Plan to make Victoria a hub for marine businesses gets $100,000 from Ottawa

The federal government on Friday provided $100,000 to kickstart a plan to make Victoria a centre for innovative marine businesses.

The funds will be used by the South Island Prosperity Partnership, the City of Victoria and the Association of B.C. Marine Industries to develop a business case and complete a feasibility study for the Ocean Futures Innovation Hub.

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SIPP has contracted a team from Urban Systems in B.C., and Hatch and Engage//Innovate of Norway.

The Ocean Futures Innovation Hub would allow marine companies of all sizes to share resources, provide mentorship to marine startups and act as an incubator for growth, according to proponents of the project. The hub would help put the West Coast on the map as a place where the marine sector can thrive, said Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps.

Helps said the innovation hub could be the anchor for a section of downtown north of Herald Street that is currently populated by one-storey buildings and parking lots.

Melanie Joly, minister of Economic Development and Western Economic Diversification Canada, said the hub will help nurture the growth of several promising sectors. “It will create good, well-paying jobs and help diversify the local economy,” she said in a statement.

Last fall, local ocean and marine companies expressed the need for a focused hub to streamline applied innovation, testing and demonstration, which would help the sector elevate its role in securing Victoria’s role as an ocean region and Canada’s position as an ocean nation.

The city made the project a priority in its Victoria 3.0 plan.

“We’re keen to get working with the team from B.C. and Norway to engage the ocean and marine, tech, innovation sectors, and First Nations as we build the business plan over the next couple of months to set the Ocean Futures Innovation Hub up as a key COVID-19 recovery project for federal, provincial and private sector funders,” Helps said in a statement.

The Association of B.C. Marine Industries, which represents 220 companies, said the hub will provide opportunities for companies of all sizes to grow, increase export capacity, diversify supply chains and create more high-paying jobs.

The hub has also been identified as a high priority on SIPP’s Rising Economy Taskforce, which this month released 40 recommendations for regional economic recovery and is finalizing a Regional Economic Recovery Plan.

SIPP and the marine sector view the hub as positioning the industry well for recovery and long-term growth.

“The creation of an Ocean Futures Innovation Hub on Canada’s west coast will assist in the region’s economic recovery through the creation of an ecosystem that will help existing and future innovative businesses grow and build their markets nationally and internationally through technological and operational excellence,” said Alex Rueben, executive director of the Association of British Columbia Marine Industries.

Emilie de Rosenroll, CEO of the South Island Prosperity Partnership, noted the area is already home to world-class ocean technologies and a thriving marine sector. “A hub will take this to the next level and help create new 21st-century clean, innovative jobs,” she said.

Julie Angus, CEO of Victoria-based Open Ocean Robotics, told the Times Colonist in July the company’s solar-powered autonomous boat has collected oceanographic or environmental data that has been key for research projects by the Canadian Coast Guard and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

She said an innovation hub would be a key incubator to link small startups such as hers with larger, more established firms.

During a recent trip to Halifax, Angus saw the success of that city’s marine innovation hub, the Centre for Ocean Ventures and Entrepreneurship, located in a former Canadian Coast Guard facility.

Helps said the project will work closely with Indigenous groups who have 12,000 years of knowledge with respect to the ocean.

Dallas Gislason, director of economic development for the South Island Prosperity Partnership, said the hub could attract marine companies from all over the world, bringing high-paying jobs to Victoria.

— With files from Katie DeRosa

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