What's an ocean supercluster? It binds an industry, and it just got $153M from Ottawa

The money will go to Atlantic startups and researchers for new ocean tech.

Supercluster will add 3,000 jobs and $14 billion to national economy over 10 years, federal gov't says

MP and Federal Minister of Veterans Affairs Seamus O' Regan spearheaded Friday's announcement for funding of the new ocean supercluster. (Katie Breen/CBC)

The federal government announced a $153-million injection Friday for an oceans 'supercluster,' a network of businesses and researchers tasked with generating new technologies and income for the Atlantic region.

That funding will be matched dollar-for-dollar by the private sector, and the federal government estimates the supercluster will add 3,000 jobs and $14 billion to the Canadian economy over the next decade.

Seamus O'Regan, MP for St. John's South-Mount Pearl, said that the combined strengths of both small and large companies in the region will allow for people to remain in Newfoundland and Labrador rather than looking for work outside of the province. 

According to government, small startup businesses can invest within the supercluster, opening doors for them to collaborate and succeed on the global market. 

"You can move around your credentials, you can still live here at home and you can take on new challenges," O'Regan said.

"The more people we keep here, and the more that they develop their strengths, the more permanent that job base becomes." 

Small fish, big pond

The move would propel at least one St. John's startup into a new market.

Ocean tech company Seaformatics now sells the Waterlily, a portable water- and wind-powered turbine, for hikers and other outdoor adventurers  but the idea was originally meant for scientists, studying at sea for extended periods.

"It was a tough market for us to get into," said Andrew Cook, Seaformatics' CEO. "We just didn't have enough capital to build the demo units and get the tech out there, get people using it. It was much easier to get into the consumer market."

Andrew Cook, CEO of startup Seaformatics, thinks the money will do wonders to help small businesses bring their big ideas to life. He's just worried they might get stolen. (Katie Breen/CBC)

In Seaformatics' case, given funding like the kind offered by the oceans supercluster, their chicken-and-egg dilemma  needing customers for cash, but needing cash to make products and secure customers  would have been an non-issue.

With development money injected straight into small groups of researchers, Cook suggests, marine tech companies won't have to rely on snazzy marketing or leisure applications to compile enough capital for the bigger-picture ideas.

"This forces people to cooperate on a grander scale," he said. "It will expand opportunities. You're going to get bigger products, more advanced systems coming out of this."

Working out the kinks 

The funding announced Friday is part of the government's country-wide Innovation Superclusters Initiative. Other superclusters include digital technology, protein industries, next generation manufacturing and AI-powered supply chains.

The plan for this supercluster, according to government, is to move forward with developing emerging technology to strengthen ocean industries.

Those include marine renewable energy, fisheries, aquaculture, oil and gas, defence, shipbuilding and marine transportation. 

Kendra MacDonald will head the ocean supercluster as CEO. (Katie Breen/CBC)

"The thing that is more important to the success for the region, and for the country, is how well we collaborate together," ocean supercluster CEO Kendra MacDonald said. 

Exactly how that collaboration plays out remains to be seen.

According to MacDonald, intellectual property agreements are in the works to iron out the details on who or what will own any research developed through the collaboration process within the ocean supercluster.

"That is a risk," said Cook. "The way it could work is a bigger company could just go in and gobble up your [intellectual property]. If you're in on a project, everybody's supposed to have access to that."

The federal government is projecting that the ocean supercluster will create more than 3,000 jobs and add more than $14 billion to Canada's economy over 10 years.

With files from Katie Breen

Read more articles from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador