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Canada announces innovation investments, future growth strategy

February 09, 2017

Canada is targeting innovation to drive economic prosperity through several recently announced investments. These investments are intended to unlock the potential of Canadian universities and entrepreneurs as well as capital for startups. The provincial government of Ontario has also unveiled several tech-based economic development efforts. In addition to these newly announced efforts, the Trudeau administration released a series of economic development-related policy recommendations to support economic growth across the country.

Canadian federal government efforts

In early January, the Canada Foundation for Innovation announced $328 million to support 17 key national facilities that cover a broad range of research disciplines including $48 million for the Canadian Light Source at the University of Saskatchewan; $46.6 million for the University of Victoria-run Ocean Networks Canada; and, $32 million for the Canada’s Genomics Enterprise – a three-institution collaboration. The largest announcement was $70 million for Compute Canada to improve access to high-speed computing at institutions across the country.

As part of a national innovation agenda, the Canadian federal government announced several other Post-Secondary Institutions Strategic Investment Fund (SIF) investments at institutions of higher education including:

  • $15.6 million to George Brown College for its Innovation Exchange, which will house training programs and research facilities that develop, incubate, and commercialize innovative products by student entrepreneurs;
  • $15 million to the University of Windsor for its new Science Research and Innovation Facility to provide upgraded laboratory and collaboration spaces for research and commercialization in the fields of materials chemistry and translational health;
  • $14.4 million to Wilfrid Laurier University for two projects: the Lazaridis Institute for the Management of Technology Enterprises and the Schlegel Centre for Entrepreneurship and Social Innovation;
  • $10.8 million to Georgian College for the construction of its new Advanced Technology, Innovation, and Research Centre that will include commercialization and research labs, collaboration space, and space for applied research where local industry and other partners can work with students and staff from the college;
  • $4.5 million in OCAD University for two university projects: the Centre for Experiential Learning and the Campus for the Connected World; and,
  • $4.5 million in government funding to establish the University of New Brunswick’s Canadian Institute for Cyber Security that will include a research partnership with IBM.

In total, through the SIF fund, Canadian government intends to invest $2 billion over three years.

In partnership with the Ontario government and Northleaf Capital Partners, the Canadian federal government also announced a new $100 million commitment for a new fund-of-funds effort to invest in high-potential venture capital fund managers across Canada. The Northleaf Venture Catalyst Fund (NVCF) will be established with $50 million in funding from the province and $50 million from the federal government. The new fund is intended to build on the existing Ontario Venture Capital Fund. This is the first provincial fund-of-funds to be launched under the Government of Canada’s Venture Capital Action Plan

The Trudeau government also plans to launch a Smart City Challenge this year to demonstrate and scale up Canadian IT innovations in one or more Canadian cities to show how IT can be linked with physical infrastructure to deliver business and public benefits.
Ontario government efforts

The Ontario government announced $75 million in support of an advanced research computing and big data strategy. Coordinated by Compute Ontario, the five-year investment will focus on a variety of efforts:

  • $34 million to support the operating costs of advanced research computing across the province;
  • $20.5 million for two new hardware platforms at the University of Toronto and the University of Waterloo;
  • $12 million for projects that bring together groups of researchers to develop tailored, shared and integrated data resources capable of data analytics and large scale computational modelling; and,
  • $8.5 million for Compute Ontario to co-ordinate advanced research computing.

As part of the Ontario government’s Business Growth Initiative, a new $20 million Colleges Applied Research and Development Fund (CARDF) was announced in late January. Coordinated by the Ontario Centres of Excellence (OCE), Colleges Ontario, and the Ministry of Research, Innovation and Science (MRIS), the fund will support a public-private partnership between colleges and Ontario businesses that will drive innovation, research and development. CARDF is comprised of three specific efforts:

  • College Strategic Sector/Cluster/Technology Platform Projects;
  • College Voucher for Technology Adoption (VTA); and
  • College Voucher for Innovation and Productivity (VIP).

It also intends on engaging both graduate and undergraduate students for experiential learning opportunities that will help them develop the skills necessary to address the needs of regional industries.

Through a $55 million investment from the Ontario government, the Ontario Capital Growth Corporation will establish a Cleantech Equity Fund with the intent of attracting private investments in exchange for equity in cleantech firms. The intent of the fund is to help Ontario-based cleantech firms get the capital they need to grow their business and create jobs in Ontario. The Ontario Capital Growth Corporation recently issued a call for expression of interest to find fund managers.

New Canadian economic growth recommendations

Last week, the Canadian Advisory Council on Economic Growth – a 14-member panel of leaders from industry and academia – released its second set of recommendations intended to unleash Canada’s economic potential by unlocking innovation to drive growth, bringing more Canadians into the labor force, building a highly skilled Canadian workforce for the jobs of tomorrow, and strengthening Canada’s trading partnerships. Recommendations include:

  • Establishing a FutureSkills Lab to build a highly skilled and resilient workforce;
  •  Supporting private-sector efforts to create a $1-billion growth fund, which would provide loans to small and medium-sized enterprises;
  • Streamlining immigration to ease entry for top talent;
  • Updating skills training programs for the “gig” economy;
  • Catalyzing the formation of business-led “innovation marketplaces” where researchers and start-ups work with corporate and government customers to solve growth challenges; and,
  • Removing growth obstacles in emerging cluster areas.
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