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Ottawa names Atlantic consortium as first of nine shortlisted 'superclusters'

Federal cabinet minister Seamus O’Regan speaks during a news conference announcing Ocean Supercluster as one of nine finalists in the federal government’s Innovation Supercluster Initiative, which is aimed at fostering public-private partnerships in industries across the country.
Federal cabinet minister Seamus O’Regan speaks during a news conference announcing Ocean Supercluster as one of nine finalists in the federal government’s Innovation Supercluster Initiative, which is aimed at fostering public-private partnerships in industries across the country.

A number of organizations and companies from this province are at the vanguard of a business consortium that was announced as the Atlantic regional winner and first of nine finalists in the federal government’s Innovation Supercluster Initiative.

From the finalists, five proposals will be eligible to get a piece of a $950-million federal innovation fund.

Among the Newfoundland and Labrador members of the Ocean Supercluster are PAL Aerospace, Kraken Sonar Inc., radient360, Ocean Advance, Memorial University, and Petroleum Research Newfoundland and Labrador (PRNL).
“I think the plan is a great opportunity to bring everybody involved in a similar environment together and learn from each other,” says PRNL CEO Alan Clarke.

“We're all playing the same game here, but we haven't been sitting at the same table trying to direct what the issues are.”

Veterans Affairs Minister Seamus O’Regan, MP for St. John’s South-Mount Pearl, says the proposal made it to the final stage among 50 submitted by more than 1,000 firms and 350 other participants is a victory in itself.

“This supercluster initiative has already been a huge success because it has already brought these partners together in common cause, in common purpose,” says O’Regan.

“I don't think this level of collaboration would have existed without this process. It's not going to happen, but if we lost you would still have an incredibly synergy that may not have existed before.”

Other members of the Ocean Supercluster include Nova Scotia-based Emera Inc., Clearwater Fine Foods, Dalhousie University, Aspin Kemp and Associates and some players from both Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick.

As for what the consortium’s proposal actually entails, no one was prepared to delve into the specifics at this point.

In a news release from the Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada (ISEDC), the aim is to, “maximize the economic potential of Canada’s ocean economy by investing in digital ocean technologies in aquaculture, capture fishery, offshore oil and gas and clean energy.”

Clarke does say, however, that the intent is to broaden the organization’s focus.

“Particularly with the (small- to medium-enterprise) environment, that's where the innovation is going to occur and that's what we want to be utilizing in our organization.”

As for PRNL’s involvement, Clarke says as the research and development arm for the province’s oil and gas operators, theirs is an organization that mirrors what Ottawa is trying to replicate.

“By putting that in place to lead the role and put together the letter of intent and everything we need to do as an organization, how we need to govern ourselves, those things are already in existence.

At Tuesday’s news conference at the Marine Institute, O’Regan expressed confidence that the Ocean Supercluster bid would emerge as victorious.

Particularly where organizations and companies from this province are involved, he says there are two competitive advantages that favour the bid: geography and people.

“We are really good at what we do,” says O’Regan. “We're really good at ocean sciences and we have the geography, we're here, we're in the middle of the North Atlantic. We are competitively situated to become a supercluster in the world for ocean sciences.”

Superclusters are defined as areas of business activity often involving collaborations between companies and universities, colleges or not-for-profit organizations to develop ideas that can be taken to market.

The contest, a cornerstone of Ottawa's so-called innovation agenda, aims to lift the economy, promote research and create high-quality jobs.

To qualify, supercluster bids must show private-sector investment commitments of at least a dollar for every government dollar requested.

Each submission will be evaluated on criteria such as job creation, how likely the new jobs will avoid becoming automated in the future and the proposal's overall impact on the economy.

Clarke says they are awaiting feedback from ISEDC to help solidify the proposal, after which they’ll start some outreach programs throughout Atlantic Canada. He’s encouraging more individuals and groups interested in coming on board to reach out through oceansupercluster.ca.

The winners will be announced by early 2018.

— With files from the Canadian Press

 

kenn.oliver@thetelegram.com

Twitter: kennoliver79

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