With its five-year mandate set to expire next March, Canada’s Ocean Supercluster is applying to the federal government for a renewal of its funding as it aims to increase the size of the national ocean economy fivefold by 2035.
When it was created in 2018, the federally backed Supercluster set expectations that it would steward about $350 million worth of oceantech investment, with projects being funded partly by the private sector and partly by government.
On Wednesday, the Supercluster held an online event outlining its plans to stakeholders for its next phase. If it wins approval, the most substantial change looks set to be an increased focus on climate change mitigation.
“We have made (climate) its own pillar in terms of investment,” said CEO Kendra MacDonald. “And we have assumed it to be a building block of all pillars in terms of strategic areas.
“The messaging around sustainability was not there at the very beginning, but it came very quickly, and we consistently talk about health, and wealth, and the balance.”
The other three pillars of a renewed Supercluster would be large-scale energy production, sustainable seafood and transportation — those based on consultations with the private sector. For example, MacDonald said environmentally friendly marine coatings for boats have emerged as a potential area of focus.
Although she did not mention Halifax’s Graphite Innovation and Technologies by name, the company is developing such coatings and is part of an existing Supercluster research consortium.
MacDonald also paused at times to ask the roughly 70 attendees to fill out online forms with comments about the organization’s plans.
Feedback included multiple suggestions that quintupling the value of the ocean economy nationally compared to its 2019 level of about $39 billion is ambitious, but probably achievable.
At least one person also critiqued the Supercluster for moving too slowly, likely referring to the infrequent rate of project announcements in the early years of its mandate, and MacDonald agreed a lagging pace of investment had potentially risked creating counterproductively tight timelines for research.
“We know that our projects in oceans take time, and they definitely need time to be transformational,” she said. “And so, the more that we can commit in the early part of the program, the more time our projects have to achieve their impacts and outcomes.”
She added that, if the Supercluster’s mandate is renewed, it will move faster out of the gate than it did last time.
A refreshed Supercluster will also attempt to continue diversifying its partnerships in terms of the locations of the private sector companies. Right now, more of the Supercluster’s private sector partners are based in Atlantic Canada than elsewhere in the country.
Last year, Entrevestor’s Canadian Oceantech Data Report found that, while Atlantic Canada has the most oceans-related startups nationally, the West Coast has a significantly higher concentration of mature oceans companies