Superclusters: A win-win game for Canada’s economy

September 11, 2017

As baseball season enters its seventh-inning stretch, it is prime time for us to take some lessons from the game of summer. We all know that teams win when they have a clear strategy and strong sense of teamwork. Success depends on each player bringing their unique skills to the field, offering specific expertise but striving toward a common goal.

Canada’s supercluster initiative aims to do the same. It represents a bold, $950 million investment in large-scale, industry-led hotbeds of innovation. Encouraging industry to invest in research and development is a smart, strategic move. It will doubtless attract research talent, create a critical mass of partners sharing the same goals, and foster productive collaborations between the research community and industry. This will spark economic growth. And even before the results are revealed, it is important that we determine to continue the collaboration, discipline and energy generated by this important initiative.

The leaders of nearly every nation and most major companies understand the necessity of supporting innovation. More and more, we are seeing “innovation” embraced in the C suite and appearing in the agendas of corporate board meetings. Canada has done a great deal by actually including innovation in its budget. The supercluster initiative is one example of this commitment.

The competition has created an opportunity for many groups to come together collaboratively to review their strengths and assess their needs in the context of striving for greater levels of success. They are setting their sights higher than ever and all sectors are joining together in bringing considerable expertise to the table. Networks of collaboration are being knitted across the country. In essence, Canada has benefitted from this exercise even before the results of the competition are known.

And while every submission cannot win, the valuable process of finding ways to aim higher and work better together is already a first success both for those submitting proposals and for their communities.  Those groups whose submissions do not receive funding should not lose sight of the results they anticipated and continue to build on the work they have already put into creating innovation clusters.   

Some regions and groups did not apply for supercluster funding because they were of too small a scale or did not have the industrial strength to achieve the financial commitment required to compete. But these groups hold the talent, imagination and expertise to create micro clusters. Recent studies and reports on the renewal of regions in economic decline show that when a community wants to find ways to pull out of an economic slump, when the government provides some incentive, when local investors come together to support a plan of development, and when a university, a college, research institute or hospital joins in the effort, it can attract investment and turn an economy around. Every province and municipality should mobilize their talent and assets to build regional and local economies.

The ultimate path to national success is to reinforce the overall investment in research and ensure that research outcomes are aligned with societal needs and Canadian strengths. This is the sine qua non for the success of clusters and individuals, of our cities, regions and nation. We need to continue nurturing an environment that will permit us to attract brilliant researchers from around the world to join our Canadian stars. 

With the superclusters initiative, the Government of Canada is setting the context for collaboration and investment by industry. It will soon be time for all of us: provinces, municipalities, small and medium-sized businesses and the research community together, to contemplate how we can replicate that same energy and success right across the country. And when we do, the bases will be loaded and Canada will be lined up for a grand slam.

Roseann O’Reilly Runte
President and CEO
Canada Foundation for Innovation

This op-ed was originally published on the Ottawa Citizen's website on September 6, 2017.