After months of waiting, groundwork for Ocean Supercluster is in place
'Within a month or so, we'll be making [project] announcements. Fingers crossed,' says official
Sixteen months after backing the so-called Ocean Supercluster to promote innovation in Atlantic Canada's ocean economy, the federal government has agreed to the ground rules, but the specifics haven't yet been made public.
A governance framework with the non-profit corporation set up to oversee the fund was signed in recent weeks.
It will unlock more than $300 million in spending between the federal government and the private sector on ocean-related projects over the next four years.
Susan Hunt, chief technology officer for the Ocean SuperCluster, said project proposals are being processed. She delivered the news at the H20 conference in Halifax, an annual event of the Ocean Technology Council of Nova Scotia.
"Within a month or so, we'll be making [project] announcements. Fingers crossed," Hunt said.
The Ocean Supercluster was one of five proposals selected in a national competition for federal innovation funding in February 2018.
Since then, it's been radio silence.
The mechanics of the program are a mystery to local business people like Paul Yeatman, president of underwater acoustics company GeoSpectrum Technologies, and chair of the Ocean Technology Council of Nova Scotia.
"We don't really know exactly what's going to come out of that," he said.
"It's still a little bit early, it looks promising. So, you know, we won't say anything nasty about it, but it has some work to do and we're hoping that there'll be some really good projects coming out of it."
Privately, other local ocean technology companies are more skeptical — questioning the bureaucracy created to oversee the fund and doubting how many small and medium-size businesses will actually benefit.
The Ocean Supercluster is led by oil and gas companies operating off Newfoundland and Labrador, including Exxon, as well as large fishing companies like Clearwater Seafoods, open ocean aquaculture company Cuna delMar and energy conglomerate Emera, among others. Defence and shipbuilding companies are also represented.
These are so-called Class A members willing to put up $15 million or more, and each gets a seat on the board.
Class B companies must commit over $5 million, while Class C companies have to put in more than $1 million.
The more a company puts up, the greater its say over decision making.
Areas of interest
Hunt said there's early interest in two broad areas: environmental characterization and digital twinning.
Environmental characterization is aimed at reducing risk and improving productivity by collecting and sharing data.
Digital twinning is a computer simulation of anything from physical assets to the ocean environment itself.
"What you can consider a digital twin is endless. And it comes down to the business case and the specifics that will be required to create that twin in a way that would make sense from a commercial standpoint," Hunt said.
Intellectual property rules coming June 25
Rules spelling out who benefits from any inventions associated with a project — so-called intellectual property — will be announced June 25 in St. John's.
The National Research Council (NRC) said it will give Ocean Supercluster members priority to call on its expertise.
NRC is making $5 million of resources available on a cost-recovery basis, oceans program director Marie-Chantal Ross said Thursday.