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January 2019 - David Fransen

A Billion Dollar Investment

Coordinating a collaboration of like minded individuals

by Jon Rohr

David Fransen is COO of Next Generation Manufacturing Canada (NGM) the not-for-profit corporation created to manage a $200 million fund, as part of the federal Supercluster initiative. The feds set up five superclusters across Canada including an Ocean supercluster in the Atlantic, an AI supercluster in Québec, a Plant Protein supercluster in the Prairies, and a Digital supercluster in British Columbia. Southern Ontario was awarded the Advanced Manufacturing super cluster; NGM administers the dollars.

“We are a coalition of tech and manufacturing companies,” Fransen told Exchange at the True North summit, last May. “We have letters of support from over 140 different companies, universities, colleges, Boards of Trade, etc. It’s a big, broad coalition.”

NGM will receive over $200 million from the federal government, over the next five years, to invest in commercializing and leveraging advanced manufacturing. The goal? Growing an advanced manufacturing sector to attract new business opportunities and employ Southern Ontario citizens.

As Canada’s biggest, maybe only “P3 Unicorn”, NGM is a Public Private Partnership (P3). “It’s us and the federal government,” says Fransen, who calculates the Unicorn valuation by adding $200 million from the feds and letters of support that total $800 million of cash and in-kind.

“We’re going to be playing with a billion dollars, and that money is going to be used for projects involving partnerships of companies.”

“We’re going to be playing with a billion dollars, and that money is going to be used for projects involving partnerships of companies.”

The funding model is focused on projects “supporting globally competitive companies, and working with companies that can grow to that scale… having them come together.”

To receive funding, partnerships of three or more independent groups, led by a private company, will need to demonstrate that “there is transformational technology involved or it’s going to transform the company in such a way that they are going to become globally competitive.”

Linamar’s Linda Hasenfratz is Chair of the board of directors of NGM Canada. The organization also includes Magna and Woodbridge – Tier-1 manufacturers with a global footprint. What they are doing “by joining with that initiative, is allowing Canadian, Ontario based companies, to partner with them to develop technology solutions, supply them with parts,” says Fransen. “We’ve got companies at that scale and then we’ve got smaller companies, that are still kind of out of the chute and are in the process of scaling up. They need partnerships – so a partnership with a Linamar, gets you into a global market place.”

Waterloo-based tech companies Thalmic Labs (now called North) and Clearpath Solutions are both manufacturing and technology companies that will be viewed as leaders in this pursuit. “They’re really in the sweet spot of what we’re trying to do,” says Jansen.

NGM is putting out calls for proposals, for companies large and small to reach out to each other, and develop collaborative project proposals. “Also, an important part of our mandate is ecosystem development and support. So how do we create the conditions for success? And that has to do with training. We’ve got companies screaming for talent and it’s hard to get the talent,” adds Fransen.

“We’ll be convening workshops and providing a theme, like robotics; so here we have a company like Clearpath, making robots. We’ve got other companies in Ontario that don’t really know what that’s about. This gives them an opportunity to come and hear a presentation, talk to a couple of people, and who knows what comes of that?”

Says Fransen, “We are size agnostic and sector agnostic. We want all the different sizes, and are primarily interested in companies that are scaling, from scale-ups to the big multi-nationals.”

He adds, “The leaders around our board table are Canadian based multi-nationals, and we have some scale-ups that can bring to the table the perspective of ‘here are the challenges that I confront’. It makes for an interesting dialogue.”


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