Hubs, clusters, and ecosystems are more than buzz words in economic development, they are engines of growth for cities and regions that accelerate innovation.
When the economic strategy Calgary in the New Economy was developed in 2018, we purposely focused on the drivers of long-term prosperity – talent, innovation, place, business environment – and identified clusters as a critical element to realizing our ambitions.
If you are confused by all the jargon, you’re hardly alone.
Words and phrases like hub, cluster, ecosystem and centres of excellence are used interchangeably and their definitions can be far-reaching and fluid. What they have in common is that they all foster stronger connections among leading companies, entrepreneurial start-ups, post-secondaries and governments to commercialize research, spur innovation and develop talent.
Ultimately, they drive economic growth by sparking innovation, building knowledge creation, unlocking opportunities for collaboration and enhancing competition.
In the simplest of terms, I tend to consider “hubs” as physical locations, “clusters” as industry groupings, and “ecosystems” as the overall environment they exist in. There are few better examples globally of a successful ecosystem than the energy sector in downtown Calgary. It drove innovation for decades and today, Alberta is one of the largest energy producers on the planet.
In addition to well-established industries like energy, transportation and logistics, and agribusiness, life sciences and health is one of the emerging sectors identified for growth and economic diversification in Calgary in the New Economy.
In fact, the strategy envisions Calgary as “the city of choice in Canada for the world’s best entrepreneurs as we embrace innovation and create solutions to meet the world’s most fundamental needs in food, energy and transportation and health.”
The Life Sciences Innovation Hub that was unveiled recently at the University of Calgary is an example of the economic strategy coming to life. Infrastructure is a key factor in economic development and the Hub provides an environment and a workspace where companies will want to gather.
The relationship between a city and its research universities is a critical factor in economic development and establishing ecosystems. Think Stanford University and Silicon Valley in California.
A significant portion of the $100 million Opportunity Calgary Investment Fund is earmarked to support the development of clusters, hubs and centres of excellence. It is funding the specialized programming for entrepreneurs and innovators at the Hub to commercialize the advanced technology and research developed at UCalgary.
The Hub is forecast to incubate 20 to 40 companies a year. The next ground-breaking company in life sciences could well emerge from the growing number of companies in Calgary taking on global challenges in health and wellness.
The Fund agreement requires a steering committee be established for the Life Sciences Investment Hub to ensure the facility is a catalyst for innovation that drives investment attraction, job creation and a more diverse economy.
There isn’t a cookie cutter formula to create successful ecosystems. It involves harnessing your best attributes – for Calgary a highly-skilled workforce, an entrepreneurial mindset and a business-friendly ethos – but when done right, it creates a competitive advantage for the sector and the city.