RESEARCH MONEY, August 23, 2017

Let the speculation begin. The first round in the process to select a handful of well-funded superclusters has been completed with more than 50 letters of intent (LOI) delivered to the Innovation Superclusters Initiative (ISI), managed by the federal department of Innovation, Science and Economic Development (ISED).

That number, which reportedly exceeded ISED expectations, will be cut to about a dozen invitations for full applications in the coming weeks, according to statements from unidentified federal offcials. The government is expected to announce up to five winners in early 2018, with each sharing $950 million in federal funding (boosted from an initial $800 million announced in the 2016 Budget 

Applicants must provide matching funds of cash and in-kind from industry. The government identified areas where it’s most interested in receiving proposals as: advanced manufacturing, agrifood, clean technology, digital technology, health/bio-sciences and clean resources, as well as infrastructure and transportation. Full applications must include 10 private sector enterprises, from small to large, as well as one post-secondary institution.

To capture a flavour of the scope and breadth of the ISI applications, RE$EARCH MONEY has examined four proposals to the program by consortia formed to represent the bioeconomy, microelectronics, ocean technology and the agri-food sector (see articles in this issue).

Reports say that the initial LOI slate requested $10 billion in federal money, backed by industry commitments of $17 billion. For example, one bid from the National Optics Institute in conjunction with the Canadian Photonic Industry Consortium and the MiQro Innovation Collaborative Centre is backed by more than $1.2 billion in industry commitments — five times what’s required under the extensive ISI guidelines

The potential impact industry-led superclusters will have on Canadian technology development, innovation and global competitiveness is not limited to the private sector and academia. ISI’s objectives also include technology leadership, intellectual property acquisition and assertion”, a diverse, highly skilled labour pool and partnerships for scale – the latter encompassing supply chain development, business mentoring, consulting and coaching services and linkages to smaller companies. To qualify, successful proposals must be not-for-profit entities representing industry-led consortia.

The ISI program has also captured the attention of public sector R&D organizations such as the National Research Council. In a recent interview with RE$EARCH MONEY, NRC president Iain Stewart said ISI represents a huge opportunity for his organization to support government policy efforts to expand the size and reach of Canadian technologies by consolidating its capacity through large-scale research programs and a growing number of research consortia.