- Kendra MacDonald CEO - Ocean Supercluster
- Bill Greuel CEO - Protein Industries Canada
- Julien Billot CEO - Scale AI
- Kevin Anderson Head of the Marine Institute’s School of Fisheries at Memorial University
- Artificial intelligence and the work being done at Scale AI can be applied to the fisheries industry to improve demand forecasting and price optimization.
- The role of superclusters is more than funding projects—they encourage collaborations between industries, academic institutions, SMEs and startups.
- One of the legacies of the Ocean Supercluster will be fostering collaborations among Canadian companies from coast-to-coast-to-coast to go after global opportunities that have not existed before and to bring a global mindset to the fisheries industry.
- Canada’s superclusters are focusing on engaging underrepresented groups by educating them on the opportunities that exist in each respective industry.
- There is a natural alignment between the protein industries and aquaculture and more opportunities will emerge as the two superclusters work together.
Canadians should get involved with the superclusters, understand the projects and opportunities that exist within them, and not hesitate if they are considering making an investment in innovation.
Kevin Anderson: Hello, everyone, and welcome to the Fisheries Council of Canada (FCC) Supercluster Panel, in conjunction with TheFutureEconomy.ca.
This panel will focus on how the superclusters work in general, the value that they bring to their respective industries, their collaborations with key stakeholders, and their overall impact on the Canadian economy. The conversation will touch on all superclusters, with a particular focus on the Ocean Cluster.
I am very pleased to present to you our panel here today, all of whom bring significant experience. They are CEOs of various superclusters across Canada. We have Kendra MacDonald, CEO of the Ocean Supercluster, we have Bill Greuel, CEO of Protein Industries Canada (PIC), and we have Julien Billot, CEO of Scale AI.
We have four topics for our panelists here today. I will ask each of them to comment on the topic presented and we will take approximately 10 minutes to cover each of the topics.
How Superclusters Work
Kevin Anderson: Bill, I would like to speak to you first on how superclusters work and their benefits to the Canadian economy.
Bill Greuel: What we have to talk about first is setting the stage of really what an innovation supercluster is, and I think sometimes terminology matters and words matter. When I think about an innovation supercluster, I really think about five different sectors of the innovation economy coming together to really grow industries of the future. An innovation supercluster is a formal organization with a board and a budget that brings together the entrepreneurship community, the capital community, the corporate community, government and academia to really support a growth industry of the future by providing a space for collaborative and open innovation.
Kevin Anderson: Julien, Bill described generally what a supercluster is, I wonder if you could take an opportunity to perhaps provide more specifics to how superclusters work and benefits for the Canadian economy in the context of your supercluster?
Julien Billot: So basically at Scale AI, our goal is really to help companies introduce artificial intelligence (AI) in the supply chain environment. Basically, as a supercluster, we are really focused on helping companies go to the next generation of software to develop what they do.
Typically, the reason we decided to do that is AI is obviously very strong in Montreal and in Canada, that is one of the areas where Canada can compete at an international scale. On the other side, the supply chain is generating tons of data and is more connected, so it was quite obvious that we could connect AI to supply chain activities and that is why we created Scale AI.
The goal exactly is to make sure that we establish the right connections in the ecosystem, to be sure that at the end, companies, industries, research institutions, startups—everything—can work together to really develop new products and services on behalf of the whole Canadian economy, and also improve the way the supply chain is working in Canada. The supply chain is typically 10% of Canada wealth. More than 1 million people work in the supply chain today so obviously, improving the way the supply chain works in Canada is very critical for the country.
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Kevin Anderson: Kendra, most of our audience are probably in fisheries or certainly connected to the oceans. I wonder how you could address that topic with some specificity to the oceans or fisheries specifically?
Kendra MacDonald: When it comes to the Ocean Supercluster, one of our key objectives is really changing the way that we do business in the ocean. And so that is not just encouraging more collaboration, which we have heard across various stakeholder groups, it is also across sectoral collaborations.
The Ocean Supercluster’s members are from 13 different sectors. You see fisheries, aquaculture, shipping, offshore oil and gas, bio resources, and ocean technology, and what we found is traditionally, those sectors tended to work in silos to try to address challenges—and yet when you talk to them, a lot of the challenges that they are facing going forward, whether it is in terms of talent or global reach or the cost and risk of doing business in the ocean are similar, and so what we are trying to see is getting solutions that are being developed that apply to more than one sector and have global relevance. So that is really working to change not only the behavior across different parts in terms of stakeholder groups but also across the ocean sectors.
Partnerships and Collaborations
Kevin Anderson: We talk about superclusters but also try to bring the oceans or fisheries into the conversation if you can, and maybe we can explore some possible avenues. I will begin with Julien. Could you elaborate on the partnerships and collaborations that make superclusters possible?
Julien Billot: With pleasure, because this is the heart of the supercluster. Superclusters are not only here to fund projects, because then we would just be a bank like the Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC) or Export Development Canada (EDC), and we are really here to build an ecosystem. In the case of Scale AI, building the ecosystem involved various projects inside the supercluster. Typically, we fund projects but we ask every project to be built in collaboration with small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), with multiple companies and possibly with research institutions. Even if we fund an industry or project, we will not fund a project for one dedicated company—we want a consortium including multiple entities to be funded in a project.
But a side of that, we have decided to develop other programs to benefit the ecosystem. Typically, one of our programs is a talent program where we try to help workforce improve for AI management, but also we are going to fund research chairs—possibly up to 10 of them—that are focused on AI applied to supply chain. That is a direct investment into chairs in universities to be connected with industry.
“Building this ecosystem and building collaboration is at the heart of what we do.”Julien Billot
Another topic in our program is an acceleration program where we deliberately fund incubators and accelerators to support startups that are in the AI supply chain activities. Obviously, the objective is to make a connection between these startups, ultimately, and industry or groups and the members of our supercluster.
So really building this ecosystem and building collaboration is at the heart of what we do. It is true in projects where we ask for collaboration, but it is also true in other programs we are building around different partners in the ecosystem.
Kevin Anderson: Kendra, could you comment from your perspective on partnerships and collaborations that make superclusters possible?
Kendra MacDonald: We work very closely so we have a number of universities across Atlantic Canada. We work with the Ocean Frontier Institute (OFI), and the Marine Institute which sit on our board. It is really looking at how to engage, making sure that we are engaging the research community. Part of the objective of a supercluster is commercial outcomes and we are very, very, very good at research. So how do we work with the universities to be able to commercialize the great research that we are doing? For example, we have the Lab2Market program, which was kicked off this fall, which is working with researchers who have an interest in being able to commercialize their research and helping them to be able to do that. There are lots of opportunities across the ecosystem.
We also bigger projects across sectoral collaboration. So our recent project, the Ocean Aware project, has energy and fisheries and aquaculture all again working together in terms of building those solutions. Some of our smaller projects are more focused on an individual sector but we are also trying to not only different sizes of businesses and across government and research but also including the cross-sectoral component in industry.
Kevin Anderson: Bill, obviously, fisheries is a big part of the protein industries as well. I wonder if you could elaborate your perspective on partnerships and collaboration?
Bill Greuel: The idea of partnerships and collaboration is just critical. You think of the problems that we are trying to solve in today’s economy, they are too large for any one company—even one sector—to solve on its own.I would take aquaculture for instance.
There is an industry that needs 2.7 million metric tons of protein to service the growing aquaculture markets. That is a $3 billion opportunity by 2025. Take a look at the industry that I am working in, which is the agriculture sector here in landlocked Western Canada, we produce on average 14 million metric tons of plant protein. We are investing in science and innovation to grow that sector and produce high quality plant proteins that have direct application in the aquaculture market.
It is this idea of collaboration not only between companies but between superclusters and industries that I think is really at the heart of the innovation supercluster theory, and really will lead to economic growth and development.
Kevin Anderson: I would just like to add that in the context of fisheries, collaboration has not always been there. It is a very historically competitive world, and I am very encouraged by what the supercluster concept can produce for the fishing industry not in just day-to-day things but in that working together concept that I think is so essential to be globally competitive and to be successful in a post-COVID world.
Kenda MacDonald: I think to your point, we have a number of members that possibly have not really had much conversation previously and who have not worked together—so that is a huge culture change just in terms of having those conversations happen and to be able to think about working together.
We had our member event yesterday and we actually had a presenter who is in the fisheries industry and he just talked about the fact that it is hard in the day-to-day of fisheries to really think about a future in automation and innovation. The supercluster gives them an opportunity to be introduced to tech companies that they might otherwise never come across to help them think about automation and the future of the workforce.
“It is hard in the day-to-day of fisheries to really think about a future in automation and innovation.”Kendra MacDonald
One of the key areas as we think about the future as well as how we work with not only the protection of the ocean and production of the ocean—how we balance those—but it is around better information. There are huge efforts in terms of getting more information about the seabed floor mapping as well as information to be able to do more predictive fishing, so that is definitely an area of interest in terms of increased data collection and information for decision purposes.
Kevin Anderson: Bill, it has been said that there are three stages to human development: hunter/gatherer, agriculture and industrial. Arguably a fourth one in knowledge industry. Fishing industry is hunter/gatherer, and from your perspective, how do you think innovation could fit into the fishing industry and how can superclusters support innovation?
Bill Greuel: As a resident of a landlocked province, I am not sure I have specifics to add. But I think just to build on what Kendra talked about, there is the application of new innovation and new technologies to traditional sectors. I will use the agriculture and food-processing sector as a jumping off point for this.
One of the most exciting things we are seeing at Protein Industries Canada is the application of new agrifood technologies to the sector, so that is Internet of Things (IoT), machine learning, automation—all of that technology that has been developed for other industries being applied to agriculture.
“One of the most exciting things we are seeing at Protein Industries Canada is the application of new agrifood technologies to the sector.”Bill Greuel
It is the same for the aquaculture sector or the fisheries sector; application of new technologies to improve competitiveness, to improve sustainability, to think about how we are servicing our end-use customers with better information on production and the mitigating of climate change. It is the application of new technologies and that is really something that the superclusters could help foster.
Kevin Anderson: Julien, in the Canadian context labor issues, demographics in the fishing industry, potential shortage of labor in the future, the need to be internationally competitive—we are not major players in production, around 1% of the world’s supply—perhaps about 3% of the value. How do you think AI can contribute to innovation in the fishing industry?
Julien Billot: You know that is interesting because historically at Scale AI, we had very few projects in agriculture, at least since its inception, but very recently, we just validated three projects around agriculture and around improving production or improving logistics around agriculture.
We have a bit more water in Montreal than Bill has in Alberta, but we have no fisheries. We really see that AI can be applied to a lot of things actually. So obviously, it can be applied to feeding, to improve the way you grow different things including fish, but also plants and other things. We definitely see AI as a big contribution into the global supply chain.
Let me give you some examples. Ocean fisheries are producing fish but then you need to deliver this fish and you need as much as you can to predict demand and pricing to optimize the value you can take out of the fisheries. On that one, we actually have a significant number of projects with retailers about demand forecasting and pricing forecasting. Obviously, that is very far away from what fisheries are doing but actually it is very connected because if retailers and grocers are able to better predict the level of demand for specific products, then of course, they could collapse into the full supply chain and improve the way fisheries are collecting fish or growing fish. Demand forecasting and price optimization is definitely a point of focus we have at Scale AI. We can have a definite impact on fisheries.
“We definitely see AI as a big contribution into the global supply chain.”Julien Billot
The other one obviously is refrigeration. I am not a specialist on that, but I am pretty sure you need to respect the cold supply chain all around the transportation of fish. I can definitely think you need to refrigerate your fish when you have to travel. Basically that is a place where you can follow and better predict shipment and the logistics around fisheries which can obviously help. At Scale AI, we are not directly investing in growing proteins—even if we see some application already in the agriculture sector—but we are definitely focused around the other aspects which are of course transportation, the quality control on one side and demand forecasting and price prediction. Again, we can complete the value chain of fish and fish growing in Canada to develop and improve over time.
Kevin Anderson: Kendra, I was going to go back to you with the question on what your colleagues have spoken about in specificity of innovation in fisheries.
The fishing industry is going through a massive change, there is significant innovation taking place and yet there are many aspects of the fishery that continue to require more work. So perhaps I can go back to you again and ask you to comment on any particular points that you may have missed or some aspects of what your colleagues have raised.
Kendra MacDonald: When I think about the other superclusters there is a fit with the ocean in several of them if you think about what is important to the future of fisheries. Take Julien’s example, the whole catch-to-plate tracking and understanding where it is coming from and how we bring new technologies to that problem is a real challenge and is of importance to the fishery.
When you look at the Digital Supercluster, they are doing some work in the wild fishery in terms of protection, and that is all around data collection and making sure that we are protecting and better predicting in terms of the wild fishery and the tie in there.
When you think about bringing new technologies, I think about Ontario and robotics, AI, mixed realities and a digital twinning of assets for example in terms of the fishing equipment, so there is definitely a fit. To Bill’s point, on the aquaculture side, the fish feed and the opportunity that exists because of the increase in demand for aquaculture and for fish protein, well with that demand comes an increase of a need for fish feed.
The fisheries are a traditional industry, and we have a huge opportunity in Canada to bring technology to that industry. One of the other things that I hear, is that there is a need to innovate because the worker of the future is not as interested in traditional fishery roles. So how do we bring automation? How do we think through what fish processing looks like in the future and the type of role that we need to bring to that? And how do we make that attractive to the next generation of workers? I think that is a real challenge because just getting that license renewed and doing it the way it was being done before is more challenging than perhaps it has been.
“There is a need to innovate because the worker of the future is not as interested in traditional fishery roles.”Kendra MacDonald
One more topic, because we have referenced climate change as well, the wild fishery and maintaining fish stocks will need information to better collect data to be able to continue to do that. Again, a very important part, because we are told and we have seen in different parts of the world that if it is well managed we actually we end up with a better, continuous source of fish and so that is a very important part of maintenance and being able to maintain supply in the future.
Julien Billot: I would like to emphasize this point on the importance of the ecosystem and collaboration. We have the opportunity; we are hosting an acceleration program in Montreal for startups and we a stream specialization in the supply chain. The new cohort is going to arrive in mid-October. Basically, we have a very interesting startp which is all about tracing systems for fish between transformation areas. That is a good example because ultimately this startup will be supported through the Creative Destruction Lab by some money coming from Scale AI so possibly this startup can provide a very interesting solution for the industry around traceability. Not only traceability in fisheries but traceability in the transformation industry to be sure that if you want to buy a snapper it is really a snapper and not something else because that is in the transformation part what we understood where most of the issues are coming from.
That is good example of how the ecosystem is working through an acceleration program, which is supported by one supercluster. There is an interesting company that grew, developed and solved possibly some of the critical issues for the industry.
Kevin Anderson: I would just like to add some points about the innovation in fisheries. For a thousand of years it was a major food source and remains one of the primary protein sources in the world, but increasingly the value of fish for nutraceuticals and pharmaceuticals and some other industrial applications have become more and more apparent and hence, working together with other industries even outside the fishing industry is going to be inherent. I thank the three of you for your comments on this very important topic.
We have been talking about superclusters and you have alluded to the start of a supercluster concept and the work that you are doing. Perhaps we should take some time to think about the legacy of superclusters and the Ocean Supercluster in particular as you move forward into the future.
Legacy and the Long-term
Kevin Anderson: Again, Bill, I’ll start with you. I would like for you to speak to what are the superclusters hope to achieve in the long-term and how are they are supporting the Canadian economy. And I would like you to speak a little bit about what happens when funding comes to an end.
Bill Greuel: If I think about the goals of Protein Industries Canada, what we are trying to do as a supercluster, it really comes down to economic growth. We are driving towards the creation of 4,500 jobs and $4.5 billion worth of GDP. We know that those targets are eminently achievable, we know that if we were to increase value-added processing of the crops that we produce in Western Canada on an annual basis, even a 20% increase, that is an additional $12 billion of economic value to Canada.
“We are driving towards the creation of 4,500 jobs and $4.5 billion worth of GDP.”Bill Greuel
If we think about the long-term growth and opportunity that we have, there really is an opportunity to utilize the work of the supercluster and the economic opportunity to drive foreign direct investment (FDI); to spur on more collaborative research and development between organizations; and take a very long-term view about utilizing the asset that we have in Western Canada—which is our land base and our crop production—to meet the future needs of the global economy in terms of plant protein products for human food consumption and aquaculture.
Julien Billot: That is an ambitious topic, talking about legacy. From the Scale AI perspective, we are focused on the software industry. Our goal is really to be sure that at least the Canadian industry embraces software and considers software as an investment and not as a liability. That is really the challenge we want, if we are successful in introducing AI in companies, then obviously, that will be a great legacy.
Our strong belief in Scale AI is this will come with two important factors. One will be research applied to operations, and the other one will be startups. That is why at the end of the day we decided to subsidize research chairs in AI supply chain, and to do this acceleration program supporting incubators and accelerators, because we think with the right structures for research and startups are the best way to really ensure AI into new industries that are historically very traditional in how they invest—always considering software as something not necessary. That is totally different south of the border, and in countries like China, Israel or others.
I think if we can we can hope the legacy on our side will be strengthening Canada’s position in fundamental research and as a country that is welcoming startups and innovation; to be sure at the end that our industry introduces more AI in their processes and Canada is more efficient globally as a country.
Kevin Anderson: Kendra, obviously the ocean sector is a big issue in Atlantic Canada—a big component of the GDP and of the economy, and industries rise and fall—but at the end of the day, the oceans remain centre to the future of Atlantic Canada’s economy and very important in the Pacific and in the North as well. Can you speak to the legacy issue of superclusters and in particular, this idea of the long-term and what happens when funding ends?
Kendra MacDonald: Similar to Bill, it is all about economic growth. If you look at the opportunity that exists in oceans, so the ocean economy globally is set to double by 2030 to $3 trillion. If you look at the Canadian ocean economy, we have the longest coastline in the world and the fourth largest ocean territory and yet we are not even at the world average when it comes to the ocean economy’s contribution to GDP. In fact, we are half of the world average.
“The ocean economy globally is set to double by 2030 to $3 trillion.”Kendra MacDonald
You can argue we are a highly diversified economy but to me, that is the opportunity. If we could get to the world average that would be a doubling. If we could double with the projected growth that would be another doubling. and if you think about it there is the opportunity to get ahead of that. This is about Canada and as an ocean nation and the opportunity that exists.
“We have a huge leadership role in terms of bringing a global mindset to the rest of the Ocean Supercluster.”Kendra MacDonald
For me, the legacy is we change the way we do business fundamentally. We are seeing collaboration across sectors across the Atlantic, but we are also seeing more partnerships that are forming across Canada. That idea that we can work together as Canadian companies to go after global opportunities at a scale that we perhaps have not gone after before. If I look at the fishery, the fishery is one of the most export-minded industries that we have in Canada. They are already thinking about global markets, and so we have a huge leadership role in terms of bringing that global mindset to the rest of the Ocean Supercluster.
Inspiring the Next Generation of Canadians
Kevin Anderson: There is no question that exports are a big part of the Canadian fisheries industry. Many other countries produce a lot more fish that is consumed domestically but for Canada, export is key and we are so susceptible to changes in market conditions as a result, but it also speaks to high value species that we have to export.
The idea of superclusters or similar organizations are not unique to Canada, in fact they are well established in other parts of the world. Iceland, for example, have used that as an economic engine for some time and are quite successful, especially in the field of technology and using the supercluster approach to innovation and working together in a collaborative way.
We have two questions from Thor Sigfusson, Founder and Chairman of Iceland Ocean Cluster (IOC) that I would like for each of you to comment on.
The first question is: can you explain how you are planning to inspire the next generation of Canadians in your field or industry? What plans do you have to get this group involved in the cluster’s work? Julien, I could start with you.
Julien Billot: Regarding Scale AI, as I said, the strongest challenge for us is to make Canadians interested in AI and software coding as a whole. Specifically, I would say women and minorities because of course, you know that white men are over-represented in this group.
“The strongest challenge for us is to make Canadians interested in AI and software coding as a whole.”Julien Billot
What we are trying to do at Scale AI in our talent program is we try to have programs to incentivize younger people to join studies in this coding and AI environment. We are going to sponsor non-profit organizations that are promoting science and technology and specifically science and technology for women and minorities because I think there are significant opportunities in business for women and minorities in this area, which is not common for them.
Definitely, we think that at Scale AI we should support them, introduce them to these technologies and obviously help them join ultimately the big AI industry, possibly applied to supply chain.
Bill Greuel: As a baseline, the agrifood industry in Canada is already the largest employer of people in Canada and the second largest contributor of GDP so we have a lot of momentum already in the agrifood sector. If we talk about inspiring the next generation of Canadians to get involved in this industry, I think we have to look at the application of new knowledge and technologies that is really not applied in the agrifood sector.
As Julien talked about artificial intelligence and supply chain improvements, we have a lot of exciting work going on around advanced food processing and food entrepreneurship. We have a lot of things happening in terms of IoT and machine learning, which is the application of new knowledge and technologies to what is really a traditional industry.
I think showing all Canadians and in particular some of the underrepresented groups the opportunity to have an exciting career in the agrifood space, through the application of new knowledge and technologies, and if you coupled that with already the largest employer in Canada and the growth opportunity that food processing and ingredient manufacturing shows in Canada, I think we have a lot of work to do. But it is a field that I do believe will attract a lot of talent in the future.
Kendra MacDonald: Similar to Bill and Julien, it is really helping Canadians to understand the opportunity that exists. These are traditional sectors and there is a lot of expectation or view on what those roles look like, so helping to educate on what those opportunities are.
We are about to launch a 12-week series where our different member companies talk about their organizations and what they see the opportunity to be in the Ocean Economy. We have one of our members in Nova Scotia that helps you understand what a path to different careers in the Ocean Economy look like, and I think part of it is to create role models. So to the comments around underrepresented groups, inclusion is a huge focus of ours, we just launched last week our Indigenous Career Pivot Project (ICPP) pilot program and that is focused on creating employment for people from the Indigenous community within our member companies for a year and then you understand what those opportunities are.
We are just about to do some work on women in ocean tech, which again is a significantly underrepresented group in terms of the ocean community. We have several of our projects that are working with Mitacs to be able to position students on those projects. We also have our startup project which actually is looking to create new ocean startups and helping students with their ideas in entrepreneurship.
So there are very many ways that we look at to the future and if you want a job in the fisheries, oil and gas or aquaculture, that would be a huge legacy to leave for Canadians.
10 -Year Plan
Kevin Anderson: Bill, another question from Thor was where do you see your cluster in 10 years’ time and where do you see the industries you are representing?
Bill Greuel: That is a fascinating question and we are really starting to think about the evolution of our supercluster and we are very fortunate at Proteins Industries Canada that we have participation from some very larger anchor firms from different parts of the value chain—from plant-breeding through to production agriculture, and most importantly for the growth of our sector, some large organizations making investments in processing and technology.
“In 10 years we will be recognized as a global leader in plant protein because of the investments that most of our member companies are making today.”Bill Greuel
We really see emerging clusters around these large processing facilities that are a major centre in Western Canada, and I think when we think about 10 years out, we really think Canada will be a global leader in plant protein. We are thinking about what is it that we need to do to make a far greater share of the global growth in plant protein. We know that we have the production base, the innovative producers, the processing capacity being built out today and a great story to tell about the sustainability and the production of our ingredients. In 10 years we will be recognized as a global leader in plant protein because of the investments that most of our member companies are making today.
Kevin Anderson: Kendra, I am fascinated to hear where you think the fishing industry is going to be in 10 years and the ocean sector in general. How do you see your industry and your cluster in 10 years?
Kendra MacDonald: I believe that one of the reasons we have the superclusters in the areas that they are in is because we do have the opportunity to work towards a stronger leadership position and I think the ocean economy would be similar in terms of where I see us in 10 years.
The government has committed to the Blue Economy Strategy and so I think that is a real opportunity to be able to define where Canada wants to be. The ocean is still fairly wide, and we are talking about many different sectors, so being much more granular in figuring out where Canada can win.
In terms of aquatech and oceanology, I think we do have the opportunity. I talked about the numbers earlier in terms of where we sit. There are some very big challenges that are facing the ocean and you have to think about health and wealth of the ocean in the future. It is very important for Canada to be part of those conversations and to really contribute to getting us to the greener technology of the future across all of our ocean sectors.
Fisheries and COVID-19
Kevin Anderson: Obviously, the future of superclusters is a very important conversation, but we are facing an immediate issue here and a global pandemic. The fishing industry is impacted like many other industries and in some cases, more so, but yet it is a protein sector and some areas have been protected.
Kendra, can you speak to how the industry has been affected by COVID-19 and how superclusters may play a role in the future of mitigating some of these impacts?
Kendra MacDonald: From an ocean sector’s perspective, we had some significant impacts of the pandemic. We saw in the fishery not only the impact in terms of the delay and being able to go out on the water, also significant impacts on demand when restaurants and cruise ships that generate huge demand from the fishery were impacted—and it was not just the fishery.
In terms of our ocean sectors, offshore oil and gas, as an example, has been tremendously hit both in terms of impacts of the pandemic as well as the price war at the same time, and so we really had to step back as a cluster and say how can we help. Some of the clusters had a very direct response to COVID-19 in terms of funding COVID-19 projects, whether it was personal protective equipment (PPE) in terms of Ontario or in terms of the digital health space in British Columbia (BC), and Julien can speak to Scale AI.
“As a lot of people were pulling up the hand break, we pushed on the gas to really be able to continue to encourage innovation.”Kendra MacDonald
For us, that did not make sense so what we did do is we had a few large projects and what we did in May was we came out with our Accelerated Ocean Solution Program (AOSP). That program was very focused on areas of technology that we thought would be relevant to the future in a pandemic, which was remote operations, digital technologies and environmental technologies, and we went specifically looking for smaller scale, shorter timeline projects to really continue to encourage investment in innovation despite the challenging time that we were facing. We have actually approved 25 projects in the last six months that will all start to roll out in the next few months, and as one of our startups said, as a lot of people were pulling up the hand break, we pushed on the gas to really be able to continue to encourage innovation at a time when it was very challenging for the companies in our cluster.
Bill Greuel: In March, we did a survey of our members and we really started asking questions about the issues that they were facing as a result of COVID-19, and three things really came up. One was access to working capital, another was access to growth capital and the third was supply chain disruption.
I think this idea of supply chain disruption is a really interesting one for us to explore in Canada’s agrifood sector. I think we saw a shift in terms of food consumption, at the food service industry back to retail and it really showed the importance and the need for a robust food-processing sector in Canada.
“We really need to think about processing of food in Canada as a means of food security and food sovereignty in the long-term.”Bill Greuel
If we do not control food processing in Canada, if that is offshore, if other countries are producing and processing the ingredients that we create and grow in Western Canada, it leaves us vulnerable to shocks and it does not build resilience in our food system. It really opened up the eyes of the Canadian agrifood sector that we really need to think about processing of food in Canada as a means of food security and food sovereignty in the long-term.
Kevin Anderson: I want to give each of you an opportunity to offer some final comments. Kendra, do you have any final comments to offer the members of the Fisheries Council of Canada or all of the participants in this forum?
Kendra MacDonald: The one thing I would say is that we are just getting started. The supercluster program is a couple of years in, and I think the opportunity is tremendous. Get involved, understand the projects, understand the opportunity and do not defer if you are thinking about making an innovation investment because getting ahead of this—being the first to digitize—being on the early end of this matters.
“Get involved, understand the projects, understand the opportunity and do not defer if you are thinking about making an innovation investment.”Kendra MacDonald
From a global perspective, we are not the only ones that are turning our attention to the blue economy. There are blue economy clusters that are coming up all over the world and so getting this right and making sure that we have the industry support around these projects, taking the opportunity to innovate, taking the opportunity to bring these new technologies to your business and to the way that you do things will make us much stronger as industry and as a country.
Bill Greuel: In terms of final thoughts, I will maybe build on what Kendra talked about. Collaboration and open innovation to me is key. I might be sitting in the Prairies in Western Canada but there is just so much opportunity to be collaborating with people in aquaculture sector and the ocean sector
“I would really encourage collaboration and open innovation across industries.”Bill Greuel
I would really encourage organizations and companies that have innovative technologies on the aquaculture side to start talking to us at Protein Industries Canada, getting connected with our members that are producing high protein ingredients that are going to be just really great fits for sustainable aquaculture feed into the future. You know what, there are going to be other opportunities that emerge out of that that we cannot even think about today, so I would really encourage collaboration and open innovation across industries.
Kevin Anderson: So Kendra, as a final comment is it interesting for you to comment on Bill’s suggestion that there are opportunities and a need for collaboration not just in the ocean sector but industries in general?
Kendra MacDonald: Absolutely. We started some of those conversations so there has been a natural alignment I think between proteins and ocean. We are in the early days in those conversations, but I think that people recognize the opportunity and we are just trying to figure out the best way to position it.
When you look at innovation and you look at some of the best innovations it is an innovation from one industry that is brought to another industry even though perhaps it did not naturally seem to fit, that is where some of the best innovations come from.
One of the challenges when we think about the ocean and even for me coming into this role, coming from more innovation in tech, was we think about ocean science and we tend to think about the ocean and the challenge of the ocean differently because we are bringing that scientific lens to it.
Science is incredibly important but there are so many aspects around digitizing the ocean, having better information, understanding weather patterns so that you can better predict the future movement of fish. You can take a thousand examples of that but that is really I think where there is a huge alignment when you think about farm to plate and catch to plate; there are very similar challenges in terms of tracking, there is a lot of that technology that can align. I think there is no question that the demand for fish feed from an aquaculture perspective is another huge opportunity and it would not take us long to find five more places where we could work together and that probably applies to each supercluster.
“There is no question that the demand for fish feed from an aquaculture perspective is another huge opportunity.”Kendra MacDonald
Definitely part of this is where industry wants to go but as we are thinking about the future, we have to foster some of those cross-sectoral conversations in a new way.
Kevin Anderson: Julien, I could not resist giving you the last word on the next 10 years—AI and where we are going—but also, if you can incorporate your thoughts on COVID-19 that would be appreciated.
Julien Billot: Most people say AI today is at the same maturity stage that the internet was in 1995. It seems that two years is still a long time and we have plenty to do in the AI stream. For sure, I think for Scale AI what we really want is really to help AI be more used by industry, more chosen by students, more innovation created around AI by start-ups, that is really what we aim for, and COVID-19 is not helping in fairness of that for different reasons.
COVID-19 is not helping because it is delaying projects, I think a lot of companies in the industry are struggling for survival, I can think about the airline industry or others that are really fighting for their lives, so they should invest now. Some of their companies are investing but they do not have the money to invest. COVID-19 is really slowing down some investment in software and it is a mistake because in some other countries companies continue to invest in AI, in automation and prediction.
COVID-19 is a concern, but it is also an opportunity because that brings new solutions, brings digitization of companies, digitization of society as a whole has developed five years in the last six months. A lot of companies were not even thinking about working digitally, now most of the employees work at home and that is creating new opportunities for talent and new opportunities for disruption.
COVID-19 is a concern, COVID-19 is an opportunity but definitely on our side, we see AI as one of the biggest thing for Canada and the whole world in the next 10 years—we are just barely scratching the surface of what we can do and obviously we think that there is a lot of opportunities to capture in the next 10 years.
Kevin Anderson: Thank you very much, all three of you, for providing tremendous insight in what can be complicated but very fascinating issues and I think the work you are doing is beneficial to all Canadians and certainly very beneficial to the sectors that you represent.
I can say that coming from the university world, I am encouraged that this sort of thought process and the supercluster concept is out there and it is tremendously helpful as we think about where we need to go, how we educate the next generation and continue to learn throughout our lifetime, and how we embrace technology.
COVID-19 has taught us that necessity is the mother of invention. The fishing industry is going to benefit immensely from not just the technological transfer and the marketing opportunities and collaborations, but also by becoming that area that young people want to go to—and I think that will come back. There are some elements of COVID-19 that perhaps will actually facilitate that.
I also want to thank Fisheries Council of Canada for the opportunity here today, and TheFutureEconomy.ca for your tremendous support. So again, thank you very much and I am sure I will be speaking to you or seeing you in the future, thank you.