Four UBC-partnered superclusters advance in competition for $950 million

On October 12, four UBC-partnered superclusters have advanced to the second round of Canada’s Innovation Superclusters Initiative. Part of the nine applicants to have been shortlisted out of 50, they will be competing for up to $950 million over a five-year span with up to five possible recipients.

With this “first of its kind” level of investment, the federal government is aiming to bolster industry growth and partnership in Canada as part of a “global innovation race.” This investment is also considered targeted because of the structure of a supercluster.

A cluster is a dense geographical group of businesses, academic institutions and research facilities that grow the economy by promoting innovation, increasing production and facilitating the formation of new companies.

A supercluster is simply a large cluster, which has a oversized effect on the regional and national economies, such as Silicon Valley.

For the university, the four relevant superclusters are the MOST21 aerospace supercluster based in Quebec, the CLEER clean mining supercluster based in Ontario, the Smart Agri-food agricultural supercluster based in Saskatchewan, and Canada’s digital technology supercluster based in BC.

According to Associate VP Research and Innovation Dr. Helen Burt, UBC’s involvement in these superclusters are broad.

“I think you would be amazed at the breadth of faculties and departments that, particularly, the digital technology supercluster touches,” said Burt. “You can imagine sciences and applied sciences are clearly well integrated but don’t forget that the environment and resource sectors — forestry, mining, environmental NGOs, etc — all use digital technology.

“It covers all of the health faculties, science, engineering, forestry, land and food systems. It’s really broad in scope.”

When asked about how UBC contributes to the the superclusters, Burt highlighted the importance of UBC’s students and staff.

“I would say one of the most important contributions and roles we can play is through the talent side,” she said.

“These superclusters are industry-led so there’s a role for researchers to contribute to the innovation cycle by contributing graduate students, postdocs and faculty into these projects that will have industry components.”

In return, the university and its students could potentially benefit from more integrated learning, co-op programs and industry connections. Burt also believes these connections would provide more opportunity for UBC’s entrepreneurship program and other student-led ventures.

The investment is budgeted for 2017 to 2022, and the winners will be announced before March 31, 2018.

This article has been updated to clarify Burt’s title and the initiative’s structure.