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Op-Ed: Beyond ‘the next Silicon Valley’: Why many kinds of economic superclusters matter

By Richard Florizone and Scott Stern

Originally published in The Globe and Mail, April 4, 2018

Scott Stern is the David Sarnoff Professor of Management of Technology at MIT, and co-founder of the MIT Regional Entrepreneurship Accelerator Program (MIT REAP). Richard Florizone is the President of Dalhousie University, which is a partner in Canada’s Ocean Supercluster, and chair of the Nova Scotia MIT REAP team.

Can Canada’s disparate regions be harnessed to be more than the sum of their parts? This is the defining question for Canada’s economy and the vision behind the federal government’s recently launched superclusters initiative.

Rather than a “superboondoggle,” Canada’s Innovation Superclusters Initiative lays the foundations for nurturing and extending the global leadership of this country’s regional economic strengths.

While the concept of clusters has been around for a while, too many regional development initiatives simply try – and very often fail – to be “the next Silicon Valley.” Rather than having all regions chasing after the same “next big thing,” research shows that clusters prosper by building on existing advantages.

Some of the most successful cases of cluster development, such as the Australian wine industry, have applied technology and innovation to a natural-resource advantage to strengthen their global competitiveness. Despite barely squeaking into the league tables two decades ago, Australia now ranks as the fourth-leading wine importer to Canada, outpacing even France based on volume.

In addition to boosting exports, strong clusters have been shown to lead to higher job growth, wages, innovation rates, entrepreneurship and even resilience against economic downturns.

Pittsburgh, once confined by many to the economic dustbin of history, transformed itself over the past two decades, not by imitating Silicon Valley, but by extending its historical leadership in advanced manufacturing and robotics. Similarly, Minneapolis invested in a co-ordinated strategy to enhance linkages between its medical-devices industry and universities, hospitals and other local institutions to drive sustained economic performance. The city’s unemployment rate hit 3 per cent in December, 2017, among the lowest in the United States.

Regions in Europe that have embraced cluster development have also seen benefits. For example, the Basque region in Spain – a leader in such initiatives – has exhibited a greater level of resiliency and prosperity during the broader extended downturn in the country.

The Canadian Supercluster Initiative has the potential to transform this country by taking advantage of our varied strengths in at least three interconnected ways:

Extending regional strengths. A striking feature of Canada is the combination of the breadth of industries in which we compete on a global basis and their relative regional focus. The best clusters are those that draw multiple closely related industries and institutions together to reinforce each other, something Canada’s supercluster strategy explicitly targets. Rather than a politically-tinged weakness, advancing agricultural innovation on the Prairies and ocean industries in Atlantic Canada allows us to leverage regional strengths and extend our areas of global leadership simultaneously.

Inclusive and effective governance. Cluster organizations must be inclusive enough to engage businesses, investors, academics and policy makers, and yet lean and focused enough to make complex strategic decisions with clear accountability back to investors. It’s a tricky balancing act. A common pitfall is clusters being pulled in different directions by multiple funders. As we consider how to establish the Atlantic Canada ocean cluster, we are drawing on lessons from similar initiatives in Norway and elsewhere that have moved beyond a simple “industry council” to include entrepreneurs, small businesses, universities and other key regional institutions. We should aim high so this initiative becomes the global standard for both economic impact and public accountability.

Transformative projects. While many have rightly worried about the $950-million price tag for Canada’s initiative, a key challenge is also ensuring that an investment of less than 0.1 per cent of GDP can live up to its transformative expectations. Rather than propping up a single firm or industry, superclusters must focus on projects that combine related industries and institutions in new ways that can unleash a torrent of innovation in new products, markets and industries. Canada, for instance, has made a multidecade commitment to advancing research in artificial intelligence. This supercluster initiative presents an opportunity to mobilize this scientific leadership to build and expand the multiple industries and sectors that will use this technology in the future.

Canada’s supercluster initiative is grounded in rigorous research about the drivers of economic development, but it is the responsibility of each supercluster to take advantage of this opportunity to design and focus their efforts in ways that will transform the foundations of their regional economies.

It will be by building on our regional strengths – informed by the best clusters around the world – that we can become a stronger and more prosperous Canada.

[Op-Ed: Beyond ‘the next Silicon Valley’: Why many kinds of economic superclusters matter - PDF 246 KB]

Op-Ed: Racism more prevalent than racists: Why Dal is bridging diversity gap

By Richard Florizone and Wanda Thomas Bernard
Originally published in The Chronicle Herald, March 3, 2018.

Two centuries ago, Lord Dalhousie proposed to the Nova Scotia Assembly the creation of a college open to all, regardless of class or religious belief. It was a bold vision of inclusion amid the sectarian loyalties at the time.

Diversity and inclusion continue as foundational commitments at Dalhousie University today. They are embodied as values in our senate constitution and a key priority in our strategic plan. Indeed, all great universities value diversity and inclusion, both as a matter of justice and in recognition of the need to welcome and develop the best talent and ideas.

We cannot afford to exclude anyone.

These values aren’t just Dal values or academic values; they are Canadian values. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees equality of all people before and under the law, and allows for affirmative action programs for disadvantaged groups. A national poll by Leger Marketing in March 2017 found that three-quarters of all Canadians hold positive views on multiculturalism, with support even stronger among younger Canadians.

We should sincerely celebrate these values, which together make our institutions and our country stronger. They give us optimism for the future.

At the same time, we must openly recognize the fact that racism, misogyny, homophobia and other forms of exclusion are still widespread and systemic. There is a gap between our values and our reality.

For example, consider hiring at Dalhousie. In 2013, as part of 100 Days of Listening, we publicly acknowledged that hiring at Dalhousie was not representative of the demographics of Nova Scotia, with significant gaps in the proportion of racially visible people, Aboriginals and persons with a disability. We aspire to be leading lights on diversity, but learned that we still have a long way to go.

A few months later, the Ivany report made similar observations about Nova Scotia as a whole, noting that the employment rate for First Nations people and African Nova Scotians significantly lagged the provincial average. The report identified “Becoming a More Inclusive and Welcoming Province” as one of 12 “game changers” to spur the transformative change in the province.

How can we bridge this gap between our values and our reality? There isn’t a single easy answer. These are systemic problems that require both systemic and personal solutions.

First, we must recognize that systemic discrimination is more widespread than intentional discrimination. That isn’t an extreme view, but rather a direct quote from the Supreme Court of Canada in the 2013 Whatcott decision.

This is an important distinction. When we think of racism, too often we think of actual racists running around in bedsheets. Those unfortunately do exist, but what the Supreme Court is saying is that systemic discrimination — the patterns of behaviour, policies, and practices in our culture and institutions that perpetuate discrimination — is more widespread than intentional and deliberate attempts to disadvantage an individual or group. Racism is more prevalent than racists.

So if we want real change, we need to look at how our own behaviours might be contributing to discrimination as part of our work to break systemic barriers.

This fits with our example of hiring outcomes at Dalhousie University, where recruitment is done on the recommendation of committees — made up of generally open-minded faculty, staff and students. Yet overall, our hiring choices are less diverse than the qualified labour market, reflecting systemic discrimination. No one individual is responsible, yet we are all responsible.

This was a clear imperative for a deliberate new approach. Today, Dalhousie’s institutional approach to address systemic discrimination is through a comprehensive diversity and inclusiveness strategy.

Part of that strategy includes targeted hiring. Since 2012, we have hired more than 15 faculty, using recruitment specifically targeted to attract historically underrepresented groups. In 2018, we are using this same approach to recruit for an executive position for the first time.

But tackling discrimination also requires personal commitment. We must open our minds to the possibility of bias in our own thinking. Each of us can do something specific to help make inclusion a reality. It begins with considering who is being excluded and then actively inviting them in. Individual actions can and do lead to systemic changes.

Together we can make progress. Between 2015 and 2016, we reduced Dal’s hiring gaps in racially visible professors, Aboriginal employees, and women in management by between 37 to 75 per cent.

Clearly, there is much more to do. Let’s recommit to closing the gap between our values and our reality. If we can do this on diversity and inclusion, we can together build a better university, a better province and ultimately a stronger country.

[Op-Ed: Racism more prevalent than racists: Why Dal is bridging diversity gap PDF - 247 KB]

Bicentennial Address | Feb. 6, 2018

Chancellor McLellan, your Honor Lieutenant Governor Arthur J. LeBlanc and Her Honour Mrs. Patsy LeBlanc, Elder Jane Abram, Dalhousie Board Chair Larry Stordy, Senate Chair Dr. Kevin Hewitt, faculty, staff, students, alumni, guests and dear, dear friends of Dalhousie University.

Two hundred years ago today a university was born in the growing British colony of Nova Scotia, here in the land of the Mi’kmaw people.

It was on February 6, 1818 that Lord Dalhousie received approval from the British Crown to use the spoils of the War of 1812 to augment the Garrison Library, and to establish a new College in Halifax.

That decision was itself bold and visionary. Spending precious public dollars solely on books and a college, recognizing that knowledge and education was the best investment Nova Scotia could make in its future.

From the outset the new college aspired to the highest academic standards. It was modelled on the internationally renowned University of Edinburgh, including its goal of admissions regardless of class or religious belief. It was a radical and ambitious vision for its day, and one that caused the college to struggle, particularly amidst sectarian loyalties in its early decades.

Also there from the start was a commitment to be of service to the community. It was there in the choice of our earliest faculties: Arts and Science, recognizing the importance of a liberal education, and Law and Medicine, to train the professionals to serve Nova Scotians.   

That commitment to service would echo across the years ahead. Together we demonstrated that Dalhousie University would never just be in the community but rather would be part of the community, with a responsibility to teach, heal, build, plan, interpret and discover.

Two centuries later, Dalhousie has grown from that ‘little college by the sea’ to become a national university, and the leading research university in Atlantic Canada.

How did we get here? Simply put, it was because of our people. The history of Dalhousie University has been written by its people, and enriched by their identities, cultures, values, actions, teaching and scholarship.

You have heard many of their names today: Lord Dalhousie. George Munro. Lucy Maud Montgomery. James R Johnston. Art McDonald. Wanda Thomas Bernard. George Elliott Clarke. Rhodes Scholars like Nayani.

We owe our progress to individuals like these, and to their commitment to education and knowledge, to the highest academic standards, and to building a better more inclusive world.

Here today, at the dawn of Dalhousie’s third century, it is our privilege and our responsibility to build on their legacy, to reimagine and recommit to these foundational principles and values.

First and foremost, we believe in the transformative power of education; in its potential to shape and add meaning to our lives and our world.  In the years ahead, it is our responsibility to sustain Dalhousie as a place where those transformations are made possible, attracting the most promising students, faculty and staff, and supporting them to succeed.

We have a passion for the discovery of new knowledge, both as a noble human endeavor and for its application to the broader world. We must continue to forcefully advance our research mission, particularly in areas of unique strength and relevance to our region, and across all of our academic disciplines as befits a world-class research university. If we don’t ask and address the hardest questions, who will?

We are committed to inclusion, because an institution genuinely dedicated to free inquiry and academic excellence cannot exclude anyone based on simply their identity. We must work to create a university where all belong, recognizing our special responsibility to Indigenous Peoples in Canada, especially to the people of Mi'kma'ki, and to the African Nova Scotian community. And we welcome and celebrate our growing community of international students and scholars, whose contributions and identities enrich and strengthen our university.

We believe in service to society, in the potential of Dalhousie to act as a catalyst for the social, cultural and economic development of our communities, country and world.

As we have grown, so has our capacity and responsibility to serve.  With the addition of Engineering and Architecture in 1997, and Agriculture in 2012, Dalhousie University now has the full suite of programs of the American Land Grant universities, and the many Canadian universities that were inspired by them. In their pursuit of both liberal and practical education, these universities aspire to global excellence and local impact– a tradition that Dalhousie now joins.

Finally, we believe in partnership, because nobody does anything alone, and that is as true for institutions as it is for individuals.  The greatest opportunities and challenges facing the world are too large and too complex for any one discipline, institution, or even country to tackle alone.

We know we are far from perfect. Like all human institutions, we have both our successes as well as our very human frailties especially when measured against our high ideals. Yet our story is one of continually renewed commitment to these values, taking our place among the world’s great universities.

When we do succeed, look at what we can achieve together.  Consider our Ocean Frontier Institute, an unprecedented global ocean partnership launched by Dalhousie in 2016. It brings together universities in three of the four Atlantic provinces with four of the top five Ocean Institutes in the world, 19 companies and all levels of government; all fueled by historic public and private investment, and the transformational philanthropy of Mr. John Risley.  All to understand and address ocean sustainability – a topic of critical importance not just to Atlantic Canada, but to the entire world.

Dalhousians, this example illustrates our challenge and our greatest opportunity. To fully achieve our mission of education and knowledge, to better serve our communities, we must strengthen Dalhousie’s connections both within Atlantic Canada and around the globe. Because when we bring together the best of the region with the very best in the world, look what we can do. We can advance knowledge and education that matters deeply to all.

Friends, in our first two centuries, we’ve grown from that Little College by the Sea, to a national university and then the leading research university in Atlantic Canada. Now, it is time for us to take our place as a global institution, and as the leading research university for Atlantic Canada.  

We don’t know what the future holds, or what challenges lie ahead. The frontiers of knowledge are endless, and even more vast than the ocean that surrounds us. However, we do know that the decision to invest in education, 200 years ago today, has paid off many times over, leaving a legacy that has shaped our community for the better.  And we know that by working together – propelled by the power of education, knowledge and service – we can achieve great things.

Let us continue to strive to be intelligent, inclusive and inspiring. To be a place where we develop ideas, knowledge and talent to build a better world. Where we reconcile our past and draw on the diverse strengths of all our people. Where we inspire creativity, courage and compassion.  Where we bring together the best of our region with the best in the world, for the benefit of all.

Friends, thank you for your contributions to our great university. As we stand at the dawn of our third century, the best is yet to come.

Happy Anniversary Dalhousie.

Thank you.

[Bicentennial Address - PDF 526 KB]

Op-Ed: Halifax’s clusters of cleverness, creativity

By Mike Savage, Richard Florizone, Jesse Rogers and Ron Hanlon

Originally published in The Chronicle Herald, Oct. 7, 2017

You might not know it yet, but one of North America’s most vibrant innovation districts is emerging right here, in Halifax.

The Brookings Institution, a Washington, D.C.-based policy think tank, describes innovation districts as compact areas where “leading-edge anchor institutions and companies cluster and connect with start-ups, business incubators, and accelerators.”

They broaden collaboration, grow talent, and feature a mix of housing, office and retail spaces.

Consider the corridor that has already emerged in Halifax, moving from east to west:

  • In Dartmouth: Innovacorp’s Technology Innovation Centre is home to groundbreaking companies like Tesla and MetaMaterial Technologies, while the Nova Scotia Community College’s harbourside Ivany Campus is joined by a new neighbour, the Centre for Ocean Venture and Entrepreneurship (COVE), at the old coast guard site, contributing to the growth of Nova Scotia’s ocean-technology sector.

  • Along the Halifax waterfront: From exciting startups like Kinduct Technologies in Purdy’s Wharf, to the waterfront campus of NSCAD University in the port lands, Halifax’s downtown is alive with innovation, design, and new development. It includes the corporate campus of Emera, one of North America’s leading energy companies, and the new Discovery Centre, which is inspiring curious young minds with science and technology.

  • Up the hill: Volta Labs — Atlantic Canada’s pre-eminent tech startup hub — is undertaking an ambitious expansion at the Maritime Centre. Scaling to 60,000 square feet, Volta will be one of Canada’s largest tech hubs, and the anchor for the region’s rapidly expanding tech startup scene.

  • Across the block, Dalhousie’s downtown campus is home to ideaHUB, Canada’s newest and most advanced hardware start-up accelerator. And right next door, Halifax’s landmark Central Library is a daily hive of community activity and learning.

  • A few blocks to the west: Atlantic Canada’s advanced care and health research cluster, featuring the IWK, the QEII, Dalhousie Medicine and Health, the Life Sciences Research Institute, and more than a dozen life sciences companies in the Innovacorp Enterprise Centre.

  • At the westernmost end of the district: the global headquarters of the Ocean Frontier Institute, the National Research Centre labs, the main campus of Dalhousie University, and nearby St. Mary’s University. In these few blocks are thousands of students who come to Halifax from more than 100 countries.

This five-kilometre innovation corridor is fuelled by talent from five universities and the NSCC, from hospitals and research labs, and from Canada’s Navy.

It is home to more than 100 tech companies and is connected to the world.

Marbled with green space, restaurants, coffee shops and great places to live, Halifax has an ecosystem as promising as any in the world for developing advanced ocean technology, health innovations and clean technology.

Why does this matter?

First, innovation districts position cities like Halifax to better address key challenges like slow growth, widening social and economic gaps and sustainable development.

The Brookings Institution notes that innovation districts reflect “the growing preference of young talented workers to congregate in vibrant neighbourhoods that offer choices in housing, transportation, and amenities.”

When they’re closer together, companies, researchers, creators and entrepreneurs can share ideas rather than invent in isolation. Instead of working in silos, innovative companies today are building out networks of collaborators. The density, diversity and openness of an innovation district accelerates connectivity, creativity and economic growth.

Second, smaller cities like Halifax are on the rise all around the world. A robust innovation district will add to Halifax’s competitive advantage.

Cities of fewer than one million people are ubiquitous across current rankings of the world’s top cities for talent and tech.

Fast Company noted about U.S. cities that “the country’s hottest up-and-coming tech scenes... are typically found in mid-sized cities eager to make a name for themselves, offering big-city resources like universities, access to talent, and satellite offices of tech industry titans along with lower costs of living and a greater work/life balance.”

Make no mistake; our city is part of this global trend. In 2015, Halifax was home to more top tech startups than any other city in Canada. In 2016, Halifax was ranked fifth among Canada’s top tech hubs to live and work in. This year, Halifax has been recognized as one of the top-10 mid-sized cities in North America for talent and lifestyle. And the Conference Board of Canada has described Halifax as one of this country’s fastest-growing cities.

Third, Halifax’s growth will help spur economic activity across Nova Scotia and Atlantic Canada.

Halifax’s Economic Growth Plan 2016-2021 identifies a value proposition based on our ocean advantage, our educated/innovative community, and our excellent rural/urban lifestyle.

Combined with cost advantages relative to larger cities, Halifax’s emergent innovation district will amplify our attractiveness for talent, immigration and investment.

How do we build on this momentum?

We don’t have all the answers, but we know it takes a community to find and implement them.

The Nova Scotia team in the MIT Regional Entrepreneurship Accelerator Program (REAP) is learning from global best practices how progress in innovation-driven entrepreneurship can be sustained by an integrated approach and healthy partnership between higher education, entrepreneurs, venture capital, established companies and governments.

Guided by insight from the world’s best, and inspired by all that is happening in Halifax, Dalhousie University, the Halifax Partnership, Volta Labs and others, are coming together to start an open conversation about how Halifax can build one of the world’s great innovation districts based on our incredible history and our exciting progress.

Let’s draw on our advantages as a leading ocean city with an incredible quality of life and a reputation as a great university and college town that’s also a wonderful place to visit.

Let’s build an even better Halifax, one ready to participate fully in the knowledge economy today and long into the future.

Mike Savage is mayor of Halifax Regional Municipality. Richard Florizone is president of Dalhousie University. Jesse Rogers is CEO of Volta Labs.

Ron Hanlon is CEO of the Halifax Partnership.

[Op-ed: Halifax's clusters of cleverness, creativity - PDF 276 KB]

Op-Ed: Reinvest in research, for Canada and Nova Scotia

by Richard Florizone, Dale Keefe and Rob Summerby-Murray

Originally published in The Chronicle Herald, Sept. 14, 2017.

What do we all want for our communities, our province and our country?

A sustainable environment, better health, economic growth and a culturally rich and just society – these are issues that not only dominate the headlines but also directly impact the lives of all Nova Scotians and Canadians.   

Less well recognized is just how vital university-based research is to those issues and to the lives of Nova Scotians. And how the future of this research is at risk.

Earlier this year, Canada’s Fundamental Science Review, better known as the Naylor Report, showed that Canada’s investment in R&D relative to our GDP has been declining over the past 15 years, such that we no longer rank among the top 30 nations. Released in April, the report’s recommendations risk being sidelined as other issues like small-business tax changes dominate media and federal budget discussions this fall.

Why should this matter to Nova Scotians? Because the research at our Nova Scotia universities makes a real difference in our lives, transforming our health, environment, economy, and communities. Examples include:

  • Dr. Christine Chambers, together with colleagues from across Canada, is developing real, practical tools to reduce children’s pain from needles and surgery, and bringing them to the public through the “It Doesn’t Have to Hurt” social media campaign.

  • Dr. Mathhias Berenstiel and Prof. Tuma Young are mobilizing Indigenous Knowledge of birch-bark oil to treat skin conditions like eczema.

  • Dr. Lucie Kocum is improving the reintegration of breast cancer survivors into the workplace, ensuring that our Nova Scotia workplaces are as productive and respectful as possible.

  • Dr. Michael Ungar, with collaborators across Canada and internationally, has launched the Child and Youth Refugee Research Coalition, to identify how Canada can ensure the long-term success of Syrian refugee children.

  • Dr. Jeff Dahn and his team lead the world’s only university partnership with Tesla, improving the lifecycle of lithium-ion batteries and generating spinoff companies like Novonix in the process.

What do all of these diverse projects have in common? Every one of them relies on both federal research funding and provincial operating dollars for our universities.  Without this continued support, the jobs, training, and spin-off benefits of these research projects — and hundreds more just like them across Nova Scotia — will be lost.

That is why, together with our counterparts across the country, we are calling on the federal government to adopt the recommendations of the Naylor Report and to reinvest and reverse Canada’s decline in research funding.

The province has a role to play, too. Even allowing for the size of our economy, Nova Scotia’s provincial investment in research has been among the lowest in Canada. The province’s recent creation of Research Nova Scotia, with $25M in the spring budget, is an important step in the right direction.

Implementation of the Naylor Report will take time, and getting Canada’s research investment back to international levels will take a phased approach over several years.  However, now is the time to act.

Science and technology are changing the world, and the regions with the greatest investments in research are also the most economically dynamic — places like Silicon Valley, the Boston corridor, and Toronto-Waterloo. The Ivany Report recognized this when it called for a doubling of research funding in Nova Scotia. Uncertainty in the U.S. and elsewhere creates an opportunity for Canada to assert our values and ambitions.  Let’s seize the moment, for Nova Scotians and for all Canadians.

Richard Florizone is president of Dalhousie Univeristy. Dale Keefe is interim president, Cape Breton University. Rob Summerby-Murray is president of Saint Mary’s University.

[Reinvest in research, for Canada and Nova Scotia op-ed - PDF 74 KB]