Innovation Superclusters Initiative: Scale AI Supercluster Guide

Guide on Innovation Superclusters Initiative

Canada’s Innovation Supercluster Initiative is a program designed to bring together partners in industry, academia and the not-for-profit sector around project-based collaboration. The idea is that, by combining the strengths and capabilities of these different kinds of organizations and adding some government funding, Superclusters can help generate economic growth and technology leadership in Canada. 

Supercluster programs are open to companies of any size, and funding works through co-investment in projects that involve a consortium of partners from different organizations. ‘Co-investment’ simply means that the government matches the investment of a consortium of partners dollar-for-dollar, up to certain maximum levels, depending on the Supercluster.

To date, the program has supported more than 325 projects, including 1330+ partner organizations and over $565 million in government funding. By March 2023, ISED will invest up to $950 million in the program.

Each of the five Superclusters is an independent, not-for-profit entity focused on a particular industry sector with their own membership rules and guidelines for selecting and funding projects. The five Superclusters are Digital Technology, Protein Industries, Advanced Manufacturing, Scale AI and Ocean. In addition, each Supercluster has a set of different programs, each with its own goals and criteria.  

This is the fourth in a series of articles mapping out the different programs in each supercluster to help you find where your venture might fit. This month, we’re looking at the Scale AI Supercluster.

Scale AI Supercluster

The goal of the Scale AI supercluster is to enhance the competitiveness of Canadian business by applying artificial intelligence (AI) technology to supply chains. Like all superclusters, the focus is on collaboration across industry sectors, but for Scale AI, there’s also an emphasis on vertical collaboration. Scale AI exists to foster collaboration across retail, manufacturing, transportation and infrastructure, all working together more efficiently using AI.

The total funding for Scale AI is $230M, spread across three main areas: industry-led projects; employee training; and support for accelerators and incubators. Support is also available to establish AI research chairs at Canadian universities. 

Projects

Scale AI is looking to improve supply chain efficiency using AI to improve factors such as sourcing and procurement, demand forecasting, logistics, scheduling as well as traceability and visibility. There are a number of case studies of funded projects available. The supercluster funds collaborative projects by supply chain operators and AI solutions providers in the form of non-repayable grants. 

There is no minimum or maximum amount of funding that a project can receive. There is also no maximum duration for a project, but they typically last from 12 to 18 months. Any intellectual property (IP) generated by a project will belong to the project partners according to their agreements. Neither the government nor Scale AI will retain rights to any IP that is created by a project


Eligibility

Some key eligibility criteria for projects and project partners include:

  • The project must be a new initiative (i.e., not incremental to a product or application already in progress) that isn’t funded by another government entity
  • The project must be a partnership including more than one participating entity and must involve at least one small to medium enterprise (SME), typically defined as an organization having fewer than 500 employees
  • Projects must have the buy-in of the lead applicant’s CEO or other executive and be ready to launch and be completed within the project plan timeline
  • All project-oriented work must be executed in Canada


How to apply

Scale AI is a membership-based not-for-profit, and while non-members can submit projects, project partners must become members to receive funding. Members also have access to Scale AI advisors and can get help finding partners, clients and service providers, so membership can help make a project application successful. Members can also submit an initial proposal to Scale AI to get an idea as to its eligibility and receive feedback before submitting a more time-consuming and detailed proposal. 

Once a detailed proposal is submitted, the selection process takes about a month, depending on how quickly the project team responds to questions and feedback from the Scale AI investment team. 

Scoring criteria are divided into four categories:

  1. Team and project management plan (25%)
  2. Business impact (20%)
  3. Strategic alignment to Scale AI’s strategic plan (30%)
  4. Ecosystem impact (25%)

You can view the whole Scale AI project submission guide here, or register for an information webinar run twice weekly by Scale AI.

Training

As part of its mandate to improve the competitiveness of Canadian businesses by increasing the use of AI technology in supply chains, Scale AI also funds AI training for individuals and businesses. 


For individuals, Scale AI will subsidize 50% of the registration fees for programs on their approved list of accredited training courses at universities, CEGEPs and nonprofits in British Columbia, Ontario and Quebec. The courses are continuing education courses intended for working professionals, so full-time students are not eligible. Scale AI also provides grants to help organizations train their teams in “customized digital intelligence programs.” Eligible organizations can receive up to 85% of the first $100,000 of customized training, and while there is no list of prescribed programs, there is a simple eligibility form to complete.

Acceleration

The Scale AI Acceleration program provides support primarily for incubators and accelerators and the AI-based startups that they support. Innovation centres, corporate labs and open-innovation initiatives focused on the application of AI to supply chains may also be eligible. 

The Acceleration program doesn’t fund startups or SMEs directly; rather, it funds the accredited programs offered by incubators, accelerators and similar organizations in Canada. Each program has its own selection processes and criteria, and startups apply directly through those groups.

Organizations that help AI startups with incubation, coaching, mentorship, customer and business development, IP and commercialization, product expansion, and access to capital can apply to receive funding through Scale AI.  Funding is based on cost reimbursement after an assessment of the program’s operating costs and its benefit to startups. While seed funding or direct grants are not allowed, eligible cost categories include:

  • Wages and salaries for carrying out program activities
  • Costs related to equipment, rooms, coworking space, labs, facilities and supplies, including rental, operation and maintenance costs of the program
  • Materials, supplies, software and licenses used by the program

Again, Scale AI encourages all organizations interested in the program to become members (at no cost) in order to receive information and updates over the life of the program.

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