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Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada (ISED) hopes the five consortia of business, academic and non-profits will create 150 new firms and involve 100 larger “anchor” companies by March 31, 2023. The indicators were disclosed in the department’s 2021–2022 plan, released Tuesday. (The Logic)

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Talking point: The targets are overdue—ISED originally promised to release them in April 2019, and was aiming to hit them a year earlier than it’s now intending. The department and its expert review panel spent 2017–2018, the supercluster program’s first official year, evaluating applications, and so pushed back the timeline to ensure the winners had a full five years, said spokesperson Erika Zeroual. Statistics Canada will measure the number of new firms in the organizations local regions—the five are spread across the country—and industries, while ISED will use member lists to count anchor firms. Delays in finalizing the contracts between the department and the five new organizations also pushed back the flow of funding—the supercluster program spent just $5.6 million of its $244-million allocation in the 2018–2019 fiscal year, and the first of their projects were only announced in March 2019. With the negotiations and administrative setup work out of the way, ISED is looking further afield this year. The department plans to coordinate with other departments and agencies to support projects—as it does for individual companies through the Accelerated Growth Service—and put together an “international strategy to … extend the reach of superclusters beyond Canada.” It’s already signed an agreement to connect the program to a similar EU initiative.

This item has been updated with comment from ISED.

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The department planned for $3.3 billion in expenditures in 2018–2019, but only spent $2.3 billion, according to its annual report. It said reasons could include the length of time it takes to process funding applications and negotiate contracts. The additional money could still be spent in the future. (The Globe and Mail)

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Talking point: More than a third of the unspent money had been put toward two major innovation initiatives. The supercluster program spent just $5.6 million of its $244-million budget. Long negotiations over the terms under which the five consortia of industry, academia and non-profits would receive federal funding meant the first project among them was only announced in March 2019. As of last month, the department said it had transferred $30 million to the superclusters, of the total $950 million pledged. The Connect to Innovate Program, designed to bring high-speed internet to rural and remote communities, also had money in reserve, spending $68 million of its $249-million allocation.

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The $4.2-million project will focus on developing a new and more efficient means of producing viral vectors, which use genetic material to treat late-stage cancers and rare or inherited genetic disorders in patients. The project aims to make Canada a leader in viral vector production and to help meet the rising global demand for such cell- and gene-therapy treatments by developing manufacturing solutions to increase doses, lower costs and shorten the production time needed.(The Logic)

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Talking point: This is the first project approved by the Next Generation Manufacturing (NGen) Supercluster, which was created as part of the federal government’s Innovation Supercluster Initiative, and the last supercluster to announce a project. The five winners of the initiative were selected in February 2018. In September 2018, The Logic reported that none of the $950 million in government funds had been issued. By the end of 2018, the federal government had signed agreements with each supercluster, allocating its funding: $230 million each to the Ontario-based NGen and Quebec-based SCALE.AI and $153 million each to the B.C.-based Digital Technology, Saskatchewan-based Protein Industries and Nova Scotia-based Ocean Superclusters. In March, the Digital Technology Supercluster announced its first cohort of seven projects, including a health and genomics data platform and predictive analytics for manufacturing processes. The Protein Industries Supercluster announced its first project, aimed at boosting crop values, in June, as did the Ocean Supercluster, with a project focused on seafloor mapping. And, in July, the AI Supercluster announced its first projects, applying AI models to solve issues in the retail, manufacturing, agriculture and transportation sectors.