What is the role of universities, colleges, research and learning centres in the BC Cleantech Cluster project and in economic development and innovation?
Foresight CEO, Jeanette Jackson hosted a discussion with a select group of leaders from the academic community on Sept 19th as part of the BC Cleantech Cluster Initiative.
The group was comprised of educators, leaders and academic experts who are known for their interest and expertise in supporting economic development, jobs and most importantly, a green and thriving economy, and was the first opportunity for academic institutions to engage and provide their input on the role of knowledge communities in the BC Cleantech Cluster Initiative.
As you’d expect when you convene a group of knowledge experts, there was a lively and engaging discussion, and a sharing of knowledge. Everyone was supportive of the idea of a cluster development project, and agreed that while the concept of economic clusters is not new, the timing is right for this type of approach, especially in cleantech. Also, international competitiveness rankings often go up in areas where there are strategically developed economic clusters.
The conversation focused on several challenges and opportunities that the group identified as important for economic development and industrial innovation in BC:
CHALLENGE – Industry Investment too Low
We need to increase industry investment, we have a strong early investment but no follow on for 2nd and 3rd rounds of financing for technology development and project collaboration.
CHALLENGE – Alignment
There’s a disconnect between areas of excellence and commercialization. We need to better align scientific excellence and the economy.
CHALLENGE – Commercialization
It takes too long to commercialize innovation and scientific advances. For example, in advanced materials, the scale up problem is related to intensive processes and availability of technology facilities. This gap is expensive, and these are very niche areas.
CHALLENGE – State of Play
In BC, we have an ‘hourglass problem’, ie. lots of SMEs on the one end and a few large companies on the other, and it’s hard to bridge between them – we need to create companies that can play in the middle of the supply chain to support innovation. For example, in other countries, there is a higher number of family owned businesses small to medium enterprises with a number of built out supply chains serving larger companies, like in the automotive industry.
Given the pace of innovation and the ability to bring together a coalition of the willing, all of these challenges lend themselves to near-term future opportunities.
In terms of low hanging fruit, and what can be done today, a few opportunities were highlighted to help set the pace:
OPPORTUNITY – Marketing the Story, Leveraging Strengths
There needs to be a branding exercise for BC Cleantech – how do we tell the story of BC Cleantech and make sure the world knows what is happening here? For example, UBC is ranked no.1 globally on climate action, and that helps attract talent.
Also, BC is the ‘gold standard’ of where to live, work, play – it has a reputation as a safe, livable and beautiful part of the world, and attracting cleantech talent and investment should leverage that.
**This is a common theme throughout our engagement echoed by many.
OPPORTUNITY – Collaboration Among Universities
This is happening in the region, and should be encouraged. For example, Pacific Institute of Climate Solutions, CityStudio, Great Northern Way Campus are all hotspots for collaboration, where a number of the Universities are collocated.
The dinner was engaging and hopeful – while we face challenges like any other region, the academic experts believe that the timing is right for this initiative, our ‘listen first’ approach is refreshing and we should “dream big and take action” on the development of a Cleantech Cluster in BC.
We couldn’t agree more.