This is the second part of the two-part publication on the Innovation Superclusters Initiative. The first part can be found here.

In this blog on the Innovation Superclusters Initiative we will talk about Program Specifics and Gender Balance.

Consortium

The one thing that needs to be highlighted here is that the proposal is driven by a consortium.

The consortium is industry driven and is membership based. What this means is that there is a strong industry leadership behind the formation of the consortium with all members benefiting from the funding (directly or indirectly). Smaller-sized companies, academic institutions, and not-for-profit organizations could be members of the consortium. In fact, the program intends to connect a variety of players from a cluster, all coming together to create a SUPERCLUSTER.

So what are the activities that can be funded? In other words, what will make a strong proposal?

Specifically, each proposal needs to revolve around five specific topics. They are technology leadership, partnerships for scale, diverse and skilled talent pool, access to innovation, and global advantage. While it is not required to address them all in one proposal, technology leadership is a must. Examples of technology leadership could be:

  • collaborative R&D projects,
  • demonstration of prototype development,
  • development of production methods and processes (via Industry-Academia partnerships),
  • and commercialization projects (led by private sectors).

Funded activities can be carried out either by the not-for-profit organization itself (the funds manager) or through “calls for proposals”. A European Union € 20 billion funding instrument, targeting a variety of industries, comes to mind here.

Horizon 2020

Started in 2015, this funding program is called Horizon 2020. Under the program, companies can apply through a 2-phase process.

Thus, In Phase I, the successful applicants receive € 50,000 for the feasibility study. I personally find it is very innovative. Let’s think about it for a moment. A company can have funds to test the innovation out. Or, speaking bluntly, to see if it works. We all know that not all innovative ideas work. And we all know how hard it is to find cash to take it to the level where there is more certainty (one way or another). And this program understands that many of these applicants might not make it to Phase II. But this is the risk that is taken to later fund only those companies that have the maximum chances of success.

I can see how this model can be partially incorporated into the consortium activities with large multinational members benefiting from the outcomes.

Governance

Each SUPERCLUSTER is required to have a clear governance (with the Board of Directors) and minimum conditions for collaborative work, obligations, and objectives. Finally, measurable outcomes should be at the core of any proposal.

The Innovation Superclusters Initiative program sets the specific key performance indicators. For instance, it includes, among others, the rate of employment growth for companies participating in the program. This is not surprising. Thus considere how many times Minister Navdeep Bains stressed that “it is all about jobs” in his recent interview. Obviously, this is ambitious but the stakes are high, too.

Let’s talk about the actual funding $$

A couple of key things to remember:

Up to 75% of the funding can be used to cover the administrative cost. The industry will need to cover the remaining 25%.

Accordingly, the eligible administrative and operating costs cannot exceed 15%. (I find this quite generous. As a result, a $125M contribution by the ISI translates into $3,750,000 annually).

Next, up to 25% of the total matching contribution from the industry can be in-kind.

The Academic partner’s in-kind contribution will not be counted towards the overall matching contribution from the industry.

Gender balance

The one thing I really liked in the Superclusters Initiative program guideline is the gender balance. To be honest, I could not believe the time has come! As an expert reviewer for Horizon 2020, I know this issue needs to be addressed by the Horizon 2020 applicants if they are serious about the funding. No doubt. the Government of Canada is one step ahead of this. As a matter of fact, the applicants need to “develop and propose activities that make technological and industrial topics accessible to a wide variety of audiences”. Moreover, the applicants will have to ensure more females are employed and taking on leadership positions.

Last but not least, the composition of the Board of Directors should be structured accordingly. I would assume 50-50 balance would be the most appropriate, keeping it in line with Mr. Trudeau’s historic move when he created a gender-equal cabinet in 2015.

What do you think? Are we up for the challenge?


ConnexFund specializes in grants and funding for innovative companies and start-ups with a focus on technology and manufacturing. Many Canadian businesses are aware that there is some free money available for them. But not so many know where to find it, how to access it and how to prepare a grant application that is successful. And this is exactly what ConnexFund does!