Even in the interconnected world of the 21st century, physical location is still a vital factor in determining opportunity.As the Path to the ArcticTM, Newfoundland and Labrador’s location means significant opportunities. The most easterly province in Canada, the province’s cold and iceberg-riddled waters are testament to the fact that this is as far south as the Arctic comes. Local entrepreneurs, researchers, and supporting partners have developed the necessary infrastructure, expertise, and the collaborative spiritto not only survive, but to thrive in this harsh marine environment.
Nowhere is this spirit of successful collaboration more evident than in Newfoundland and Labrador’s ocean technology sector. It has developed into a leading global“innovation” cluster. For the past decade, OceansAdvance has served as the voice of the province’s ocean technology innovation ecosystem.
Executive Director of OceansAdvance, Barry Snow says that he is consistently humbled by how highly OceansAdvance is regarded around the world. The Oceans ‘14 MTS/IEEE Conference, held in the provincial capital of St. John’s in September 2014, attracted a record number of exhibitors and delegates. “And this past November, we were invited to present the compelling back story of our innovation cluster to a highly-influential group of leaders at the Maritime Alliance’s Blue Tech Summit in San Diego, California,” says Snow. He presented alongside such leaders as Rick Spinrad, the Chief Scientist at the United States’ National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and Kevin Forshaw, Head of Enterprise and Research Impact at the United Kingdom’s National Oceanography Centre (NOC).
Snow says, while he was grateful for the opportunity to meet these world leaders in ocean technology, he was struck by what they saw as an imperative to try and inspire a unified voice for national and global interests in ocean technology--a “blue voice.” This had such an impact on him because, “Here in Newfoundland and Labrador we already have a blue voice,” he says. “While our cluster is focused mainly on products and services for the harsh marine environment, nevertheless our constituencies of research, academia, government, and the private sector are proactively engaged. We speak in unison. All hands are on deck and it’s powerful,” he explains.
OceansAdvance was founded in 2005 by a group of Newfoundland and Labrador ocean technology leaders whocame together to create amanagement organization to underpin the emerging ocean technology cluster. Its initial mission was to unite and excite the development of an ocean technology sector that could speak with one voice. “They understood even then that by aligning themselves toward a shared long-term vision of economic diversification, everyone would benefit,” says Snow.
He says that members understood the tendency over time for businesses and researcher centres to become siloes. But if they do, then they will fail to connect with the people in the organizations around them. “OceansAdvance facilitates opportunities for networking to ensure that our members communicate with other leaders who havecomplementary expertise in the community,” says Snow. In the case of Newfoundland and Labrador,thecollaborative approach has accelerated the process of bringing companies together, connecting them to researchers, and to global market opportunities. “By operating within this innovation ecosystem we can bring products and services to those markets as quickly as possible. Like in any innovation ecosystem, it’s not perfect, but it works, and the cumulative positive effect of the cluster on our province is one of the reasons why it’s so compelling.”
Today, OceansAdvance’s members include more than 50 export-driven companies; more than 20 research and technology organizations; highly-engaged municipal, provincial and federal governments,and post-secondary academic institutes and trade associations. “Even as we build a sustainable cluster, we are united and focused on producing the next generation of ocean technology leaders,” says Snow.
This multi-stakeholder technology cluster is underpinned by innovation, commercialization, and export and it is highly influenced by Newfoundland and Labrador’s burgeoning offshore energysector. Other significant “innovation influencers” include marine transportation, defence and security,the fishery, and aquaculture.
“As the organization representing one of Canada’s most dynamic innovation clusters,” says Snow, “OceansAdvance is led by individual professionals, not by organizations.” He is particularly proud of that fact because, he says, “That means we are influenced, but independent from the agendas that larger organizations must follow and free to be guided by the people who spearhead cutting-edge oceans research and commercialization.”
Those leaders include among their ranks, “award-winning experts”, in safe and efficient operation in Arctic marine conditions and entrepreneurs who are successfully competing in the global Blue Economy.
Sustainable private sector growth is vital for any cluster to succeed and particularly successful clusters focus on export success for export companies and technologies. “For example there are significant opportunities with companies such as Petrobrasin Brazil.” In that country, although its offshore O&G sector is not in a cold environment, proven harsh marine technologies are required for the very deep wells. “Because of the depth they must operate at, the technologies that work here are relevant in Brazil.”
“When it comes to innovation in technology research and development for harsh marine environments, there is no other ocean technology innovation ecosystem like Newfoundland and Labrador’s in the world,” says Snow. “We have a head start on Arctic researchand we have adepth of innovative technologies and researchersto prove it.” Not only does Newfoundland and Labrador have the necessary subarctic conditions, says Snow, but we also have the “land-based infrastructure such as the ice tanks, tow tanks, flume tanks, simulators and capabilities for modeling and full scale testing that is reflective of our brandas a live cold-ocean laboratory.”
“We are enriched through innovation partnerships with similar organizations around the world such as the Maritime Alliance, and others in the United States, Ireland, Iceland, Norway, Denmark to name but a few. They are interested in collaborating with us to focus on what must be long-term, mutually-beneficial activities,” says Snow.“Weare focusing on finding answers to such questions as: How can we continue to add value to all the constituencies in our respective clusters? Where are the business-to-business opportunities? Where are the collaborative research opportunities?”
Snow points to locally grown Virtual Marine Technology Inc. (VMT)as a classic example of a company that arose from a market opportunity—in this case to provide marine simulation training. Due in large part to an evolving collaborative relationship with Memorial University, the National Research Council, and the Offshore Safety and Survival Centre, VMT is now the largest manufacturer of marine simulators in Canada, specializing in marine simulation training solutions.“This synergy would not be possible outside the specific ocean technology innovation ecosystem that ten years of collaboration have created,” he says.
“We are constantly looking to add incremental innovators to this ecosystem,” says Snow. “And one of the best waysto enter this environment is to go to our website.” (www.oceansadvance.net) He says those with an interest in ocean technology would benefit by checking out their site’s innovator profiles on people like Dan Brake of EMSATor Adam Gobi of SULIS Subsea Corporation, or Dr. Michael Graham of the Wave Energy Research Centre, or by visiting their online company directory, or perusing the site’s deep bank of hundreds of news stories and features with local, national and international relevance for ocean technology interests.“Our organization maintains a strong commitment to communications. It’s one of our secret sauces” he says.
“This is arguably the best time in our history to enter Newfoundland and Labrador’socean technology cluster,” says Snow, “with the supports, expertise, and a brand that continues to grow and attract international partners.” He believes that this is evidence of a dynamic innovation ecosystem. “Located where we are on the Arctic pathway, with such a range of individual expertise in harsh ocean environments, and a successful history of collaboration among our four constituencies, it is no small wonder that others intuitively sense there’s something special happening here.”
“Our blue voice continues to grow and it’s far from a whisper.”