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Sue Paish: Collaborative innovation is the path to Canada’s growth and prosperity

There should be no limits on the reach of our world-changing digital technologies, writes Sue Paish
"There should be no limits placed on the reach and scale of world-changing digital technology," writes DIGITAL CEO Sue Paish | We Are/DigitalVision/Getty Images

Telephones, insulin, snowmobiles, peanut butter, sonar, electron microscopes, canola, walkie-talkies, Blackberry and the Canada-Arm.

These are Canadian innovations that in many cases changed the world. Even the electric lightbulb, although its innovators could not afford to advance it and thus sold the rights to Thomas Edison. The rest is a history of missed opportunity.

Canadian innovators have long persevered and (usually) quietly, delivered world-changing innovations in an environment that is challenged to celebrate their innovation and impact. Canadian Business Investment in Research and Development (BERD) has steadily declined since the early 2000s when it was 2.02 per cent.

While we cannot change the past, and if we are going to tackle societal challenges in ways that capture opportunity for Canada, we need to create an environment where business is encouraged and inspired. Where investment in Canadian innovation delivers the products and services the world needs, developed and retained here at home. This mindset is the basis of collaborative innovation.

More collaboration, less risk

DIGITAL, Canada’s Global Innovation Cluster for digital technologies, focuses on accelerating innovation through a model that has connected over 1,200 organizations spanning industry, academia, governments and not-for-profits. We focus on technologies that address some of society and industry’s biggest challenges through de-risking investment via results-based co-investment and ensuring the customer voice is at the table.

Since 2018, our members have collectively developed nearly 500 Canadian intellectual property assets; over 150 products and services; upskilled more than 7,000 Canadians into well-paying, high potential jobs; and attracted more than $820 million in investment after completing projects with DIGITAL. These resulting achievements are furthering our advancement towards a net-zero society, building a healthier Canada and creating the digitally skilled workforce Canada needs to win in the digital world.

Move fast, think “big” and deliver

I want to single out a few examples of how DIGITAL is accelerating innovation and inspiring industry to deliver meaningful digital solutions.

To accelerate the rapid delivery of new housing, we’ve joined forces with the Government of B.C. to make B.C. a North American leader in digital construction and permitting through the digitization of the building code. The initiative also focuses on adoption of technologies that accelerate the positive impact of construction and related sectors by working more effectively with regulators.

In collaboration with Dias Geophysical, Fireweed Metals, Simon Fraser University, Mitacs, Microsoft and BHP, Richmond-based Ideon Technologies is pioneering world-leading mining technologies with their “Earth X-Ray.” The subsurface intelligence technology allows mining companies to identify, map and monitor critical minerals down to one kilometre beneath the Earth’s surface, thus reducing ‘hit-and-miss’ drilling and decreasing associated environmental impacts. Four out of five of the world’s largest mining companies, including project partner BHP, are already utilizing this Canadian-made technology at multiple sites around the world.

Led by Simon Fraser University’s Beedie School of Business in collaboration with industry partners such as Vancouver International Airport, RBC, Telus and more than 30 others, industry and academia are investing in large-scale professional education initiatives that are rapidly skilling over 1,000 Canadians for innovation leadership roles. The initiative has already seen a 95-per-cent placement rate with 30 per cent from underrepresented groups, and with the potential to scale and deliver training in up to 70 countries and 30 languages.

Scaling up with diverse investors

There should be no limits placed on the reach and scale of world-changing digital technology, and that’s why the next phase of DIGITAL’s evolution will involve diversifying our investors. Seventy per cent of our co-investments are helping Canadian small and medium-sized enterprises scale-up their R&D. With the support of our consortium, many of these ventures are now ready to go after global applications, customers and markets, yet lack resources amidst current global downturns in VC funding.

There’s an opportunity for new investors to come to a table laden with uniquely robust market opportunities. Collaboratively nurtured and developed by hundreds of Canada’s most innovative minds, these opportunities span technologies such as augmented reality, digital twins, data platforms and AI, all of which are seeing explosive growth. With our partnerships across all levels of government, innovators have unique opportunities to engage directly with the public sector as a customer base.

The examples above are only a fraction of the innovations DIGITAL’s members have developed. To prospective private and public partners with similarly grand ambitions  and talent to match – our door is always open and ready to welcome the best and brightest.

Sue Paish is CEO of DIGITAL, Canada’s Global Innovation Cluster for digital technologies.