CEO, Digital Global Innovation Cluster
VP of Stakeholder Relations, Terramera
Director of Digital Learning Lab, Digital Global Innovation Cluster
An innovative supercluster model that has seen success elsewhere, including in Silicon Valley, is helping to bring industry, academia, and government together to solve society’s biggest challenges.
“Anchor companies drive economic growth, create jobs, build communities and contribute significantly to Canada’s GDP,” says Sue Paish, CEO of the Digital Global Innovation Cluster, (Digital), based in Vancouver. “We have exceptional small companies in Canada — and lots of them. We must create an environment that drives their growth into anchor enterprises. This is what we do at Digital.”
Accelerating economic growth and prosperity
According to Paish, by focussing innovation on solving some of society’s and industry’s biggest challenges, leveraging the ingenuity of innovators, and combining that with large enterprise experience, we create environments for small companies to grow — accelerating economic growth and prosperity. This is demand-driven ‘collaborative innovation’. Digital uses this model to build Canadian-made digital solutions to solve some of the world’s biggest challenges, such as improving access to health systems and driving to net-zero by decarbonizing natural resources sectors. At the same time, Digital is transforming skilling and training for thousands of Canadians for careers in the digital world.
Made in Canada: A global impact
Canada can lead the world in digital innovations that advance human health, protect environmental health, and deliver highly skilled talent. Digital’s model marries private commercialization power with academic institutions, which enables collaboration and fills gaps in organizational capacity. This model creates a community where small enterprises grow into world recognized leaders.
For example, Toronto-based DNAstack, who creates software that powers breakthrough discoveries in oncology, neuroscience and rare diseases, has accelerated its growth by being a member of Digital’s network. In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, it was able to share genomic information globally and is now poised to use that same technology to better understand genetic disorders, such as autism. “We’re building an anchor company based in Canada, with global impact,” says Marc Fiume, CEO of DNAstack. “Working with the Supercluster created the launchpad to export our technology internationally.”
Fiume acknowledges that DNAstack wouldn’t have been as impactful or have been able to grow without the Digital Cluster. Staffing has tripled and revenues have increased five-fold since it joined Digital’s membership. Earlier this year, DNAstack was recognized on the international stage by the World Economic Forum as one of its “Technology Pioneers”, a distinction given to 100 early-to-growth-stage companies that are involved in innovation and are poised to have significant impact on business and society. DNAstack was one of two Canadian companies to receive this honour.
Earlier this month, Firstline, a Canadian health technology company that delivers expert guidance at point-of-care via a web-based application, announced a global partnership with the World Health Organization (WHO). The WHO will distribute Firstline’s technology focused on combatting antimicrobial resistance — one of the WHO’s “global health threats”. Access to WHO guidance via Firstline’s technology will result in better outcomes for millions of citizens and health care systems around the world. Digital supported Firstline through development investment and enabling its collaboration with inter-governmental agencies to ultimately result in the ground-breaking partnership with the WHO.
“It’s marvellous to see these Canadian companies — DNAstack and Firstline, on the world stage in a way that we haven’t seen before. This shows the power and potential of Canada’s small companies and the impact of what we’re doing in the Digital Cluster,” says Paish.
Working together to achieve greater
Great relationships are a catalyst for small organizations to learn and develop. This was the case for Vancouver-based Terramera, who’s changing the economics of agriculture to grow food in a better way for people and the environment. Terramera uses complex science and green chemistry to create safer and healthier bio-pesticides, while also building healthier soil systems.
“We’re a founding member of the Digital Supercluster,” says Kim Haakstad, VP of Stakeholder Relations at Terramera. “There were skills and business needs that we didn’t have in-house, but we were able to leverage the skills of our partners in that project team to add to what we already had.”
Having the support of Digital gave Terramera credibility and attention from investors. It showed the organization had gone through a level of technical due diligence — giving Terramera strong roots to grow, now employing 135 people. Haakstad adds that its new piece of soil health technology was built in partnership with the University of British Columbia and recognizes this academic partnership as a vital piece in Terramera’s success.
Building a digital skilled workforce
Canadian industry needs talent that’s prepared for the digital world. The Digital Cluster is getting Canadians job-ready for the digital economy by taking a new approach to skilling. “We often hear that talent is the biggest challenge facing a lot of companies, and that’s why we’re pursuing a demand-driven model to talent and workforce development,” says Sydney Goodfellow, Director of the Digital Cluster’s Digital Learning Lab. “We’re focused on rapid cycle, stackable, and a more personalized approach to digital education that’ll train Canadians quicker and more affordably, regardless of where they live in Canada, their work, or their education background.”
The Canadian Tech Talent Accelerator project is delivering job-ready talent in 15 weeks for in-demand roles in cloud computing and data science. The training is based on what employers need, and the recipients are from communities underrepresented in the digital economy, including Indigenous, Black and other racialized citizens, people with disabilities, LGBTQ2S+, youth, women, and newcomers to Canada. This pan-Canadian approach to workforce development ensures Canada’s workers are at the forefront of change and meeting the needs of Canada’s fast-growing companies.
“This is an exceptionally exciting time for Canada. We’re seeing small Canadian companies grow and be on the world stage, large enterprises benefitting from new ideas and our academic sectors supporting industrial R&D in new and creative ways. The world is taking note. This is good for Canada and good for the world,” concluded Paish.