Supercluster contenders must include strategies for confronting the risks in managing diverse interests

Veronica Silva
November 14, 2017

Managing different organizations with varying interests and different sizes of financial commitment will require a change in culture for the companies and institutions engaged in the Innovation Supercluster Initiative (ISI) competition. Governance and managing millions of dollars in government funds matched by industry are among the key challenges and risks ISI contenders will face, according to panelists at the recent Canadian Science Policy Conference (CSPC).

The ISI aims to bring together industry, academia and not-for-profit groups to help industry do more research and innovation, ultimately generating a net increase in economic growth and skilled employment. Among the 50 proposals vying for a piece of the $950-million in funding, nine have been shortlisted and are expected to submit full proposals as to how industry can do R&D more effectively by collaborating with others in the innovation ecosystem.

Iain Stewart, president of the National Research Council, says that superclusters are business-driven groups with different interests and different cultures, norms and behaviors in allocating funds and resources. “These superclusters have to manage a governance and allocation process in real time, which, I think, is going to be very challenging,” he says.

Avvey Peters, VP for partnerships at Communitech - one of the lead applicants for the shortlisted advanced manufacturing supercluster - concurs with Stewart. She foresees a challenge in keeping supercluster members who are excited in the short term interested over the long haul because they may not see their projects advance immediately. Another challenge is how to build a framework that is simultaneously strong and flexible.

“Companies’ needs will change more quickly than the five-year timeframe of this initiative,” Peters says. “We need to be able – as much as we can according to the structure of the program – to give companies some assurance that they have the ability to pivot if a project or initiative or a partnership takes a left turn. They need to be able to follow that in a way that still produces results.”

According to ISI guidelines, each supercluster is required to have a minimum number of members from different interest groups – large enterprises, small- and medium-sized enterprises and academia. An industry-led, not-for-profit organization must be the lead applicant that will submit the proposal and be the point of contact. The guidelines also require superclusters to form a consortium and develop a governance model to include organizational and management structure, and details on key committees, operations, oversight and membership.

According to ISI guidelines, the full proposal should detail funding decisions since government funds will be matched by funds raised by the industry members of the consortium.

And what happens if the funds dry up? Sustainability is one of the challenges raised by Joy Romero, VP for technology and innovation, Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. Romero’s company was in a supercluster that submitted a Letter of Intent. Despite not being shortlisted, the oil and gas industry-based supercluster, called Clean Resource Innovation Network (CRIN), says it will still proceed with its plans.

Romero says that in the CRIN supercluster, they have included an alternative operational plan with a long-term sustainability provision that is not dependent on government funding. She says funding will disappear quickly within five years and superclusters need to be sustainable well beyond that timeframe.

The ISI guidelines also specify that full proposals should include how superclusters will manage IP, including ownership and royalties.

Vivek Goel, VP for research and innovation, Univ of Toronto, cautions that while having an intellectual property (IP) strategy is important it may take time to develop.

“In Vector Institute (a newly funded initiative in artificial intelligence that is based in Univ of Toronto), we’ve spent more time developing our IP policy, more than anything else that we’ve worked on in the last six months,” Goel says, adding that some firms may have different ways of understanding how to work with other firms around IP.

John Knubley, DM Innovation, Science and Economic Development, says that while the IP strategy is needed in the proposal due on Nov 24, there is more time built into the application process to develop this strategy, which he also sees as a challenge along with governance.

Knubley adds that trust can also be an issue because not all players in the superclusters, especially business people, are aware that being involved in a supercluster means having to change their behavior.


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.