CEO, Canada’s Ocean Supercluster
President & CEO, Sensor Tech
Canada’s Ocean Supercluster is a pan-Canadian network delivering globally-relevant solutions and creating a more digital, sustainable, and inclusive ocean economy.
Largely unexplored and not well understood, whether you live by an ocean or not, it impacts us all. Important to our very survival, every second breath we take is from the ocean, it’s home to marine species, and it connects us through transport and international commerce. Yet, today, we know more about space than we do ocean.
The Earth is comprised of more water than land, with ocean making up two-thirds of the planet’s surface. With only 20 per cent of the ocean surveyed, there is much work to do to better understand the Earth’s final frontier.
One of five clusters under the Federal Government’s Global Innovation Cluster initiative — Canada’s Ocean Supercluster is helping to transform the way we look at the ocean, reimagining an ocean economy that’s based on collaboration across different sectors and regions, and, advancing Canada’s leadership in a global blue economy that is set to outpace the broader economy by 20 per cent by 2030.
Canada’s Ocean Supercluster: an origin story
To appreciate this momentum that is building and the journey of the cluster to date, we need to better understand the Global Innovation Cluster initiative. Celebrating its fifth anniversary, the government supported initiative was designed to build Canada’s reputation as an innovative nation, increasing Canada’s leadership and competitiveness internationally. Based on cluster theory — the idea that geographic density can accelerate economic growth — the Global Innovation Cluster initiative identified five areas across Canada’s economy that showed incredible potential in helping to achieve just that.
“The program was built to focus on areas of greatest opportunity,” says Kendra MacDonald, CEO of Canada’s Ocean Supercluster. “A lot of these areas of opportunity are driven by addressing shared global challenges: health, food security, supply chain, and also climate change,” she says.
Investing in Ocean
As we consider how to answer some of the world’s biggest economic opportunities and climate challenges, ocean may not be top of mind for the average Canadian. But, MacDonald notes that by better understanding the ocean, we can’t only accelerate the development and commercialization of more Canadian ocean solutions that tackle these problems, but also create increased contribution to the country’s GDP from the ocean and generate thousands of new jobs while contributing to a healthier planet.
The ocean economy is set to double by 2030 and during this UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development, it’s increasing a focus on the global agenda. “The ocean is critical to addressing the world’s growing demand for sustainable protein, it helps regulate temperature, absorbs more carbon than the rain forest, not to mention 90 per cent of our goods travel across the ocean,” says MacDonald. For Canada, the fourth largest ocean territory and home to the longest coastline in the world, “it’s a huge economic opportunity, and much of this has yet to be realized.” The cluster recently released a forward-looking document focused on the collective ocean growth opportunity. Ambition 2035, highlights the potential for our ocean economy to grow fives times from $39 billion to $220 billion by 2035.
The ocean is critical to addressing the world’s growing demand for sustainable protein, it helps regulates temperature, absorbs more carbon than the rain forest, not to mention 90 per cent of our goods travel across the ocean.
It’s not just about the economic benefits; however, the Ocean Cluster also represents a critical investment in the future of the planet, the importance of increasing Indigenous participation in understanding both the challenges and the solutions in our ocean and supporting net-zero commitments. For Canada, our ocean-front borders and proximity to the Arctic make it an especially important investment in partnerships with communities, inclusive workforce and skills development, and sustainable economic growth. “We’re all impacted by the ocean — it’s relevant to climate, weather, and the rate of sea level rise.”
Collaboration key to Sustainability
Canada’s Ocean Supercluster is changing the way ocean business is done. A member-based non-profit organization, the national cluster is a catalyst for company growth, with a network of more than 520 like-minded organizations and fostering a collaborative environment between these members from coast-to-coast-to-coast. Members of the cluster cite its collaborative framework as a major benefit, with ideation and pitching sessions, funding opportunities, increased brand awareness and visibility, and the ability to participate in specialized project groups — including those focused on going further and deeper in the ocean for better data collection; advanced technologies to support remote work and operations; decarbonization of shipping; transitionary and renewable energy solutions; and innovative solutions including Artificial Intelligence in sustainable seafood.
“We’re tackling complex problems, that have applications across different sectors and different jurisdictions, so we need multiple points of view,” says MacDonald. “If we can accelerate growth by connecting companies and projects together, then the whole cluster network gets stronger.”
Project teams bring together young and mature companies, research partners, not-for-profits, and government to focus on putting Canada at the forefront of cutting-edge ocean technology, in a way that has never been done before. The result? New partnerships, new growth, and new market opportunities, with more Canadian research getting commercialized, more Canadian companies growing, where through their Ocean Startup Project, the cluster has supported more than 100 new ocean companies in Canada in the last 2.5 years alone.
The world is increasingly watching what’s happening in ocean industries in Canada with great interest, some working toward adopting similar models. Speakers at a recent international ocean investment conference in Halifax, calling Canada’s ocean cluster model the gold standard.
Driving ocean innovation forward
Member company Sensor Tech has seen this result first-hand. A Canadian leader in ocean technology, Sensor Tech has been developing specialized underwater sensors for more than 20 years. “We’re at the heart of any listening, talking or imaging underwater,” says Niru Somayajula, President, and CEO of Sensor Tech. Involvement with Canada’s Ocean Supercluster has helped the company achieve advancements years earlier than it might have. “The Ocean Cluster helps move projects forward, fostering advocacy for the ocean but also for us as businesses,” she says. “Having one body represent us all without bias helps facilitate leverage and opportunity.”
Sensor Tech will soon have two products in the market that were both fostered through the cluster.
For Somayajula, it’s not just about innovation but sustainability. “The future must be that we know a lot more about the ocean than we know today. There are a lot of technologies we need to explore that will help us understand the ocean and preserve it somehow. We rely on it for a lot of different things.”