A coalition of advanced manufacturing and technology companies and public-sector entities in the Toronto-Waterloo Corridor is among five “superclusters” that will share $950 million in federal funding designed to drive economic growth and innovation.

Canada’s Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development Navdeep Bains announced the winners of a months-long bidding process Thursday in Ottawa. The nearly billion-dollar initiative, which attracted 50 bids from across Canada and included hundreds of companies, as well as universities and public-private entities such as Communitech and Toronto’s MaRS, was outlined in last year’s federal budget. Nine finalists were announced last fall, with five of the nine emerging as winners. Each of the five will receive up to $250 million in funding.

The corridor bid, a coalition of 140 partners that included University of Waterloo, Communitech, and Waterloo Region companies such as Miovision, was led by Guelph-based auto parts manufacturer Linamar Corp.

“The Advanced Manufacturing Supercluster presents a tremendous opportunity to bring the twin strengths of Canada’s manufacturing and technology sectors together to create sustained growth,” said Linamar  CEO Linda Hasenfratz.

Hasenfratz has been named chair of newly incorporated Next Generation Manufacturing (NGM) Canada, the entity that will spearhead implementation of the funding and will facilitate ecosystem activities, partnerships and collaboration among members.

“NGM Canada will support collaborative, industry-led projects, as well as support the creation of new tools, testbeds and infrastructure to help create the next generation of manufacturing firms,” Hasenfratz said.

Avvey Peters, Chief Strategy Officer for Communitech and co-chair of the working group behind the NGM bid, said, “We’re excited about the opportunity to launch the supercluster strategy for Advanced Manufacturing. We’re going to help companies with collaborative R&D projects, build out tools and testbeds to help them, and offer programs and services to help SMEs get access to new digital tools and new markets.”

Jayson Myers, former head of Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters, has been named the CEO of NGM Canada.

Two of the winning bids – including the one from NGM Canada and another based in Quebec that will focus on an artificial intelligence powered supply chain supercluster, were backed by the University of Waterloo.

Other winners included:

  • a B.C.-based digital technology supercluster;
  • an Atlantic-Canada based ocean supercluster;
  • a Saskatchewan-led protein innovations supercluster focused on agriculture.

It’s expected that NGM Canada will create new opportunities for thousands of Canadians employed in key industry segments like automotive, steel production, wood products, food and beverage production, microelectronics, and information and communications technologies.

“Today’s announcement is reflective of what can be achieved through the power of collaboration when not-for-profit organizations like Communitech, academic institutions like the University of Waterloo, and companies like Linamar come together and are supported by their local government partners,” said Kitchener Mayor Berry Vrbanovic.

“This news is a significant vote of confidence in not only what we are doing in Waterloo Region but what we are trying to achieve through our collaboration within the broader Toronto-Waterloo Region corridor.”

Leaders of the region’s technology companies were equally enthusiastic. Ryan Gariepy, CTO at Kitchener’s Clearpath Robotics, pointed out that Canada lags many industrialized countries when it comes to adopting automation, and that to remain competitive, “it’s critical that our factories and our workers are as safe, productive and adaptive as possible,” he said. The government’s supercluster initiative, he added, will help achieve those goals. 

“Canada as a nation among the G8 is one of the lowest adopters of existing automation technology,” Gariepy said. “We believe that to catch up and [for] the potential for Canadian industry and Canada in general to be brought to its fullest, we can’t just sit and catch up. We need to set the pace.”

And he said Thursday’s announcement should specifically help Clearpath.

“It will certainly help our company find new users and ideally many other small and medium enterprises and startups in the region. A challenge we’ve faced as we’ve brought new products to market is that many early adopters of this technology are not based in Canada. It’s very challenging to find a Canadian company that has the risk appetite to adopt new technology. We’re hoping the supercluster program will change some of that perspective.

“It’s significantly more efficient, cost-effective and faster if a local startup can simply go down the street to trial their technology in a new industry versus having to fly across North America to do so.”

Gariepy’s words were echoed by Stephen Lake, CEO and co-founder at Kitchener’s Thalmic Labs:

“We believe that a lot of potential for the region lies in a combination of this area’s manufacturing roots, reimagined through the lens of emerging technology and invention. This government support is a step in the right direction. From here, we’re hopeful that the funds from this program will flow to help Canadian scale-ups build meaningful and innovative businesses that will result in new economic growth, rather than to support existing multinationals.”

Communitech is a partner of Startup HERE Toronto.  This article originally appeared on their site.