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Halifax primed to lead NATO tech innovation initiative | The Hill Times

It can’t be overlooked that the strength of the innovation ecosystem in Halifax is bolstered by the highest concentration of military assets in Canada with an established industrial defence supply chain that invest in research and development.

On Nov. 18, 2022, National Defence Minister Anita Anand, joined by Immigration and Refugees Minister Sean Fraser, and Liberal MPs Andy Fillmore, Lena Diab, Darren Fisher, Kody Blois and Yvan Baker, announced that Halifax is the proposed location to host the North American Regional Office for the Defence Innovation Accelerator for the North Atlantic (DIANA). 

DIANA, a new NATO body that will create a network of innovation sites in North America and Europe will bring defence personnel together with the alliance’s best and brightest start-ups, scientific researchers, and technology companies. The mission is to foster a transatlantic ecosystem supporting innovation in deep technologies. 

If accepted by NATO, the Halifax-based Regional Office for North America would work collaboratively with the European Regional Office in London and would coordinate the work of accelerators and test centres throughout North America to strengthen transatlantic cooperation on critical technologies, and deepen collaboration between NATO, regional industry and academia. 

The government’s offer will now be considered by the NATO DIANA Board before a decision is made, but there is no denying the alignment of what is happening in Halifax and the priorities of DIANA. Across Canada, the blue economy is growing—with Nova Scotia emerging as a clear leader. For example, a recent study highlighted that the number of ocean enterprise companies operating in Canada increased from 122 to 160 from 2020 to 2022, with 31 per cent of these companies calling Nova Scotia home. These companies are creating new solutions in technologies that will support priorities by NATO, such as artificial intelligence, big-data processing, sensing and surveillance and information security 

At the centre of Nova Scotia’s marine tech ecosystem is COVE, a world-leading innovation centre and global tech hub with a mission to create the world’s next commercial and revolutionary tech advances. With wharves, machine shops, in-water labs, co-working space, programming, and access to talent, COVE offers everything needed for marine tech companies to grow and for new ventures to prosper. 

COVE has 40-plus defence-related businesses resident on-site and has 200 companies that participate in programs and services being offered, including many defence-connected tech companies in land, sea, and air. 

COVE is already partnered with companies in the United Kingdom, Northern Europe, and the United States for venture development, scaling of businesses, and testing and validation. Our direct connection to DIANA hubs in European countries along with our established network of innovators, accelerators, venture funds, and government leaders give COVE the existing skillset in program delivery to support a quick deployment of the Canadian program under DIANA. 

It can’t be overlooked that the strength of the innovation ecosystem in Halifax is bolstered by the highest concentration of military assets in Canada with an established industrial defence supply chain that invest in research and development. Our tech industry has thousands of start-ups and SMEs, several incubators, world-class specialized test labs in advanced materials, batteries and autonomy, and access to a strong STEM talent pool through Nova Scotia’s 11 academic institutions. Global connectivity is well-embedded within the ecosystem with decades of experience working with partners around the world.

Halifax is also directly connected to the North Atlantic, and thus NATO, by the ocean that separates us. Furthermore, our natural gateway to the Arctic has served to drive innovation, positioning us internationally on issues of sovereignty, climate change, and surveillance. The combination of these factors position Halifax as the natural home for the Regional Office for North America, one of the North American-based accelerators and possibly a maritime test center. 

The DIANA partnership will result in investment attraction, economic development opportunities, increased Canadian research capabilities, and accelerated commercialization. It is expected to bring tangible benefits to Canadian industry and the defence technology sector by encouraging participation from Canadian companies, existing accelerators, and academic and research institutions. It would also provide Canadian industry with a direct link to research and funding collaboration, as well as technological exchange with commercial partners and governments across 30 Euro-Atlantic allies. 

Should Halifax be selected, the DIANA Regional Office is expected to bring roughly 50 to 60 NATO jobs and will offer growth opportunities for local and homegrown companies. Allies have also agreed to a framework for a multinational NATO Innovation Fund. The world’s first multi-sovereign venture capital fund will invest at least 1 billion in early-stage start-ups and other deep tech funds aligned with its strategic objectives. Not only will Halifax’s advantages benefit NATO Allies and the success of DIANA, it will have a direct impact on the advancement of innovation within Canada. 

The opportunity to host the regional office and the DIANA program in Halifax will generate the best ecosystem for defence innovation in the world. With our existing world-class, deep-tech expertise, high concentration of military assets, and established connectivity along the Eastern Seaboard and across the Atlantic, Halifax’s innovation ecosystem and COVE stand ready to support the delivery of the DIANA program—further establishing Canada as a global deep technology leader in the process. 

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