OPINION: Collaboration remains key in 2021

February 2, 2021
Greg D'Avignon

You can feel the pace of change accelerating everyday and it will only get faster. Our lives have been transformed by COVID-19, but change has also come from rapid innovation via the adoption of new ideas and technologies. How we shop, work, communicate, learn, bank, receive healthcare and socialize have all been altered by technology.

The UN World Intellectual Property Organization reports there were almost 19 million patents, trademarks and industrial designs registered in 2018, a figure that climbs year after year. That’s 36 different global innovations every minute that are affecting how people live, work, play and protect the health of the planet.

Canada and B.C. have been punching above our weight in developing new science, ideas and applications. But we have not done as well in converting those into commercial success or leveraging home-grown innovation to create larger businesses. Instead, we often lose the ideas and companies and end up buying their products and service back at retail prices.

B.C. firms in life sciences, computing, data analytics, digital communications, software, industrial design, and artificial intelligence businesses increasingly will underpin the future economy. If these innovative firms can be kept rooted in B.C., this will foster more domestic head offices that support high wage jobs, R and D, and new spin-off firms. Innovative companies also contribute to enhancing our communities through local philanthropy and generating tax revenues that enable governments to provide valuable services.

But success in an ever more technology driven economy requires focus and collaboration. In early 2020, B.C.’s Innovation Commissioner noted that by building on our strengths and investing in ideas and people, the province can manoeuvre through current economic headwinds and ride global trends to a resilient, sustainable and prosperous future. Fortunately, collaborative innovation is happening today in B.C. through the Vancouver-based Digital Technology Supercluster – part of the Canadian Innovations Superclusters Initiative.

The Digital Technology Supercluster is helping to address some of industry and society’s biggest challenges through the development, deployment and scaling of Canadian-made digital technologies. Working with more than 800 companies, universities and other organizations of all types and sizes, the Supercluster is already achieving results.

Over 102 new products and services have been created in just two years, supporting a growing list of new patents, businesses and talented people. In all, the Supercluster is currently leading 67 collaborative projects, each supporting and retaining jobs and helping our economy recover and return to prosperity. Importantly, industry is also investing over 50 per cent per cent of the Supercluster’s portfolio value of $223 million, putting B.C. and Canada on the map as an emerging global leader in digital solutions. Supercluster partners are also co-developing new and valuable intellectual property that they can leverage in Canada and internationally.

Projects include using artificial intelligence to identify lung abnormalities in real time, leading to better patient outcomes; creating a digital map of B.C. combining sensors and satellite technology to layer provincial climate, environmental and industrial activity to protect resources and people from extreme weather events before they happen; a project using virtual and augmented reality applications combined with complex data to improve safety, preventive maintenance and the timely inspection of aircraft, ships and heavy equipment.

Lastly, in the face of COVID-19, the urgency of developing new vaccines and therapeutic drugs to treat the virus has resulted in an unprecedented global effort. The Digital Technology Supercluster initiated a project in April that has led to a list of 20 drugs that could be repurposed for COVID-19 based on AI data. Led by Variational AI of Vancouver with the support of adMare BioInnovations and the Vancouver Prostate Centre (part of the University of British Columbia), this collaborative project holds the promise of safe COVID-19 therapeutics that could be sold commercially in Canada and worldwide.

We can realize a prosperous future if we support collaborations like the Digital Technology Supercluster and act with purpose to ensure B.C. and Canada have the policies and the coordination across governments, society and business to develop, apply and retain ideas and firms that will help to define the technologies and economy of tomorrow.

As published in Disruption Magazine.

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