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Webinar series discusses innovation and investment opportunities in Canada

The Canadian government recently introduced its Innovation Supercluster Initiative. The clusters are based in areas thriving with business activity centred on companies large and small, academic institutions and their researchers, as well as not-for-profit organizations that encourage innovation and growth in specific industries.

Throughout 2021 the Japan Society, Invest in Canada and JETRO Toronto co-hosted a series of virtual events to showcase for Japanese investors Canada’s investment opportunities. The program comprised six events, each of which focused on regions of Canada as well as the five Superclusters.

“It is through this collaboration that we can unlock real opportunities that turn into innovations.”


Waterloo, ONTARIO

The first event of the series took place on May 26, with key leaders and local specialists in the Saskatchewan and Manitoba regions discussing business trends in the Protein Industries Super­cluster. Focusing on technology, the session covered topics such as agri-food enabling tech­nologies, genomics and information technology (IT).  

Speakers at the event were: 

  • Don Bell, partner at Torys LLP
  • Jordan Gaw, regional director for Invest in Canada
  • Bill Greuel, chief executive officer at Protein Industries Canada 
  • Paul Pryce, managing director at the Japan Trade and Investment Office for the Government of Saskatchewan 
  • Marko Trivun, senior associate, Torys LL

Kicking off the event, Bell discussed opportu­nities within the plant-based protein market, noting that the demand is “explosive.” He men­tioned that, by 2050, demand in this market will have increased by more than 70 per cent, and that the Prairie Provinces, which include 40 per cent of Canada’s farmland, are ideally positioned to meet this growing demand. 

As a way for Saskatchewan to better meet this demand, the government has established a network of overseas trade offices in locations including Tokyo, Shanghai, Singapore and New Delhi, while last year four additional offices were set up in Ho Chi Minh City, London, Dubai and Mexico City. 

Greuel then discussed current operations at the Protein Industries Supercluster and global plant protein opportunities. “Not many people know what an innovation Supercluster is. Our vision as an organization is that Canada is a global leader in plant protein. To support that, we are investing in large-scale science and innovation projects to drive and grow Canada’s plant-based food, feed and ingredient sector. To date we have 20 large-scale science and innovation projects supporting the development of Canada’s plant-based food market. But our total research and development portfolio is more than C$350 million. I think that speaks a lot to the optimism that our industry members have around the growth of the global plant-based food market.” 


The second instalment of the series, held on June 24, 2021, delved into operations in Atlantic Canada — home to the Ocean Supercluster. The session discussed trends in ocean technologies and their impact on adjacent industries. 

The speakers at this event were:

  • Robert Acorn, associate director of research and development, Sekisui Diagnostics Canada
  • Michael Beatie, president, Gas Infusion Systems/Ship Nature’s Way
  • Don Bell, partner, Torys LLP
  • Joel Halse, chief executive officer, East Coast Innovation
  • Kendra MacDonald, CEO, Ocean Supercluster
  • Sheamus MacDonald, co-founder and chief executive officer, Sedna Technologies
  • Marko Trivun, senior associate, Torys LLP

MacDonald explained that the Ocean Super­cluster is multisectoral, saying that “we have members in fisheries, aquaculture, offshore resources, bio resources, ocean technology, shipping, defence and marine renewables, and we have projects and partners that range across more than one sector to develop solutions focused on reducing the cost and risk of doing business in the ocean — building capacity, connectivity and global reach.” 

According to MacDonald, Canada is trying to change the way it does business in relation to the ocean. “Canada has a lot of small and medium enterprises. So, getting those companies to come together to build solutions, point solutions, or end-to-end solutions, helps them be more globally relevant. We’re really trying to create an ocean economy that is more digital, that is more sustainable.”

He then said that, while the webinar was focused on Atlantic Canada, the Ocean Super­cluster is coast to coast in terms of membership. “We have over 50 projects approved with a project value that exceeds C$250 million. The bulk of those projects are running between now and March 2023, so you will see a lot of activity in the next couple of years.”

“We’re really trying to create an ocean economy that is more digital, that is more sustainable.”


The third webinar, held on September 22, presented the area of Alberta, focused on the region’s advancements in artificial intelligence (AI).

The speakers for this event were:

  • Don Bell, partner, Torys
  • Bill Baver, SMART World executive leader, NTT
  • Nella Brodett, director, Investment and Partnerships, Alberta Machine Intelligence Institute
  • Michael Couch, senior investment advisor (Japan), Invest Alberta Corporation
  • Emily Kneteman, regional director, Invest in Canada
  • Howard Shearer, chief executive Canada, Hitachi Canada
  • Marko Trivun, senior associate, Torys LLP
  • The Q&A session was moderated by Emily Kneteman, regional director for Invest in Canada. 

Kneteman kicked off the event by discussing the AI industry in the province, employment rates and how the province’s major cities rank globally within the AI sector. “Alberta has two major cities — the city of Calgary and the city of Edmonton. This is really where we see companies investing in artificial intelligence. In Calgary specifically, we currently have more than 2,000 tech jobs open, which is comparatively quite high across the country. Those jobs are mainly in safe and secure food, clean energy, renewable energy and better health solutions.” 

She also noted that Calgary has the highest concentration of high-tech workers in Canada, and the most patents per capita of any Canadian city. Kneteman revealed that Edmonton is home to the first and only North American headquarters of DeepMind, a British AI company. 

“In 2017, when that lab was established,” she noted, “the founder of the company was quoted as saying that Edmonton was the spiritual home and birthplace of artificial intelligence.” Edmonton also ranks among the top three cities globally for innovation and artificial intelligence and is home to more than 1,200 start-ups within the sector.

Calgary is also a city that has a notably great deal of private-sector involvement. It was forecast that Alberta will spend more than C$18 billion on digital transformation in 2022.

Calgary, Alberta


The fourth session was held on October 15, and looked at Québec and its corresponding Supercluster, the Scale AI Supercluster, which brings the retail, manufacturing, transportation, infrastructure, as well as information and communications technology sectors together to build intelligent supply chains by accelerating the integration of AI across businesses. 

Speakers for this session included:

  • Julien Billot, CEO of SCALE AI
  • Julien Bouvrais, head of studio and R&D at Eidos-Sherbrooke x SQUARE ENIX,
  • Vito Italia, director, International Business Development at Finance Montréal
  • Daniel Silverman, vice president, Foreign Direct Investment at Investissement Québec International
  • Tamaika Jumelle, regional director at Invest in Canada
  • Don Bell, partner, Torys LLP
  • Guillaume Lavoieand, partner, Torys LLP
  • Marko Trivun, senior associate, Torys LLP

Silverman spoke about how Japanese companies can expand their reach through Québec, as well as how Investissement Québec International can assist with foreign direct investment, international talent attraction and exports. 

Discussing the opportunities for Japanese companies in Quebec, Silverman explained that there are some key sectors that appeal greatly to the Japanese market. “Artificial intelligence and machine learning, the electrification of the automotive and the transportation industry .… We also have a battery strategy and we’re very aggressively pursuing cathode active materials, anode materials, cell manufacturers and base metal refineries to help create an ecosystem, as well as a supply chain that services North American, European and Asian markets. 

“We also have a life sciences and health tech­nology sector strategy that’s soon to be announced. That really focuses on the existing pipeline that we have here in the province of Québec, being one of the top employment sectors, both in terms of value-added jobs and manufacturing jobs,” he added.

Addressing the finance industry, Italia explained that Japanese financial companies with a presence in New York can create a shared service centre in Montréal to save on costs, thanks to low setup outlays and a short payback period. 

“Businesses that once mapped digital strategies in one-to-three-year phases now must scale their initiatives to a matter of days or weeks.”


The topic of discussion turned to the Digital Technology Supercluster on November 4. Speakers discussed case studies in which the development and adoption of digital technologies is being accelerated by both Canadian and Japanese companies in British Columbia and Northern Canada. 

Speakers for this event were:

  • Leslie Teramoto, executive director, International Trade and Investment Operations, Government of British Columbia
  • Bill Tam, co-founder and COO, Canada’s Digital Technology Supercluster
  • Handol Kim, co-founder and CEO, Variational AI
  • Ayako Yachie, CEO, SBX Corporation
  • Paul Twigg, CTO, NTT Data/Sierra Systems
  • Don Bel, partner, Torys LLP
  • Marko Trivun, senior associate, Torys LLP

Tam opened the event by introducing the Digital Technology Supercluster. He explained that the pandemic has reshaped the business world and increased the importance of digital technology. “In a recent survey by the World Economic Forum that polled CEOs across the world, 70 per cent indicated they believe that the business value of the next decade will be through digitally enabled platforms. And 87 per cent of companies said that they’re experiencing skills gaps now, or expect to do so within a few years. The pace at which change is occurring is unprecedented. Businesses that once mapped digital strategies in one-to-three-year phases now must scale their initiatives to a matter of days or weeks.”

So, how does the Digital Technology Supercluster plan to adapt to this market? Tam explained that the innovation model includes involvement from industry partners with customers —ultimately the adopters of the tech — combined with technology, lead partners and code development partners that build the product platforms. “We bring in post-secondary research partners to ensure that we have visibility on the latest developments, so we can commercialize and bring them into the roadmap for that product, and technology service providers that ultimately try to fit this equation into the framework for that customer. It is through this collaboration that we can unlock real opportunities that turn into innovations.”


For the final webinar of the series on November 18, The Japan Society invited speakers to discuss the operations in the Ontario region, focusing on the Advanced Manufacturing Supercluster, and Next Generation Manufacturing Canada, an industry-led community driving the most transformative advanced manufacturing projects in Canada. 

Speakers were:

  • Jayson Myers, CEO of Next Generation Manufacturing Canada
  • Mitch Debora, co-founder and CEO of Mosaic
  • Tony Chahine, CEO of Myant Inc.
  • Larry Harrison, president of Conrex Steel Ltd.
  • Feisal Hurzook, CTO of ArcX Inc.
  • Greg Da Re, regional director of Invest in Canada
  • Warren Ali, innovation senior vice president, Automotive Parts Manufacturers’ Association
  • Ron Harper, president of JFE Shoji Power Canada Inc.
  • Don Bell, partner, Torys LLP
  • Marko Trivun, senior associate, Torys LLP

Myers discussed how the Supercluster works to build on world leading manufacturing capa­bilities. “Here in Ontario and across Canada, we have some of the world’s leading researchers, not only in digital technologies, but in materials and manufacturing sciences. We have some of the greatest tech companies in the world — not just global technology companies that are located here, but also many small enterprises. We want to bring attention to that. 

TORONTO, Ontario

“We also want to connect them with the fabulous manufacturing companies that we have in the life sciences area in automotive and aerospace — Honda Motor Company, Ltd., Toyota Motor Corporation, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Ltd. — all our members and all very active within our Supercluster. 

Myers discussed the Supercluster’s strategy, saying that the main aim is to make connections to develop and strengthen collaboration by building partnerships across the advanced manufacturing sector: “Some of what we do is access investment and fun, collaborative projects. These projects are intended to be world-leading, unique projects that deliver unique solutions for companies operating in Canada for manufacturers here in the country, but that can be commercialized around the world. And we also invest in building workforce capabilities and strengthening management capacity.”