Ottawa shortlists B.C. partnership backed by Telus for $950m supercluster strategy

 Canada’s Digital Technology Supercluster aims to boost collaborations in everything from VR/AR to natural resources | Photo: Chung Chow, BIV

Atlantic Canada is looking to innovate in the oceans. The Prairies have their eyes on advancing agriculture.

And a B.C.-based consortium is counting on digital technologies to woo Ottawa for its $950-million supercluster strategy.

Federal Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains announced October 10 his ministry had shortlisted nine proposals to develop superclusters across the country, including one in B.C.

The supercluster strategy is aimed at creating public-private partnerships in regions with extensive business activity that would allow for collaboration in innovation between different companies and post-secondary institutions.

A B.C. partnership backed by Telus Corp. (TSX: T), Microsoft Canada Development Centre and a half-dozen post-secondary institutions made the initial cut.

The goal of B.C.’s bid is to create a supercluster focused on digital technologies capable of transforming traditional industries such as natural resources, transportation and manufacturing, as well as advancing innovations in health technologies, telecommunications and the creative and digital economy.

In June, Deloitte released a report commissioned by various groups championing a digital technology supercluster for B.C.

The partners behind the report included B.C. Tech Association; University of B.C. president Santa Ono, who is also chief advisor of the province’s Innovation Network; Wavefront Wireless; and the Research Universities’ Council of B.C., which includes UBC, Simon Fraser University, Royal Roads University, University of Northern B.C., Thompson Rivers University and the University of Victoria.

“A digital technology supercluster has the potential to bolster collaboration between industry, academic, and public-sector organizations to create a stronger

Canadian innovation ecosystem, increase industry-led research and development, and enhance competitive advantage in Canada’s core industries,” the report said.

“A digital technology supercluster will also bolster exports and international business opportunities through BC’s strong connections to Asia, Cascadia, and the U.S. West Coast.”

The federal government has shortlisted nine bids out of more than 50 that applied for the supercluster funding. Ottawa said it will select “up to five” to share as much as $950 million in funding.

Meanwhile, regions competing with the B.C. bid are playing to their strengths.

Quebec is pursuing a supercluster focused on artificial intelligence, Atlantic Canada is pursuing ocean technologies, the Prairies are pursuing advances in agriculture and Ontario is pursuing cleantech in the mining industry.

The Deloitte report concluded B.C. has the opportunity to develop its own global supercluster by “applying its strengths” in digital technology.

The province is already home to Telus, and its bid has the backing of companies like D-Wave Systems Inc. and Avcorp Industries Inc.