Written by Stephanie Scott, Innovation Cluster Accelerator Program Director at Washington State Department of Commerce

As we continue to build out the Washington State Department of Commerce’s Innovation Cluster Accelerator, I was excited to hear that the Government of Canada has renewed the Global Innovation Clusters (previously known as the Innovation Supercluster Initiative).

This is a critical win for a fellow cluster development program still working to build buy-in and support for a globally recognized economic development strategy in the early stages of adoption throughout North America.

For those not familiar, in 2018, the Government of Canada committed a whopping $950M over 5 years with an incredibly ambitious goal to rapidly develop 5 superclusters focused on digital tech, protein industries, advanced manufacturing, ocean industries, and bringing advanced tech to supply chains. “Superclusters” are the most developed on the innovation cluster maturity spectrum, the point at which these industry-led organizations become a “magnet” for investment, market opportunities, and talent. Superclusters typically take up to 10 years to build.

In this article announcing the renewal, Innovation, Science and Industry Minister François-Philippe Champagne remarked that developing successful clusters requires a significant investment of time and long-term funding, an insight that is well-aligned with learnings from successful cluster development programs around the world. Clusters need a long enough runway to develop and mature their organizations as they:

  • Grow robust cluster membership inclusive of industry, academia, government, entrepreneurs, and investors
  • Develop a business model that leverages both public and private funding
  • Build trust between members and industry ecosystem partners to develop a collaborative culture of “co-opetition,” bringing together competitors to work together to solve industry-level challenges and accelerate innovation
  • Execute on project portfolios leveraging cluster leadership and member time, talent, expertise, and investment on everything from joint research and development projects to creating accelerators and developing business angel networks to creating programs that grow the diverse workforce of the future

I was particularly interested in the following remarks by Minister Champagne:

The key message, Mr. Champagne said in an interview, was “we’re capable of more, so let’s double down” on the program. The minister said he wanted the agencies to “do more” regarding research and development, creation of IP and commercializing ideas, and to support objectives that include addressing climate change, reducing greenhouse gases and creating resilient supply chains. He called for better integration and collaboration among cluster participants. “We want to reach our full potential. I was trying to really inspire them: Let’s be proud of what we achieved but let’s be more ambitious.”

We have much to learn from the Global Innovation Clusters about setting ambitious goals and investing in cluster development long-term. Washington state also have a lot to offer the global cluster community. The first cohort of the Innovation Cluster Accelerator, along with Washington state’s first cluster, Washington Maritime Blue, has embraced a cross-cluster, collaborative approach. These pioneers in cluster development in our state recognize that we can only solve big societal challenges like climate change and supply chain issues at the intersection of information and communications technology, clean energy, and manufacturing. Washington state clusters are actively working together to identify and pursue cross-sector projects, including collaboratively pursuing recent federal funding opportunities such as the U.S. Economic Development Administration Build Back Better Regional Challenge and the U.S. National Science Foundation Regional Innovation Engines.

As we worked to develop the Innovation Cluster Accelerator based on best practices around the world, I’ve had the opportunity to regularly check in with Danielle Arsenault, manager of Canada’s Global Innovation Clusters. It’s been fascinating to learn that despite the Canadian program’s much larger budget, staff, and specific aim to build superclusters, our programs – and the clusters we support- have and will continue to experience many of the same challenges and opportunities. The same is true of cluster professionals I’ve engaged with serving on the TCI Network board of directors, which supports cluster development around the world, and the many cluster leaders and subject matter experts we’ve engaged with across the Nordics as we look to expand Washington state’s partnership with Innovation Norway and Finland in areas like 5g, smart ports, and clean technology. We are more alike than we are different, and opportunities abound to learn from and work with our peers around the world.

We celebrate this big win for our friends to the north and will continue to learn from them as we implement innovation cluster strategy in Washington state.