Supercluster project to drive Atlantic innovation moves ahead with $153M from Ottawa

Supercluster project to drive Atlantic innovation moves ahead with $153M from Ottawa

A unique program to encourage ocean innovation in Atlantic Canada officially set sail Friday with Ottawa announcing its commitment to spend $153 million on the so-called Ocean Supercluster project.

The milestone event included a big promise from federal Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains.

"This will help create and add 3,000 new jobs to the Atlantic region in terms of the economic opportunities going forward. And it will add $14 billion to GDP in the next ten years," Bains said Friday in Dartmouth, N.S.

In this — and four other supercluster initiatives across Canada — Ottawa is betting the private sector will drive the innovation and growth Bains promised.

How the Ocean Supercluster works

The Ocean Supercluster project's private sector partners have promised matching dollars in a program that forces them to agree —and fund — projects beneficial to all.

"The most important feature isn't the spending of the $300 million — it's the way it's going to be spent," says John Risley of Clearwater Seafoods.

The Halifax-based shellfish company has committed $15 million. So too have oil companies in Newfoundland, regional energy conglomerate Emera and offshore aquaculture company Cuna del Mar.

"It's going to be spent across partnerships, collaboration between big business, small business. Private sector people having to work together not just within industries but across industries," Risley said.

He says projects will not get to the board level unless they have cross-sectoral contributions.

"So it's not just about Exxon writing a letter saying we like Clearwater is proposing to do. They actually have to invest in it."

First projects coming

The Ocean Supercluster board will meet in December and project announcements are expected to follow shortly.

Karl Kenny hopes his company, Kraken Robotics, will be part of one of the first proposals funded — a $25 million project to image the seafloor of Atlantic Canada in ultra high-definition resolution.

"We're going to be seeing things and finding things that have never been seen before using our sensors and robot technology, so it's a big day for us," he says.

Kraken has gone from a start-up in St John's a few years ago to employing more than 70 staff with new offices in Nova Scotia.

"We're actively recruiting. We'll probably be over 100 by early spring. These are all new jobs, high-quality jobs. This is not minimum wage stuff," Kenny says.

International marketplace

Andrew Boswell of Halifax-based Rimot installs remote monitors for infrastructure and attended today's announcement.

He sees the Ocean Supercluster as a gateway to the world for Atlantic Canadian companies.

"This is a wonderful place to create and validate new products and services but it's a global marketplace and doing it right here, with some of those global players, is part of what works in making it to international markets," Boswell says.

What happens to the intellectual property

Part of the non-profit Ocean Supercluster program includes $45 million to develop a local innovation "ecosystem" in places like the newly opened Centre for Ocean Ventures and Entrepreneurship (COVE) in Dartmouth and the Genesis Centre in St. John's.

Bains says the local innovation will be the beneficiary of intellectual property.

"When it comes to intellectual property, the supercluster itself will maintain that IP and they will have the benefits for the local ecosystem," Bains said.