Right Turn: Innovation Economy Council helping Canada’s recovery from COVID-19

By : Stacey Johnson | July 23, 2020

Note: This article originally appeared in Signals.

Equally as worrying as the death toll the coronavirus is having on our global population is the economic fallout countries are experiencing.

The Economist says COVID-19 “is causing the most brutal recession in living memory.”

The international Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) says “The Covid-19 pandemic is turning into a jobs crisis far worse than the 2008 crisis. Women, young people and workers on low incomes are being hit hardest.” And, “The OECD Employment Outlook 2020 says that, even in the more optimistic scenario for the evolution of the pandemic, the OECD-wide unemployment rate may reach 9.4% in the fourth quarter of 2020, exceeding all the peaks since the Great Depression. Average employment in 2020 is projected to be between 4.1% and 5% lower than in 2019. The share of people in work is expected still to be below pre-crisis levels even at the end of 2021. (http://www.oecd.org/coronavirus/en/)” The OECD has 37 member countries. See the list of countries here.

The Conference Board of Canada says the situation in Canada is a little rosier. A July 14 forecast proclaims: “In another sign Canada’s economy is on the path to recovery, employment rose by a record 952,900 in June. The rebound was concentrated in services, part-time and low-wage jobs—a partial recovery in the same segments that were hardest hit by the pandemic. Despite the solid gains in June, Canada’s economy still has a long road back to recovery. Employment is still down 1.8 million when compared to pre-pandemic levels, with the largest gaps in industries that will not recover quickly.”

It isn’t yet time to celebrate, but MaRS Discovery District, Toronto’s innovation hub, has a plan. It has launched an Innovation Economy Council (IEC) with a mission to serve as an independent, data-driven source of information that will inform Canada’s industrial technology innovation policy to help the country recover economically from COVID-19. Part of its mandate is to leverage innovation to enhance Canada’s productivity and growth. The IEC hopes to realize outcomes such as these:

  • Inform a new industrial policy, particularly around incentives to support collaboration
    between Canadian tech and established firms to increase tech adoption;
  • Find the strengths and weaknesses in the Canadian ecosystem to allow founding partners and affiliates to generate better policy recommendations and create best practices; and,
  • Find consensus on divisive or controversial issues, such as intellectual property.

The IEC is comprised of the following groups who advocate on behalf of startup ventures: MaRS, Communitech, CENGN, Ryerson University’s DMZ, Invest Ottawa, Next Generation Manufacturing Canada, Ontario Centres of Excellence, Spark and CCRM. New members and affiliate members will be joining soon to round out representation from across Canada.

Since its April 29 (2020) launch, the IEC has produced two white papers and accompanying free online events to present information and take questions from the public. The IEC will be launching its own website, but for now you can find the white papers here:

“Factory Forward” is a look at Ontario as a powerhouse of advanced manufacturing and explains the sector as follows: “The business of making things is in the midst of fundamental transformation. It’s rapidly moving up the evolutionary scale. Manufacturers aren’t just automating by outfitting their factories with robots, sensors and 3D printers; they’re also packing more technology, software and services into their physical products than ever before. And they’re harnessing data to do it all better and more efficiently. Advanced manufacturing in 2020 is about what knowledge gets built into final products. It’s less tied to what companies make than how they do it.”

As stated in the IEC news release about the report, Ontario has tremendous strength in manufacturing, with one in 10 of the province’s jobs in manufacturing. Advanced manufacturing is contributing an outsized share of economic growth in Canada. There is more investment in R&D and advanced manufacturing employs more high-skilled workers than other types of manufacturing. The work conducted in CCRM’s Centre for Advanced Therapeutic Cell Technologies and Centre for Cell and Vector Production fit into this category.

“We need to find a way in Canada to create sticky companies,” says Michael May, president and CEO of CCRM. “We’ve done a great job of creating intellectual property [IP] and science. But IP is diffusible. It will go to where the money is. If we become masters of manufacturing, then the companies we create will stay in Canada.”

CCRM’s strategy to focus on manufacturing has been partially realized by the establishment of the two facilities named above, but our future plans extend to commercial-scale biomanufacturing to fill a gap that exists in Canada to manufacture clinical grade cells for Phase 3 clinical trials. That capability is expected to attract cell and gene therapy companies to Canada and the facility can serve other purposes in the wake of future health needs. Read pages 16-17 of the report (see above) to learn more.

Some highlights from the first white paper, as per the IEC’s news release, include:

Tech startups already drive employment and growth

A 25-percent drop in employment in the technology startup sector would wipe out 274,000 jobs across the country with almost half based in Ontario. The report demonstrates how Canada’s technology ecosystem is providing jobs and growth today, as well as new ideas that will power the economy for years to come.

Startups help advanced industries punch above their weight

Advanced industries are creating jobs and are growing at a much faster rate than the overall economy.

After COVID-19, startups will help established corporations pivot

Startups and tech companies can pivot quickly to support their clients and help the economy become more resilient, which is critical as global supply chains cope with massive disruption. This is apparent with the number of startups that have partnered with established firms to create products that are working to contain the virus and support the community.

Expect several more white papers and events throughout 2020. Follow any of the IEC members for details as they become available.

Click below to watch the recording of the advanced manufacturing event, which was held on July 7.

Watch the livestream