Originally posted on Research Money

By Jasmine Williams

When the Innovation Superclusters Initiative competition was announced in May, it was only a matter of time before dozens of proposals began flowing in from Canada’s strongest tech centres, including York Region. Located in the heart of the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), York Region boasts the second highest number of information, communications, and technology employers in the country, with over 4,400 ICT firms including the Canadian operations of several global microelectronics companies.

Leading its supercluster bid is ventureLAB, a regional innovation centre based in Markham that has secured $300 million in commitments from 50 companies to create a “global epicentre” for microelectronics companies and talent. Jeremy Laurin, president and CEO of ventureLAB, says those commitments are a “very good indicator” of the viability of their bid.

York Region is home to multinational corporations such as IBM Canada and AMD, two of the GTA’s top five corporate ICT R&D spenders, as well as ICT heavyweights like Alcatel-Lucent, CGI, GE, Huawei, Lenovo, Open Text, Oracle, Philips, SAP, Siemens, Toshiba and Qualcomm. Additionally, its proximity to institutions like the Univ of Waterloo and the Univ of Toronto means it has a direct pipeline to top tech talent.

Even prior to its application to the Innovation Superclusters Initiative (ISI), the region touted itself as the “Canada’s largest tech supercluster” (per capita) and “Canada’s largest enterprise solutions ICT cluster.” Currently, 18 firms with headquarters in York Region earn upwards of $500 million in revenue annually. The top 40 companies in the area generate $86 billion in sales a year.

“Markham has, for many decades, been recognized as Canada’s high tech capital,” says Laurin. “People come to school in this part of the world to learn about this industry, and that says something about the uniqueness of this particular piece of geography.”

The proposed supercluster would include participation from both large and small companies. Laurin says this mix will help smaller firms scale up by leveraging their R&D dollars in a collaborative pool with the larger companies in the consortium. In this case, if the bid is successful, their ability to scale is much greater than if they tried to raise funding on their own.

Canada’s microelectronics sector — particularly manufacturing — has seen better days. In recent years, buyouts, offshoring and consolidation have taken their toll on the number of global-scale microelectronics firms. Simultaneously, the decline of Ontario’s manufacturing sector has raised concerns amongst policy makers and industrialists alike. Yet manufacturing is still a potent component of the national economy, contributing $173 billion to Canada’s GDP annually and employing 1.7 million Canadians

But with the advent of rapidly expanding industries such as advanced and additive manufacturing, artificial intelligence, predictive analytics, nanotechnology and robotics, new opportunities are emerging across the country that a microelectronics supercluster can align and exploit.

At the Innovation 360 conference in Montreal last year, the continuing importance of microelectronics to the manufacturing sector was reinforced by Deloitte Canada’s Stephen Brown, leader of its consumer and industrial products division. Noting that the basis for competition is changing with profound implications, he cited talent, technology and teaming as the core principles upon which Canada can be a globally competitive player by creating value and collaborating in global value chains.

While Laurin says he is excited about what a successful bid could mean for York Region, overall, he emphasizes that the benefits of a microelectronics sector that are national in scope is an essential element of the region’s ISI bid.

“What I like most about this initiative is how it’s bringing organizations large and small, public and private, academia, all together around one strategic initiative.”

A successful microelectronics supercluster will inevitably include the public-private organizations that continue to train a future generation of talent and incent collaboration between companies large and small with academia, government and public research institutions. That would mean involvement of organizations such as CMC Microsystems which trains students via industry participation through its National Design Network and C2MI Innovation Collaborative Centre, a Bromont QC- based facility focused on advanced packaging and microsystems. C2MI is also part of another ISI LOI headed by the National Optics Institute.

With files from Mark Henderson

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Originally posted on Research Money