Competition heats up for $950 million in superclusters as government selects nine to submit full proposals

Mark Henderson
October 12, 2017

And then there were nine. The federal government has shortlisted nine proposals under its $950-million Innovation Superclusters Initiative (ISI) from more than 50 letters of intent with up to five expected to be awarded funding by the end of FY17-18. The proposals invited to submit full applications span the nation and represent some of Canada’s most advanced tech-based sectors including ocean science, advanced manufacturing, artificial intelligence and digital technologies (see chart).

Navdeep Bains, minister of Innovation Science and Economic Development, travelled across the country this week to announced the shortlisted candidates in the cities where they are headquartered — Halifax, Montreal, Toronto, Calgary and Vancouver. (Ralph Goodale, minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness subbed for Bains in Saskatoon).

There has been much speculation over the meaning of the term “supercluster” but the most succinct is the collaboration among key stakeholders in a specific sector or platform technology that has the potential to generate significant increases in both industrial R&D and GDP.

The applicants were evaluated according to the following criteria:

  • Strategy for creating and growing new firms;
  • Creating jobs that require advanced skill sets;
  • Equipping Canadians for the knowledge and skills needed for future employment in the supercluster;
  • Attracting private investment; and,
  • Generating “meaningful” economic activity.

The government has a lot riding on the ISI. It’s by far the largest investment the Liberal administration has made in S&T since coming to power in 2015 and is being positioned as a key component of its economic and jobs growth strategies and a centrepiece of its Innovation & Skills Plan, launched in the last federal Budget.

While the short list leaves more than 40 proposals without a potential funding source, many have noted that the process of developing proposals is stimulating collaboration and coordination of Canada’s STI assets that didn’t previously exist. Indeed, many companies involved in the bids have yet to meet one another to explore how they can mutually benefit within the superclusters.

In announcing the short list, Bains encouraged the nine successful applicants to continue to improve their bids as the final stage of the competition unfolds. He also emphasized that unsuccessful bidders should examine the shortlisted applicants (and later on the winning proposals) to see if there are opportunities to participate.

The latter was emphasized by an addition to the ISI’s “Frequently asked Questions”:

“As superclusters grow, it is expected that new firms will want to participate in their activities. Entities are therefore required to establish a membership structure in order to support service delivery, project governance, and effective operations as their clusters grow and evolve,” states the ISED website.

The ISI has clearly captured the imagination of Canadian industry with companies large and small participating in the process to date. Many firms have stepped up to meet the ISI criterion for matching industry contributions (at least 75% cash and in-kind) and committing large sums of money. For example, Myant Inc, a Toronto-based leader in “textile computing”, is committing $100 million to the Advanced Manufacturing Supercluster.

And companies engaged in the CLEER mining supercluster proposal have collectively committed $327-million.

Many proposals are incorporating a wide range of technologies to support their specific sector. The aerospace proposal, for instance, is committing to include advanced manufacturing, 3-D printed vehicles, eco-technologies, big data for mobility, aviation and space, autonomy and on-demand mobility, and virtual design and testing.

The deadline for the invitation-only Full Application phase in November 24 — just seven weeks away —and money will flow to the successful superclusters by the end of FY17-18 through to March 31, 2022.

Shortlisted Supercluster Proposals


>  Ocean Supercluster (digital ocean technologies)


>  Supply Chains Supercluster (artificial intelligence and data science)

>  MOST21 (Mobility Systems and Technologies for the 21st Century) Aerospace Supercluster


>  Building an Advanced Manufacturing Supercluster for Canada

>  CLEER (Clean, Low-energy, Effective, Engaged, and Remediated) Supercluster (Mining)


>  Protein Innovations Canada


>  Smart, Sustainable and Resilient Infrastructure (SSRI) Supercluster

>  Smart Agri-food Supercluster


>  Digital Technologies Supercluster









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