As a coordinated effort between governments, industry and academia, the new institute aims to capture the commercial potential of Canada’s existing research strength, and to act as a magnet to retain and attract top talent. This initiative marks the first of Canada’s “supercluster” endeavors.
In its 2017 budget, the federal government committed to invest $950 million in a small number of big bets, with the goal of creating “superclusters” – which we understand to be clusters that will boost the global competitiveness of Canadian industries, producing a large number of high-growth companies and successful exits.
To win globally, collaboration will be needed between Canada’s large businesses, startups, and post-secondary and research institutions to share the costs of research and development (R&D), move research to market, attract capital, and deepen the pool of research and business talent. As the Pan-Canadian Artificial Intelligence Strategy articulates, it will also require strong connections between centres of excellence across the country. This degree of collaboration will not emerge without a deliberate strategy. This is the challenge that the government’s supercluster investment aims to tackle.
As the name implies, superclusters are an ambitious goal. Realizing this goal will require close attention to the appropriate roles for government, private and academic actors, a long-term commitment to performance management and evaluation, and coordination between governments and ministries to share data and streamline services.
Why building world-leading clusters matters
Whenever a particular area builds a critical mass of companies, scientists, knowledge workers and suppliers, the interactions between actors – both competitive and collaborative – become positively self-reinforcing. This elevates the entire cluster to more advanced levels of knowledge, expertise and productivity. This is how clusters like, yes, Silicon Valley, but also Boston (health technology) or Beer-Sheva in Israel (cyber security) have emerged as world leaders.
Here at home, we’re a small, open economy. We cannot hope to be world leading in all industries, and therefore need to align our existing areas of strength with emerging market opportunities. Success will require a razor-sharp focus on breaking into the top three globally in a handful of industries.