World-leading Clusters and Partnerships Roundtable

August 16, 2016—Montréal, QC
World-Leading Clusters and Partnerships
Hosted by Janie Béïque

Area of Focus

Generate new and creative ideas for world leading clusters and partnerships.

  • What is the right model for Canadian clusters? How do we select them? How do we support them? Lessons from other countries?
  • How do we increase connections between universities and companies to commercialize world leading discoveries?
  • How are technologies transforming Canadian industries and are our sectors ready to compete?
  • What are the barriers to greater participation of companies in North American and global supply chains?


Competitive clusters require strong anchor firms. Support for large companies, particularly through rapid decision-making by governments is critical. To attract and retain investment we need to better define and develop policies to promote Canada's brand. Improved collaboration, notably on intellectual property between universities and organizations is necessary.

Summary of Discussion

Various countries have demonstrated the importance of focused and large investments to build clusters. Canada's strength is our diversity but we must focus and improve coordination between public, private and institutional partners and build on what exists. A critical mass is necessary and principally found in Toronto, Montréal and Vancouver. However, smaller markets have demonstrated how focusing on local capacity, coordinating support and accompanying entrepreneurs through the commercialization process can build niche strengths. Other important elements include low cost access to land, commercial space and infrastructure and equipment. Government has a key role to play.

A cultural change is needed on many fronts. We must promote entrepreneurship with our youth and in our universities. Also, companies sometimes make decisions based on short-term financial performance instead of long-term objectives, including investment in R&D. More thinking should be put into finding solutions for this problem. Canada also needs to define its brand, like German engineering or Swiss precision.

Key Implementation Considerations/Challenges

Policies: FPT government policies should be aligned to minimize administrative burden and respond rapidly to new opportunities. Programs should have long-term objectives and be flexible to respond to evolving market opportunities and pressures. Governments also have important roles as facilitators and coordinators. One-size fit does not work across sectors. Governments should be firm on objectives but flexible on implementation, focusing on a limited number of key initiatives. Government should back, through RFPs, projects initiated by industry that include multiple stakeholders. We need a vision which will provide clear, long term inclusive direction.

Access to capital: Growth implies scalability and markets beyond Canada – access to capital and talent are critical. Policies that favor home-grown companies are not mutually exclusive to policies that attract and retain multinationals. Business models are evolving rapidly and to support growth, policies and programs must be flexible and respond very quickly to new opportunities, and focus on firms that are demonstrating or seeking high growth. More funding could be provided through the ecosystem through pension plans, venture capital funds and incentives for SMEs, as well as attracting skilled Canadians back to Canada. Access to funding targeting different objectives and time horizons will better answer to varying needs, particularly to support growing companies over long-term.

Anchors: By attracting SMEs through their contractor and purchasing activities, anchor firms have a primary role in bringing innovations to market. Government procurement is an important tool to build anchors and develop SMEs. The Government should create living labs.

Networks: Strong collaboration across public and private sectors and institutions is necessary to succeed. Although Canadians are collaborative, we need stronger systematic models to collaborate across sectors.

Top Ideas/Outcomes

Access to capital: Additional support is needed to help SMEs commercialize, to certify and validate technology in new markets and to automate. Government could match industry project funding on a one to one basis. The NRC-IRAP Digital Technology Adoption Program should be renewed to continue to help SMEs adapt to new competitive pressures. VCAP was also seen as a solid program which should be renewed.

Clusters: Cross-sector technologies and applications such as the Internet of Things, big data and analytics, artificial intelligence and deep learning.

Talent: Establish entrepreneurship-study programs and business courses for all university programs. Students could work on innovation platform projects during their studies. Facilitate talent attraction/retention with fiscal incentives.

Intellectual Property: Create standard intellectual property licensing agreements for universities.

Growing small and medium enterprises: Canada could initiate the creation of a group of successful CEOs of high-growth firms paired with CEOs with growth ambitions.

Partnerships: An organization or forum to bring private, public and academia together could be created to increase collaboration and network opportunities. To improve industrial academic partnerships and commercialization performance, universities could look to making commercialization a part of their mission, and governments could look at funding opportunities. For example, equipment purchased by universities with government funding could, in certain circumstances, be made available to companies.

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