Updated: B.C. lands bid for $950m federal supercluster program

West Coast consortium among five successful bids for federal program

Vancouver-based Telus is among the founding members of Canada’s Digital Technology Supercluster

With all the effort it could muster, B.C. is getting a supercluster.

A bid by a West Coast-led consortium featuring Telus Corp. (TSX:T), Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq:MSFT) and more than a dozen post-secondary organizations is among the five successful proposals to land funding from the federal government.

Before Thursday’s (February 15) announcement, the government had previously shortlisted nine proposals for its $950-million supercluster strategy.

The program 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.

The goal of B.C.’s bid — known as Canada’s Digital Technology Supercluster — is to create collaborations 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.

Bill Tam, co-chair of Canada’s Digital Technology Supercluster, said the amount of funding to be divided between the five successful bids will be determined in the coming weeks.

“We recognized the digital economy is absolutely the one that’s transforming all industries. And for us to be competitive, regardless of what industry we’re in, we’re going to need to be masters of how we collect, analyze and ultimately visualize and manipulate and plan around data,” he told Business in Vancouver on Roundhouse 98.3 FM.

“With the supercluster program and the right sort of investment conditions, we can really propel that to the right level.”

Tam said he hopes to see the province get involved with the collaborations moving forward.

While Victoria did not offer any specific plans for collaborations following the announcement, B.C. Jobs, Trade and Technology Minister Bruce Ralston told reporters he was “thrilled” the province’s tech sector would be getting a huge boost from the winning bid.

“The genius of the process and the effectiveness of the result is a collaboration between industry, universities and colleges, new ideas, inventions, products, efficiencies that can improve our lives,” he said.

“My sense of the sector is it’s just beginning to get started. There’s huge potential in the sector that’s unrealized as [of] yet, but this funding will advance in a number of industries.”

In an executive summary released in November, Canada’s Digital Technology Supercluster estimated participants could invest $1.4 billion to fund 100 collaborations involving 1,000 organizations over a 10-year period.

The federal government said its $950-million investment will be matched dollar for dollar by the private sector and create 50,000 “middle-class jobs.”

Ottawa estimated the supercluster strategy would grow Canada’s economy by $50 billion over 10 years.

The original application featured 60 participants before growing to 260 organizations. Tam said he expects more participants to jump on board now that the federal funding has been locked down.

Founding members included UrtheCast (TSX:UR), D-Wave and Finger Food Studios, as well as the University of B.C. and Simon Fraser University.

The four other winners of the Canada-wide supercluster are:

-The Ocean Supercluster (based in Atlantic Canada): using innovation to improve competitiveness in Canada's ocean-based industries, including fisheries, oil and gas, and clean energy.

-The SCALE.AI Supercluster (based in Quebec): building intelligent supply chains through artificial intelligence and robotics.

-The Advanced Manufacturing Supercluster (based in Ontario): connecting Canada's technology strengths to the manufacturing industry.

-The Protein Industries Supercluster (based in the Prairies): creating a leading source for plant proteins to help feed the world.

Updated to add comments from Tam and Ralston.