Five supercluster proposals share $950 million in funding

Veronica Silva
February 20, 2018

The federal government has selected five supercluster proposals that will share $950 million in funding for the next five years under the Innovation Superclusters Initiative (ISI). The five winning bids bested four other superclusters in an open competition that took some nine months to complete. Nine shortlisted superclusters were invited to submit full proposals in fall 2017, after the original call to participate attracted 50 Letters of Intent last summer.

The five are:

  • Atlantic Canada’s Oceans Supercluster will focus on investing in digital ocean technologies for aquaculture, capture fishery, offshore oil and gas, and clean energy in order to maximize the sustainable development of the ocean economy.
  • Quebec’s SCALE AI or artificial intelligence-powered Supply Chains supercluster will focus on the use of artificial intelligence and data science in supply chains, particularly in the retail, manufacturing and infrastructure sectors.
  • Ontario’s Next Generation Manufacturing (NGM) or advanced manufacturing supercluster, with members mostly located in southern Ontario, will work on innovative solutions for a wide range of industry sectors, using big data, intelligent machines and the Internet of Things to scale and improve production efficiency.
  • British Columbia’s Digital Technology supercluster will work on projects designed to boost Canada's precision health, manufacturing and resource and environment technologies by advancing data collection, analysis and visualization.
  • Saskatchewan’s Protein Innovations Canada (PIC) supercluster will work to position Canada as a top supplier of plant-based proteins and related products.

The other four shortlisted superclusters were the Smart Agri-food supercluster, and Smart, Sustainable and Resilient Infrastructure (SSRI) supercluster of Alberta; the Mobility Systems and Technologies for the 21st Century (MOST21) supercluster of Quebec, with Ontario, British Columbia and Atlantic Canada; and the Clean, Low-energy, Effective, Engaged and Remediated (CLEER) mining supercluster of Ontario, with Quebec and British Columbia.

At the announcement of the winning superclusters, Innovation, Science and Economic Development (ISED) Minister Navdeep Bains said the short-listed proposals were evaluated based on merit by experts within and outside government and validated by third party partners. He said the proposal backers also made concerted efforts to include gender and diversity strategies. “It’s not only the right thing to do, it’s good for the bottom line, and it’s the essential ingredient when it comes to innovation. If you really want to promote innovation, you need a diversity of ideas, perspective and thoughts in order to succeed,” said Bains.

Bains added the superclusters initiative exceeded the required minimum 1:1 matching of funds, resulting in a total infusion of more than $2 billion.

ISI is banking on industry to lead each supercluster, requiring a minimum number of representatives from both large and small and mid-sized enterprises (SMEs). But other organizations, such as academia and not-for-profit organizations, including industry associations and research organizations, are also key to the innovation mix.

There are some superclusters that have participation across Canada while some supercluster members are working with more than one supercluster. Univ of Waterloo and Univ of Guelph, for example, are looking forward to working with the NGM, AI and protein superclusters. Not only do they see the superclusters as helpful in skills training, they also see them as an opportunity to showcase their universities as research hubs.

Analyst comments

The nine-month competition wasn’t without its share of criticism and praise from within and outside the ecosystem. While the program has generally been lauded for its attempt to boost R&D and innovation in industry, the huge price tag was one main point of contention. Thus, social media – from Facebook to Twitter – was busy with its share of critics when the five winning superclusters were announced.

“Corporate welfare” was the main criticism about the huge price tag, in contrast to the program’s proponents who argued that $950 million spread over five superclusters over five years was insufficient to realize any significant impact. Just as some Canadians don’t take lightly to the bail out of Canadian firms such as Bombardier, many object to government assisting firms regardless of the stage of development being targeted.

“The superclusters are corporate welfare on steroids. A big-government scheme that will enrich well-connected and Liberal-friendly businesses at the expense of all Canadian taxpayers. #cdnpoli,” wrote Conservative MP Maxime Bernier on his Twitter feed.

Innovation policy analysts say the superclusters are an important step to boost Canada’s innovation to make the country globally competitive.

“If there is a key element missing in Canada, it is policies aiming to combine our world-quality innovation actors into cohesive and globally competitive eco-systems. We have all the ingredients, but we need to become communities of innovators if we are to secure prosperity for Canada. The Superclusters Initiative is a first important step in making this happen,” said Dr Dan Breznitz, professor of Univ of Toronto, co-director of the Innovation Policy Lab and Munk chair of Innovation Studies, in a prepared statement included in the ISED announcement.

Adam Holbrook, adjunct professor and associate director of the Centre for Policy Research on Science and Technology at Simon Fraser Univ, tells RE$EARCH MONEY that the ISI is “more than a research granting exercise” as it reaches out to all players in the research ecosystem. But he also notes that the five winners come from across Canada and that “suggests that there were at least some political considerations in the awards.”

He adds the initiative contains other policy considerations, including intellectual property, cross-border trade and even social issues, such as housing and precarious employment since the ISI also touts that it can boost jobs.

Some groups that either submitted letters or full proposals but didn’t get shortlisted or weren’t among the five winning bids said they are moving forward as they remain committed to innovation. They are proceeding with their plans or projects as they look for alternate government funding sources.


Other News

Events For Leaders in
Science, Tech, Innovation, and Policy

Discuss and learn from those in the know at our virtual and in-person events.

See Upcoming Events

You have 1 free article remaining.
Don't miss out - start your free trial today.

Start your FREE trial    Already a member? Log in


By using this website, you agree to our use of cookies. We use cookies to provide you with a great experience and to help our website run effectively in accordance with our Privacy Policy and Terms of Service.