Governments looking to digital media for growth

tony1459Edit90X167.jpg By Tony Patterson

One thing in this fractious dominion that feds and provincials agree on is the way the business of the world is turning. It’s turning digital so they’re putting their money where the mouse is.
Ontario has put up $65 million over the past year for 32 projects in the digital media & ICT sector. The biggest slice, about $26 million, has been allocated to help build a hub in downtown Kitchener. Government press releases locate this activity centre in “the Waterloo region,” presumably because Waterloo has a high tech brand spelled R-I-M and Kitchener doesn’t.
Meanwhile, the federal government has established the Canadian Digital Media Network (CDMN), also at Waterloo, with $11 million over five years. Last week the feds flagged digital in the Speech From The Throne, pledging that the government "will launch a digital economy strategy to drive the adoption of new technology across the economy."
Impressive as this sounds, in the overall scheme of things the support for CDMN is paltry, a little over $2 million a year for the new kids on the block. For the ICT sector as a whole, the feds are doling out almost $215 million from the same pool that CDMN sips from. The bigger boys, like photonics, can get a dozen years of funding for up to $5 million a year. But it’s a start for the razzle-dazzle stuff that’s starting to generate an increasing share of Canada’s international trade, employment and gross domestic product. CDMN is meant to link all of Canada’s digital media clusters from coast-to-coast. Kitchener%20Hub%20Interior.jpgThe goal is to get researchers and entrepreneurs working together and jumpstart some digital media businesses. And it’s also levering complementary financing from provinces.
Apart from the Kitchener hub, Ontario has put up $10 million for UWaterloo to build a new campus in Stratford that will focus on the global business of digital media. The Stratford Institute will link to CDMN, as will the Ontario College of Art and Design, which has been given $9 million by Queen’s Park for its digital futures initiative bridging interactive design and tangible media.
The Council of Canadian Academies has tagged new media as second only to Alberta’s oilsands for momentum and growth potential. Worldwide, the digital media sector is one of the fastest growing in the knowledge economy. Its double-digit growth rate is predicted to drive the global media market up to US$2.2 trillion by 2012. Ontario has the third-largest entertainment and creative sector in North America, after California and New York and its digital media industry generates more than $1 billion annually. Kitchener%20Hub.jpg
Digital media takes current computing and content digitization to the next level – unfortunately known to some as 3.0 – spanning everything from making broadcast-quality content available on mobile devices to digitizing medical records. Digital media has applications in health care, education, finance, manufacturing, even exploration and mining.
Labeled a “digital media & mobile accelerator,” the Kitchener hub is essentially a bricks and mortar project to provide space and equipment for digital media companies creating hardware and software for industry. Target opening is this spring. Ontario’s funding covers about a quarter of the $107-million project, with the rest coming from private sector partners (mostly in-kind) and other levels of government.
Housed in a former tannery (interior design and exterior pictured), once the largest of its kind in the British Commonwealth, the hub is envisaged as a high-tech networking centre where innovators can collaborate and develop new initiatives in an open concept environment. It will offer state-of-the-art research and development tools and lab space.
It has been placed “at the heart” of the Waterloo tech region because here is home to more than 550 high-tech firms with a total valuation of more than $15 billion and with demonstrated strength and momentum in digital media and mobile computing. Among the leading players contributing to the hub to help early-stage companies get a start are Canada’s largest high-tech company, Research In Motion; Canada’s largest software company, Open Text; and the world’s leading projection technology company, Christie Digital Systems. Others such as Agfa HealthCare, Dalsa and the City of Kitchener, are also contributing.
Both the Kitchener hub and CMDN will be managed by Communitech, Waterloo region’s primary instrument to foster local high-tech. Modeled on Ottawa’s OCRI when it was the ground-breaking Ottawa Carleton Research Institute — it has since morphed into something completely different — Communitech has a 12-year track record of supporting and growing technology companies.
Some features of the Kitchener hub:
• 30,000 square foot open innovation hub 'clubhouse' bringing together knowledge, activities, tools and expertise;
• 2,000 square feet enabling entrepreneurs to 'incubate' ideas in close proximity to tools and services;
• 8,000 square feet of lab space with platforms and tools from partner companies
• Versatile immersive environment with reconfigurable projection and display systems;
• Full audio-visual production studios including scalable sensors, cameras and media capture equipment;
• Medical imaging software platforms;
• A suite of expert resources including entrepreneurs in residence, project manager support, marketing and branding expertise.

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