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New $35M program to help Canadian ocean tech companies amid COVID-19


Ocean technology companies – most located in Atlantic Canada – are getting access to a new $35-million fund to help keep the sector afloat during the economic downturn caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Accelerated Oceans Solutions Program is in addition to the Ocean Supercluster, the joint business and federal government program designed to promote innovation in ocean technology.

Individual projects that receive funding under Accelerated Oceans Solutions will be shorter in duration and eligible for less money than the core Ocean Supercluster program, “Technology Leadership.”

The turnaround time for approvals will be faster, getting money out the door sooner.

Another difference: matching funding from industry is not mandatory.

Kendra MacDonald is the Ocean Supercluster CEO. (Katie Breen/CBC)

“We’ve been working closely with our members over the last number of weeks to find ways to provide relief and support our continued project development,” said Ocean Supercluster CEO Kendra MacDonald.

“We really wanted to look at how we can build resilience into our ocean sector in light of the impacts of COVID. What would be the types of investments and types of activities that would be helpful to be able to do that and then design it around that.”

On May 8, the Ocean Supercluster issued a call for marine research proposals in remote operations, digital or automated technologies and environmental technologies.

The announcement said four project types will be considered: “product/service advancement and commercialization; capacity and infrastructure; process enhancement; and innovation ecosystem.”

The maximum available is $2 million per proposal, with a preferred duration of six to 18 months — far below the multi-year, multimillion dollar projects available under the core program.

So far, only one project has been funded under technology leadership — $20 million for an advanced ocean floor mapping project led by St. John’s-based Kraken Robotics.

May 22 deadline

Under the new program, companies have until May 22 to submit an expression of interest with a funding target of September.

“This really allows a smaller company to put a project proposal that is smaller and quicker and able to get to an outcome through the process faster,” said MacDonald.

The Ocean Supercluster has previously announced other measures to save member companies who are struggling because of the pandemic, such as reducing innovation and administration contributions for industry members.

The Ocean Supercluster was selected in February 2018 as one of five winning bidders in a competition for $950 million of federal innovation funding.

More approvals coming soon for core program

The Trudeau government pledged $153 million over five years to the Ocean Supercluster, which is led by industry players like Exxon and Clearwater, and administered by a non-profit headed by MacDonald who is based in St. John’s.

The basic premise of the supercluster is that approved projects must benefit member companies that contribute to funding and they must share information.

MacDonald said no company has withdrawn from the Ocean Supercluster because of COVID-caused slowdowns.

Approvals of large projects under its technology leadership program are coming in “the next few weeks,” she said.

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