Future Economy in Action: Clusters, Export Development and Accelerating Innovation in Cleantech

November 5, 2020

Exporters: The Hidden Gem of Accelerating Innovation

What do an energy asset management and reporting software company, a portable electric power station company, a hydrogen-injection and fueling station company, an ion-exchange polymers & membranes company and a water reclamation/nutrient recovery company have in common? 

They are all examples of cleantech companies that are driving economic growth, creating jobs, and attracting investments into British Columbia by expanding into global markets. 

These exporters have a crucial, yet often overlooked role to play in the future economy, and in Canada’s green recovery. 


As Canada’s economy recovers from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and transitions to a zero-carbon future, the strength of the future economy will depend not only on how successful we are at adopting clean technologies (such as travelling in electric vehicles or living in energy efficient, carbon-negative homes), but also how successful Canadian companies are at developing and selling cleantech solutions on a global scale. 

Exporting is an integral component to any successful economy – exported products represent 13.3% of BC’s total economic output or real Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

As these innovative cleantech companies start to roll out more and more deployments of their technology across the globe, they contribute to BC’s reputation as a hotbed of Canadian cleantech innovation (in the Global Cleantech 100 list – 55% of Canadian companies on the 2020 list, 7 out of 12, come from BC), which in turn attracts talent, jobs, and investment into the region. BC and Canada become a place to find and source cleantech solutions. 

This is already happening – many of Foresight’s industrial challenge partners cite Canada’s reputation as a cleantech innovator as the reason they look to Canada to find technologies that can help them achieve their corporate sustainability and low-carbon goals.

British Columbia – Opportunity is Knocking

BC is on the cusp of a massive opportunity to leverage its clean energy and clean technology expertise, its natural resources, and its geographic advantages to capture a significant share of a growing global market in low carbon technologies of all types. 

As noted in the Foresight and BC CORE Cleantech Cluster’s recent Future Economy series and roadmap landscape reports, to create additional pathways for decarbonization, new technologies will need to be developed and deployed at significant scale (e.g.  energy transmission, renewable energy conversion and storage, low cost carbon and methane capture, low-carbon building materials, smart data and analytics). New markets and market mechanisms will also need to evolve.

The scope and scale of investment required to deliver on these pivotal technologies means that cleantech companies must bring their products from prototype to commercialization efficiently and with an eye to global export markets. In many cases, they must look beyond borders to attract investment and seal partnerships with global customers to be successful.

What’s exciting about these export-focused companies is that they are not only driving economic growth in their own regions or sectors of the economy, but they also have the potential to tap into the power of the CORE Cleantech Cluster Organization to add economic vitality to the entire province, and support the vision of Western Canada as a regional powerhouse of cleantech.

BC’s CORE Cleantech Cluster: Accelerating Export Development

Export development – selling into new markets, and connecting into global networks to try to find the right opportunity – is hard work for an emerging startup in cleantech. It can be time consuming and expensive, which is often a major barrier for small businesses as they look to scale. 

Clusters can dramatically accelerate this process and save time/money for these companies by leveraging global connections and tapping into opportunity networks in targeted, strategic ways. 

For example, during the recent NYC Climate Week event, BC’s CORE Cleantech Cluster hosted the Cleantech Connect webinar series. This satellite United Nations webinar included a series of virtual roundtables, in partnership with the Consulate General of the Netherlands in Vancouver, to explore clean technology trade and investment opportunities. 

The first of its-kind in the post-Covid world of virtual networking, this event explored not only how meaningful connections can be made in an online event, but also identified near and medium-term opportunities for cleantech activities in key sectors that were of interest to various European consulates based in Vancouver (including Ireland, Netherlands, Finland, Switzerland, France, UK, Germany). 

For BC Cleantech company participants including Portable Electric, the event also provided eye-opening insights into export markets opportunities, customer connections and how to leverage existing grants and other financial mechanisms for international collaboration: 

Doing business in British Columbia means exporting finished goods around the world, and the only way to do this is by having access to strong global networks and trade channels. We cannot expect the BC and Canadian cleantech economies to flourish without this vital support. More access to global trade is essential”  said Mark Rabin, CEO Portable Electric

While interest in supporting clean technology trade and investment opportunities is high in Europe, given the backdrop of various ambitious climate targets set by respective countries, the CETA trade agreement and the European Green Deal, the European Consulates and the International Cleantech Network networks have only recently become aware of the broader clean technology opportunities in BC, through the efforts of BC’s CORE Cleantech Cluster. 

By initiating meetings and events like the Cleantech Connect BC ⇐> EU series in partnership with other export development experts in the Helix 5 such as government or large industry, the CORE Cleantech Cluster promotes the visibility of the cleantech sector in BC and helps these export-focused innovators attract needed investment and business opportunities. 

Cluster organizations across the world, including in Europe, the United States, Asia and elsewhere are actively engaged in energizing their respective technological and business ecosystems and connecting their exporters into multi-national opportunity networks. (See the “Accelerating British Columbia’s Clean Economy: A Cleantech Cluster Strategy for the Province of British Columbia” report for examples of international and Canadian cluster organizations that have economic similarities to BC).  

BC’s CORE Cleantech Cluster is doing the same, through initiatives like the Solar Impulse Challenge and through their partnership with the International Cleantech Network. The Solar Impulse challenge gave BC cleantech companies like Lambda Science an opportunity to qualify for the Solar Impulse Efficient Solution Label as well as access to specialized global events, business and investment opportunities.  The International Cleantech Network is a global cluster membership network which regularly shares global investment and business opportunities in the cleantech sector. 

We consider ourselves lucky to start our cleantech venture in BC. The progressive landscape of regulation and demand in our province has put us ahead of the curve in a global scene. Despite knowing that we have a mature product with a potentially high global demand, we found it hard to connect with the right initiatives outside BC. The CORE Cleantech Cluster was extremely valuable in that regard. CORE connected us to the Solar Impulse Foundation, facilitating our Energy Efficient label. This has been our entry point for international business development. In the meantime, when we go to a potential customer, partner, or investor they better appreciate the scale of the problems we can solve, having that label.”   – Arman Mottaghi, CEO, Lambda Science Inc.

Cleantech Exporters and the Innovation Feedback Loop

While some emerging clean technologies in BC are highly visible and impact our daily lives (e.g. electric vehicles or green buildings), many cleantech companies, such as the export-focused companies noted above are developing solutions that drive change behind the scenes, often in complex operational conditions and in specialized global markets. 

Although they may not be as visible in the local market, they are of significant benefit to the province and the country as they not only attract talent, investment, and jobs, they provide an economic stimulus for other local and regional cleantech companies as they accelerate the process of innovation. 

From initial concept through to successful completion, an innovation project goes through a series of steps, involving scientific, technological, organizational, financial, and commercial activities that often involve an entire ecosystem of stakeholders. As one cleantech company goes through this process and commercializes their technology, the entire supportive ecosystem is strengthened, and it is easier and faster for newer, emerging companies to take their solutions to market. 

BC CORE Cleantech Cluster is energizing that innovation feedback loop through these powerful programs mentioned above. We believe that with the right support, these companies can grow into economic powerhouses that drive entire sectors, generate quality jobs and bring in tax revenue for the whole region. 

The Government of Canada has acknowledged the importance of export-focused cleantech companies and the part they play in the future economy – in Canada’s Economic Strategy Table recommendations they state the intention to support the cleantech industry’s growth to $20 billion in cleantech exports by 2025 – less than 5 years from now. 

Cleantech in BC and Western Canada is an opportunity that is knocking loudly at our door. It’s time to open that door with strategic programming that leverages global connections and expands opportunities for everyone. 

“With 82,000 employees and annual revenues of $17 billion, Canada’s promising cleantech industry is primed for growth, but its long-term strength depends on export sales.” –  Export Development Canada

You can find copies of Foresight’s CORE BC roadmap reports here. To read the full CORE Cleantech Cluster report visit: 

Interested in joining the CORE BC Cleantech Cluster? Get involved.