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May 9, 2018

In its 2017 budget, the Trudeau government announced $950 million in funding for regional innovation superclusters. The five submissions that were chosen and unveiled in February represent a combination of technology-enhanced modernization of Canada’s legacy natural resource sectors and doubling down on 21st-century tech wizardry. Former Clerk of the Privy Council and current BMO Financial Group Vice Chair Kevin Lynch, an early supercluster advocate, writes that the sectoral innovation hubs will change Canada’s industrial landscape.

What a difference a revolution makes. Ten years ago, there was no public awareness of AI (artificial intelligence), machine learning or big data; today, these and other new technologies dominate popular culture as well as business strategy. Ten years ago, info-tech companies like Facebook, Amazon, Netflix, Alibaba, Tencent and Google were fast-charging start-ups; today, they are among the most valuable companies in the world. What they all have in common are hugely scale-able technology platforms, an extraordinary capacity to gather, process and monetize data, and a willingness to flout traditional business models.

While identifying the precise characteristics required to become a tech gazelle is the dream of every business school professor, most successful tech firms share a number of common features revolving around “mind and place.” Despite existing in a digital, hyperconnected world of their own creation, tech companies, somewhat paradoxically, tend to originate from, and congregate in clusters. Why?

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