Battle to be­come one of 5 fed­eral ‘su­per­clus­ters’ at­tracts 50 com­peti­tors

The Hamilton Spectator - - CANADA & WORLD - ANDY BLATCH­FORD

The com­pe­ti­tion to be­come one of up to five gov­ern­ment-des­ig­nated tech­nol­ogy “su­per­clus­ters” and draw from a fed­eral fund­ing purse of $950 mil­lion has at­tracted more than 50 pro­pos­als.

The con­test, a cor­ner­stone of Ottawa’s so­called in­no­va­tion agenda, is de­signed to en­cour­age academia and busi­nesses to work to­gether on strate­gies to boost fast-grow­ing sec­tors — every­thing from ad­vanced manufacturing to clean tech­nol­ogy.

The num­ber of bids gen­er­ated dur­ing the com­pe­ti­tion’s first phase, which ended late last month, ex­ceeded fed­eral ex­pec­ta­tions, said a se­nior gov­ern­ment of­fi­cial who spoke on con­di­tion on anonymity be­cause the in­for­ma­tion was not yet pub­lic.

The 50 let­ters of in­tent came from con­sor­tia rep­re­sent­ing a to­tal of more than 200 com­pa­nies and 20 post-se­condary in­sti­tu­tions, the of­fi­cial said.

The con­test, over­seen by Eco­nomic De­vel­op­ment Min­is­ter Navdeep Bains, aims to lift the econ­omy, pro­mote re­search and cre­ate high-qual­ity jobs. Bains has said he’s look­ing for am­bi­tious bids that also fea­ture in­tel­lec­tual prop­erty strate­gies de­signed to keep ben­e­fits for Canada.

The plan in­cludes a fed­eral fund­ing com­mit­ment of up to $950 mil­lion over five years to sup­port the de­vel­op­ment of be­tween three and five su­per­clus­ters.

As ex­am­ples, the gov­ern­ment listed six in­no­va­tive in­dus­tries in its spring bud­get that could an­chor su­per­clus­ters: ad­vanced manufacturing, agri-food, clean tech­nol­ogy, digital tech­nol­ogy, health and bio-sciences and clean re­sources.

The sub­mis­sions rep­re­sent each of these sec­tors and more, said the of­fi­cial, who de­clined to elab­o­rate on the other in­dus­tries.

The gov­ern­ment is also hop­ing the lever­age from its $950-mil­lion com­mit­ment will lure even more pri­vate in­vest­ment cash into the econ­omy.

To qual­ify, su­per­clus­ter bids must show pri­vate-sec­tor in­vest­ment com­mit­ments of at least a dol­lar for ev­ery gov­ern­ment dol­lar re­quested.

Com­bined, the sub­mit­ted pro­pos­als say they can bring in a to­tal of $17 bil­lion in pri­vate in­vest­ment, even though they are ask­ing for $10 bil­lion in fed­eral fund­ing, the of­fi­cial added.

“The pol­icy im­per­a­tive for this pro­gram was try­ing to un­lock busi­ness in­vest­ment in (re­search and de­vel­op­ment), which has been this per­pet­ual issue in Canada” said the of­fi­cial.

“This isn’t a sil­ver bul­let, but it’s a model to tackle that issue.”

A short list of about a dozen ap­pli­cants will be re­leased in the com­ing weeks based on as­sess­ments by ex­perts from across dif­fer­ent gov­ern­ment de­part­ments and agen­cies.

Each sub­mis­sion will be eval­u­ated on cri­te­ria such as job cre­ation, how likely the new jobs will avoid be­com­ing au­to­mated in the fu­ture and the pro­posal’s over­all im­pact on the econ­omy.

The win­ners will be an­nounced by early 2018. The pro­gram di­rec­tor for the Blockchain Re­search In­sti­tute, an or­ga­ni­za­tion that is par­tic­i­pat­ing in a su­per­clus­ter pro­posal, said the bid re­ceived a to­tal of $50 mil­lion in fund­ing com­mit­ments from about 50 groups, in­clud­ing uni­ver­si­ties, pri­vate firms and non-gov­ern­men­tal or­ga­ni­za­tions.

The sub­mis­sion is fo­cused on mak­ing Canada a world leader in the de­vel­op­ment of the emerg­ing digital plat­form known as “blockchain.” Blockchain is the un­der­ly­ing tech­nol­ogy be­hind digital cur­ren­cies like bit­coin and it has the po­ten­tial to change every­thing from how fi­nan­cial trans­ac­tions are con­ducted to how democ­ra­cies vote.

Jenna Pil­grim said Thurs­day that the goal of her group’s bid is to house the world’s best blockchain ex­per­tise in the Toronto-Water­loo re­gion rather than watch it set up shop in Sil­i­con Val­ley.

She noted that $50 mil­lion in com­mit­ments is likely lower than other sub­mis­sions, but adds it makes sense be­cause the tech­nol­ogy is still young. She also ar­gues blockchain has more po­ten­tial to be­come self sup­port­ing.

There are also ex­pec­ta­tions that some groups jock­ey­ing for the lim­ited num­ber of su­per­clus­ter spots might join forces as the process evolves and the list short­ens.

“We have been ap­proached by sev­eral other or­ga­ni­za­tions cre­at­ing bids as well,” said Pil­grim, who be­lieves blockchain will help en­able other new “trans­for­ma­tional” tech­nolo­gies like quan­tum com­put­ing and ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence.

“We just want a seat at the ta­ble and then we are def­i­nitely open to col­lab­o­rat­ing with other groups.”

THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

In­no­va­tion and Sci­ence Min­is­ter Navdeep Singh Bains speaks in Ottawa in May.

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