The Port of Halifax's new living lab, designed to be a global centre for collaboration on maritime innovation, especially as it pertains to the port industry, is open for business.

Located in the old Halifax Seaport Farmers' Market building on Marginal Road, the PIER (Port Innovation, Engagement and Research) will allow partners, entrepreneurs, researchers and stakeholders to solve “wicked” industry problems and uncover new commercial opportunities.

With 30,000 square feet of office space and thematic accoutrements like shipping container workspaces, the centre is backed by a roster of large corporate funders. The most recent backer to sign on is Bell Canada, which will deploy its 5G networking infrastructure throughout the facility. Other partners include global information technology consultancy Accenture and Swedish defence contractor SAAB Technologies, which is bidding to build Canada’s next generation of fighter jets.

The centre aims to find solutions for long-standing problems which “no one party can solve alone,” Andrew Black, Director for Strategic Technology at the Port Authority, told Entrevestor in April. Examples include the need for standardized data and the decarbonization of supply chains.

“A key strength of The PIER is the diversity of its membership,” said Port Authority CEO Allan Gray in a press release. “Having different transportation and supply chain partners all working under the same roof will create the conditions for the free flow of ideas. From that, will come innovative solutions with benefits that reach far beyond those traditional sectors.”

PIER’s resident companies now include Halifax- and Ottawa-based data analytics consultancy SEASI, founded in 2005, and Toronto’s Datifex, which was founded in 2014 and builds software for collaboration on complex maritime and aerospace projects.

Research and development activities at PIER will focus on several areas: supply chain and logistics, and interconnected port cities and maritime policy development. In practice, this will mean working with partners to reduce policy barriers to maritime innovation and increasing funding for startups and entrepreneurs.

The efficiency and resilience of the port and its supply chains will be a focus and the port will consider the social, economic and environment impacts of its operations.

PIER has also already formed partnerships with local groups such as COVE, the Dartmouth-based oceans innovation centre. It is also creating links with ports and groups around the globe. In the press release, the organization said it currently has 28 private sector and institutional members, including Dalhousie University.

“We are creating a centre of gravity in Halifax that will act as a catalyst for innovators, researchers, and students to innovate alongside global industry players, right here in the seaport,” Black said in April.