Where do our FHE Institute and Smart Textile and Wearables Institute proposals fit?
By Mark Majewski
Where does the flexible and hybrid electronics (FHE) sector fit into Canada’s $950-million Innovation Superclusters Initiative to “create more middle-class jobs and more opportunities for Canadian businesses to grow into globally successful brands?”
This is an important and timely question for the intelliFLEX Innovation Alliance and our Board of Directors, as we plan to hold consultations on October 24 on our two institute concepts to overcome this sector’s challenges (register now to be part of these consultations at our Sector Development Leadership Council). Here is a quick update on what we have done to-date to secure funding for our sector and build a common vision for the future through consultation.
Navdeep Bains, federal minister of innovation, science and economic development, announced the superclusters initiative in May, with the goal to create up to five superclusters. Each supercluster will be a non-profit consortium that includes large and small companies, post-secondary educational institutions or non-profit organizations. Applications will be accepted from both Canadian companies and international companies with Canadian operations. Each business-led consortium must match the government contribution dollar-for-dollar.
As part of stage one, about 50 letters of intent have been submitted to date. In the next stage, some will be invited to submit full proposals. In the end, only five will succeed, the rest will not.
Why we are not mounting a supercluster proposal of our own
On the surface, it may appear that intelliFLEX should muster its members to submit an FHE-specific supercluster proposal. But FHE in all its dimensions is still an emerging technology space. Despite billions of dollars of global economic activity, much of its potential is yet to be realized.
The federal government, on the other hand, wants to create superclusters for what it recognizes as large industrial sectors that are established and mature, such as advanced manufacturing, clean technology, digital technology, healthcare and biosciences, and infrastructure and transportation. There is less perceived risk to the public purse that way.
But FHE is not a sector that exists in its own silo. Quite the opposite. FHE offers both enabling tech platforms to create compelling new products and applications for the Internet of Things, as well as new processes for advanced manufacturing and Manufacturing 4.0 initiatives.
This gives us a dual value proposition in many industry verticals through 1) unique tech products and 2) new additive manufacturing. We may not yet be a large established industrial sector, but we can add extensive value to sectors that do fit the federal government’s criteria for a supercluster. Our Members have the technologies for market-leading product innovation, as well as to make manufacturing more efficient and environmentally friendly. At the June meeting with our Board of Directors, it was decided for this reason to partner with established sectors and cluster proposals.
4 proposals with alignment for our Members
Through the summer, we have worked to understand how we can align FHE with industrial sectors that are mounting strong supercluster proposals. We took the initiative and held over 10 high level briefings/meetings with potential partners.
In recognition of our strengths and the regional concentration of our membership in Ontario and Quebec, we determined at a board level to align ourselves as part of four supercluster proposals.
In the first two proposals, our alignment is based on the two institute concepts we are developing with our Members:
- The advanced manufacturing supercluster, led by Communitech, MaRS and the Government of Ontario.
- The photonics and microelectronics supercluster, led by the National Optics Institute (INO) and the MiQro Innovation Collaborative Centre (C2MI).
We also had promising talks with the teams behind the aerospace and automotive supercluster proposals which would fit well with our intelliPART program due to launch in 2018:
- MOST 21 proposal, led by the Consortium for Aerospace Research and Innovation in Canada (CARIC) and the Green Aviation Research and Development Network (GARDN).
- Automotive proposal, led by the Automotive Parts Manufacturters Association (APMA).
While we have no control over the submission process and eventual fates of these supercluster proposals, our engagement thus far has raised awareness about the value and importance of FHE to these industrial sectors and sparked strong interest in collaborating with our Members on technology development.
A partnering strategy is key
All this is part of intelliFLEX’s mandate to support our Members in their efforts to get products to market, gain traction in key market verticals with strong commercial potential, access global markets and qualify for government funding. We have talked often about levering federal government support for the FHE sector. At present, this is most likely through participation in the supercluster initiative.
Adopting a partnering strategy and aligning ourselves with these other industrial sectors is the best way to advance our Members’ interests and achieve the momentum to eventually create a federally funded FHE supercluster. Because two of these proposals link to our institute concepts – the FHE Manufacturing Institute and the Smart Textiles and Wearables Manufacturing Institute – we must continue to develop these concepts so they can be included by our partners in their supercluster submissions.
So, please register for our next Sector Development Leadership Council on October 24 in Toronto where we will discuss how best to move forward with our institutes. We don’t yet know the outcome of our engagement with these proposed superclusters, but we have earned our spot at the table if we are able to bring a well-developed program and confirmed Member support.
If you would like to discuss this in more detail, I am always available, give me a call 613.505.4775 ext. 101