World-leading Clusters and Partnerships Roundtable

August 17, 2016—Kitchener, ON
World-Leading Clusters and Partnerships
Hosted by Sarah Lubik

Area of Focus

Building world class clusters and significant partnerships between government, industry, academia and civil society by leveraging assets and strengths:

  • What can Canada achieve by building strong clusters?
  • How can Canadian clusters become leading international destinations for innovation?
  • How can Canada create leading clusters and what lessons can we draw from others?


Adopt a flexible and focused approach to create self-sustaining ecosystems; long-term perspective and measurements required; challenge-driven clusters; align industry and academia through easy to use models; foster and welcome entrepreneurial talent; education; facilitate investment; procurement.

Summary of Discussion

Canada has many strong attributes that can be leveraged: diversity, openness, creativity, spirit of collaboration, international credibility, ambition, and capacity in basic research. Building a solid brand will provide advantage and momentum to make Canada a magnet for international talent and companies.

Canada needs to develop flexible entrepreneurial ecosystems that can better support all business stages and help businesses grow faster (while also encouraging early stage trail, failure and the creation of new serial entrepreneurs). We need to look not just at geographic clusters but towards adopting a focused, market and mission driven approach.

Create a collaborative ecosystem between the public and private sector that responds to the needs of industry, by allowing companies to quickly pursue new, unforeseen opportunities, while engaging the social sector. Need to make strategic choices on what to support to best align with key capabilities and global challenges that can drive sustainable economic growth.

Key Implementation Considerations/Challenges

Growing talent/education: Talent is essential to thriving clusters. Must ensure that Canadians have proper training and skills to meet industry needs; changes, such as experiential and entrepreneurial education are required at all levels (grade school to post-secondary). Immigration policies could be updated to help businesses and clusters grow.

Partnerships: Challenges exist in bringing academia and industry together to conduct collaborative research despite willingness to work together. Business requires shorter timelines than academia. Industry wants to ensure that it owns what is developed but IP policies are different for each university. Need to explore full range of possibilities. Highlighting different tie scales might help.

Scale and Flexibility of Approach: Cluster strategy needs to be flexible and not prescriptive. Companies need to be able to quickly invest and collaborate. Government must not restrict innovation from companies that chase new opportunities. Given Canada's size and population, it is important to adopt a focused approach that will leverage our existing strengths and create critical mass. Avoid spreading resources too thin across many areas.

Areas of opportunity: Select cluster opportunities that provide sustainable and future growth rather than support what is trendy. Identify spaces that are not overly crowded.

Investment: It is important to create the infrastructure that makes it easier for companies, including early stage startups, to find/access capital and to navigate government funding opportunities. Collecting data on private sector investment funding could provide an opportunity to determine what can properly incent investments into promising firms and innovative ideas.

Social mobility and wealth:Ensure that clusters strengthen diversity in Canada by increasing social mobility and wealth so that more Canadians, including the middle class, can benefit from increased economic development, particularly when they are not within the geographical area of clusters, as there is potential for increased inequality.

Top Ideas/Outcomes

Strategy: Canada needs to double-down on clusters which already have traction, identifying strong clusters and those that demonstrate potential to be leaders. Support should not be spread thinly among a large number of players, but should also identify and support emerging opportunities

Support for research: Revisit the balance between direct and indirect support, such as Science Research and Experimental Development (SR&ED) credits, to encourage more collaboration between academia and the private sector. Streamline programs, avoid duplication and consider resource reallocation to bring more focus to create critical mass in key areas that support market driven priorities and opportunities. Consider a match funding approach.

Procurement: Stronger engagement of end-users for innovations. Government should be an early adopter of Canadian technologies. Corporate procurement also needs to help create a demand.

Talent: Canada needs supportive and smart immigration policies to attract and retain talent such as fast track programs. Canada should leverage its good international reputation and have the means to rapidly recruit the many talented immigrants that want to come here.

Education: Experiential learning is vital. Co-op programs are successful but the model needs to be expanded and adopted by more academic institutions across the country. Coding should be taught in schools as Canada's "third official language". Teaching entrepreneurial skills to instill a culture of risk-taking should become part of the post-secondary curriculum.

Collaboration: Canada needs to look at successful international models of technology collaboration between academia and private sector (Horizon 2020, Israel, South Korea). Germany's Fraunhofers, pairs companies with universities, creating valuable partnerships that allow industry to address real problems.

Intellectual Property: Implement ideas, such as standardized agreements, that lead to straightforward IP policies and ensure that we are actively identifying and validating intellectual property for commercialization.

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