Runner Run-Down: The Innovation Superclusters Initiative

What’s a supercluster? It’s like Tinder for businesses and research institutions
Braden Klassen, Photo Editor

(Yuta Anonuevo)

According to Cloverdale MP John Aldag, Kwantlen Polytechnic University—along with SFU and UBC—is currently in negotiations to receive funding from a superclusters program that would potentially begin sometime early in the fall semester.

This begs the question, “What’s a supercluster?”

The Innovation Superclusters Initiative (ISI), announced by the federal government in 2017, is an economic strategy that aims to strengthen relationships between Canadian businesses and academic and research institutions, and to provide funding to these groups in order to kickstart Canada’s competitiveness in technological innovation.

The government has pledged $950 million in funding to be invested into superclusters between 2017 and 2022, as long as the superclusters plays by the rules set by the ISI.

It’s almost like forming a sports team—each player contributes to the team by specializing in their individual role, and players are able to combine their strengths and help compensate for each other’s weaknesses in pursuit of a greater objective.

Business leaders can get together and apply for funding through a representative not-for-profit organization that the ISI calls an “Entity.” These Entities determine the overall innovative direction of their members, as well as how the funding they receive from the government is distributed.

The Entity must be incorporated in Canada (or have already been incorporated in Canada prior to the ISI) and will be responsible for the execution of the Supercluster Strategy, which is a proposal that narrows down the purpose of that supercluster’s existence to one or more of five eligible activities. According to the ISI, these activities include “technology leadership, partnerships for scale, diverse and skilled talent pools, access to innovation, and global advantage.” Having a focus on “technology leadership” is mandatory, whereas the rest are optional extras.

A cluster, also defined by the government’s ISI Program Guide, is “a geographically defined innovation ecosystem that demonstrates collaboration and business relationships between firms,” which includes “large and small companies, post-secondary and research institutions, and other innovation actors.”

The program summary also says that each cluster “has great potential to spur innovation, facilitate commercialization, enhance firm productivity, stimulate the formation of new companies and the growth of others, and sustain industrial competitiveness.”

In a basic sense, a cluster is just a localized network of business and research partnerships that help firms gain a shared competitive advantage, and a supercluster is a larger, stronger version of that. According to the ISI Program guide: “As compared to smaller or single-sector clusters, these innovation hotbeds benefit from stronger connections between firms and research talent, a long-term competitive advantage, global brand recognition, and an outsized impact on job creation and economic growth (GDP).”

Besides funding, applying to join a supercluster offers a few other incentives and advantages to prospective businesses or institutions. For instance, they make it easier and more rewarding for firms to share intellectual properties with other firms in the supercluster. This effectively greases the wheels for open collaboration, which in turn speeds up the processes behind technological innovation that would otherwise be hampered by debating over red tape and IP rights.

Another advantage superclusters could offer industries is to unify a large number of institutions in order to achieve a certain goal through cooperation. This would give smaller and medium-sized Canadian businesses a chance to gain a competitive edge over their non-member counterparts, and would put them in stronger negotiating positions backed by much larger corporations or research institutions.

Whether or not this initiative will noticeably benefit Canadians at large remains to be seen. But if KPU enters into a supercluster program, a considerable amount of funding could potentially be funnelled towards our institution.

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