Pioneering a Canadian Approach to Cluster Development

October 13, 2021

By Jacob Malthouse, VP Commercialization

In his landmark November 1998 article “Clusters and the New Economics of Competition” Michale Porter called out that “the enduring competitive advantages in a global economy lie increasingly in local things that distant rivals cannot match.” Creating lasting advantage requires looking at what happens outside companies as much as what is happening inside them. This is a critical concept for Canadian leaders to understand. 

To date, Canadian cluster development has largely been based on lessons from outside Canada. For example, a 2019 report for the City of Toronto on best practices for growing clusters in Toronto’s green industries draws heavily on the work of the CLEAN Denmark cluster. 

While this guidance is fascinating, it neglects the profound cultural, economic and geographic differences between Europe and Canada. Europe is the world’s second largest consumer market. It has tremendous access to capital, vast human resources and a strong pan-national funding mechanism in the European Commission. Canada has none of these things.

Canada has significant natural resources, a small but highly educated population and is  geographically dispersed into urban centres and remote rural communities. Any “Made in Canada” cluster approach needs to take into account these differences. 

Beginning with the B.C. focussed Core Cluster report released in 2019, Foresight has been working to understand the unique elements necessary for Canadian cluster development to be successful. A key finding in this report was the sheer amount of energy and coordination taking place at a region and sector level in B.C. between investors, academia, entrepreneurs, government and industry. 

From towns like Quesnel and Campbell River, to Kelowna and Nelson, there are local first nations, municipalities, academic institutions, investors, companies, and entrepreneurs that are organizing their own local clusters. This is happening in an organic and often unsupported way, driven by the commitment of local leaders. 

The findings of the Core Cluster report suggest that, rather than a top-down approach to cluster development with all sectors bundled under a single initiative, a truly Canadian approach would recognize and support all of this existing work taking place on the ground and in the regions where resources are extracted and developed.

A New Approach Led by Stakeholders

That’s why Foresight is pioneering a new stakeholder-driven approach to cluster development based on these findings. In practice, this means that Foresight will be reaching out to local leaders to understand where we can help scale their initiatives and support them with access to coordination, training, and funding opportunities.

We’re now looking for regional and sector partners across Canada that need support in scaling their local cleantech communities. If you’re interested in being a part of a truly Canadian cluster development process, please get in touch with us! Keep an eye on Foresight’s news streams for announcements as this approach rolls out across BC, Alberta, and the rest of Canada. 

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