It’s been just over two years since the Ministry of Innovation, Science and Economic Development announced a cornerstone program within their innovation agenda – the establishment of superclusters across Canada. The goal was to bring leading organizations together to tackle global challenges and unlock Canadian potential.
Of the five proposals selected, the Digital Technology Supercluster sought to leverage the power of British Columbia’s diverse ecosystem in the pursuit of bold ideas. It was awarded $153M in federal funding and more than $200M from industry (55%), research / SMEs (35%) and post-secondary partners (10%), and as a consortium, sought to create well-paying jobs, ground-breaking research and a world-leading innovation economy that creates global market leaders.
Fast forward to today and the Digital Supercluster has engaged 1,000 Canadian organizations, launching 65 active projects. These projects bring together consortiums of companies, academic institutions, and research organizations to work on specific challenges across five focus areas – COVID-19 response, precision health, data commons, digital twins, and capacity building.
“The investment by the Government of Canada is one of the boldest investments in public policy that I’ve seen in decades,” notes Sue Paish, CEO of the Digital Technology Supercluster. “Our model of collaborative innovation allows us to courageously tackle Canada’s most challenging issues together, like addressing the needs created by COVID-19.”
The Digital Supercluster prioritized collaborations on digital products that could be commercialized. Each expects to increase the adoption of new technologies and ultimately, create jobs. And it’s with this expectation that several are gaining traction.
“We know that the digital solutions we’re creating will be a pillar of accelerating Canada’s economic recovery, while keeping Canadians safe and healthy” explains Paish.
The Earth Data Store was among the first cohort of supercluster projects. Led by BC-born, UrtheCast and supported by Sparkgeo, the University of British Columbia, the University of Victoria, Geoscience BC and Microsoft, it is a platform that aggregates geospatial and earth observation data. Better access to and understanding of available data will enable researchers, businesses, and government agencies to make informed decisions on a wide array of vital environmental issues including climate change-induced extreme weather events, sea warming algae bloom increases, and sustainable agricultural practices.
“You need remote sensing to understand the environment and how it’s changing,” states William Parkinson, Technical Product Manager at UrtheCast. “Users can integrate the Earth Data Store’s data into their existing systems to deliver value for their customers in areas such as environmental, agricultural or forestry analytics.”
Microsoft saw significant benefit in bringing the power of cloud computing to the Supercluster ecosystem and specifically to projects like the Earth Data Store, where it can run critical applications and enables partners to harness data in the evolution of business process.
“Regional relevance is important and through the Supercluster, we’ve rolled up our sleeves as we work with partners to create Canadian jobs and drive opportunities for the ecosystem,” explains Edoardo De Martin, General Manager of Microsoft Vancouver. “Our role as a founding member has been in the support of the digital transformation of the Canadian economy.”
Through the Earth Data Store, UrtheCast will provide unparalleled access to standardized temporal and spatial earth observation data for developing industry-specific applications that allow end-users to see how regions evolve using visual and machine learning analysis. It is expected this project will support the growth of companies delivering big data/geospatial analytics products and information services, a global market estimated to be worth $10B.
A second data commons project is also seeing success. The Fresh Water Data Commons project has created FlowH20, a Canadian initiative that aims to mitigate the effects of the global water crisis by digitizing strategic water bodies to offer a real-time view of ecosystem health and better inform water use, conservation, and management.
“People need to know how much water there is and how much water we can use without affecting ecosystems in a negative way,” explains Greg Johnston, CEO of Carl Data Solutions. “We also need to know how changes in industry or development are having an impact on water use.”
On the opposite coast, Toronto-based DNAstack is part of a later cohort, landing funding for their project – the COVID Cloud – in early 2020. Securely sharing data and knowledge about the genetics of the COVID-19 virus in real time over a cloud-based global network is critical to the rapid development of treatments and therapies. This project allows scientists and researchers to do just that – improving our knowledge at a speed and scale that isn’t otherwise possible.
The COVID Cloud, developed by DNAstack and a team of collaborators, integrates genomic, epidemiological, and other data about the virus, with powerful analytical tools that can help inform the creation of public policy, diagnostics, treatments and vaccines.
“As we collect data from viruses around the world, we can now understand both the transmission and how the Coronavirus is mutating as it matures,” explains Marc Fiume, CEO of DNAstack. “The Supercluster has allowed us to scale significantly, strengthening our software engineering and product delivery.”
These three projects highlight early impact for the Supercluster initiative and the need for continued investment.
“Digital technology is impacting all aspects of our society and economies, creating unprecedented opportunity for organizations of all sizes,” states De Martin. “As a founding member of the Supercluster, we admire the ingenuity of these organizations and welcome the opportunity to participate in the transformation of the Canadian economy.”