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EPISODE #6 Canada's Ocean Supercluster with Kendra MacDonald





With the longest coastline in the world, Canada has always been an ocean nation. Here in Atlantic Canada, saltwater is never far, and the sea is part of every aspect of our lives, from our culture and leisure to how we make a living. Today, as advanced technologies are transforming every corner of our economy, our ocean industries are no exception. In Episode 6 of the TechTalks Podcast, Kendra MacDonald, CEO of Canada’s Ocean Supercluster, in St. John’s, NL, talks about this transformational approach.  

So, what is a supercluster? It’s a Canadian model to drive innovation by finding strength in numbers. Superclusters are industry consortiums that connect large numbers of companies and post-secondary and research institutions. This density is the supercluster advantage, creating new networks to share risks, reduce redundancy, and jointly pursue projects and opportunities, including new or unconventional partnerships. In 2018, the Canadian government committed $950 million over five years to incent this large-scale collaboration. 

Along with the ocean supercluster, there are four others across the country in critical sectors: Digital Technology, Protein Industries (PIC), Next Generation Manufacturing (NGen) and Scale AI. Since 75% of Canada’s ocean economy is based in Atlantic Canada, our region was a natural home for the Ocean Supercluster. When it was founded in 2018, one of the first things Kendra and her team did was create an ocean asset map to inventory ocean companies across Canada. Today, that list sits at over 3,000 organizations on all three coasts from fisheries, aquaculture, defence, offshore resources, marine renewables, bioresources, shipping, and ocean technology. The organization is unique in how it’s connecting the players in new ways and at a scale never seen before. The members, including industry members who invest in projects and associate members, are collaborating in various ways, from co-investing with new partners to sharing data that can benefit the entire ecosystem.

The ultimate outcome? Growth. That means more investment, more economic activity, more ocean economy jobs. It means new companies and new markets, including outside of Canada. Kendra and her team aim to advance Canada’s position as a global leader. An export-oriented sector, there’s an opportunity to attract investment and identify promising markets at home and abroad. The big vision is to have all the players working together across the country to make Canada an international leader, so, as Kendra says, “there's not a key ocean conversation that would happen around the world that Canada wouldn't be a part of.”I love the scale of that ambition and vision. All of us in Atlantic Canada need to be thinking about ourselves on a global stage in all areas of innovation.  It needs to be a part of our DNA in everything that we do to drive economic growth.

This team of 20 employees and the board is a virtual organization, and they have an exciting task ahead to drive investment in innovation that can be commercialized. If you caught our show on innovation with Jeff White of the NBIF and Malcolm Fraser of Innovacorp, this will sound familiar, as creating value from new ideas drives so much of their activity and investment.  

Kendra MacDonald

Kendra MacDonald

Ocean tech is a fascinating and diverse field. The costs and risks of doing business in the ocean are unique, as there isn’t the same infrastructure as on land. In its singularity, there is an ocean of opportunity (sorry!). The Supercluster approved 36 projects in the last six months. In total, there are over 40 projects in various stages. Only five have been announced, so expect to see a lot more from them in the months and years to come. Kendra talked about Ocean Aware, a $29-million project with 11 collaborators in diverse sectors, including aquaculture, fisheries, oil and gas, energy and ocean technology, academia, and DFO, with the shared goal of being a global leader in sensor technology. We talked about how marine renewables could help meet energy demand and the need for cleantech and sustainability. We also touched on technology like the digital twin, a virtual replica of an asset such as an offshore platform, ship or aquaculture pen. The virtual twin can help with things like predictive maintenance. Kendra told me how at a recent United Nations World Oceans Day event, the talk turned to how in 10 years, there may be a virtual twin of the entire ocean.Wow! This can all be done with the right talent, capital, and technology.  Unbelievable. 

I am always interested in the implications for students and young people and was excited to hear Kendra say that helping the next generation of ocean workers build skills and capacity is part of her organization's legacy. There’s already a lot of ocean and marine programming and curriculum in Atlantic Canadian universities and colleges, she says. But we need to keep raising awareness of the breadth of opportunities for students, including those outside of the ocean sciences. There’s a whole host of skill sets we’ll need to digitize the ocean and position our region–and our country–as a global leader in ocean tech.   

Episode 6 - Kendra and Cathy.png

I couldn't agree more. After this conversation, I’m confident that we’re on the right path and very optimistic about our future ocean economy growth on the global stage.

For the full conversation, click here to listen.Here’s a peek at some of the highlights from the show:
  • [3:56]:  Kendra explains the origins and rationale behind the ocean supercluster approach.  

  • [8:12]: Kendra talks about the unique costs and risks of doing business in the ocean, which lacks the infrastructure of land-based companies. 

  • [12:40]: The Ocean Supercluster creates new opportunities for companies of different sizes and in other provinces to connect through casual conversation at the bar and at more structured industry events. 

  • [20:41]: Kendra on how the Ocean Supercluster is driving more integrated solutions and how collaboration is at the heart of the shift from individual efforts. 

  • [22:57:] We dig into technology opportunities, including digital twins, autonomous vehicles, genomics and robotics.

  • [30:32]: Kendra describes how and why Canada’s Ocean Supercluster is getting attention globally. 

  • [35:03]: We discuss how the digital ocean economy will need many skills sets beyond traditional ocean sciences such as Marine biology. 

  • [42:26]: My reflections on the episode with key takeaways from the discussion.


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The Centre for Ocean Ventures & Entrepreneurship (COVE)

Creative Disruption Lab Atlantic 

The Ocean Startup Project

OceanVision Project 

Indigenous Career Pivot Pilot Project


Association of British Columbia Marine Industries