sure that we’re looking at the entire ecosystem.”