New council launches to advance Canada’s semiconductor industry

Semiconductor

A group of Canadian tech sector stakeholders have launched a national Semiconductor Council, mandated to make Canada a global hub for semiconductor research, design, and manufacturing.

“Canada must own the podium and strike our competitive advantage as a leader in the global semiconductor sector.”
– Melissa Chee, ventureLAB

The council plans to build a “national semiconductor strategy and action plan,” and lead various actions aimed to strengthen Canada’s semiconductor industry, including its competitiveness and supply chain resilience.

The founding members of the new council include several key Canadian innovation stakeholders, such as Salim Teja, partner at Radical Ventures; Sarah Prevette, founder and CEO of Future Design School (and founding member of BetaKit); and Melissa Chee, president and CEO of ventureLAB.

The council will focus on activating a critical mass of IP-rich semiconductor companies, attracting and retaining talent, scaling Canada’s pools of investment capital for these companies, and expanding strategic investment opportunities in Canada.

The creation of this new council comes amid a global shortage of semiconductor chips. According to the Semiconductor Industry Association, Global semiconductor sales increased 6.5 percent in 2020, indicating a high demand for chips.

But supply has been unable to keep up with this demand. Many producers, such as automakers and tech manufacturers, have recently reported a shortage of components for semiconductor chips and are seeing a slowdown in output as a result.

In a statement to BetaKit, Teja noted semiconductor chips underpin the entire tech sector, from consumer electronics to electric vehicles and medical devices. Though Canada has a robust talent base, attributed to Canada’s various post-secondary STEM programs, the council said there is a gap for semiconductor founders in accessing capital at all stages of growth.

“One of the biggest hurdles facing Canada’s domestic hardware and semiconductor companies is the lack of access to venture capital,” said Teja. “As a result, many technology founders are forced to seek foreign capital, often resulting in early exits at low values to foreign ownership.”

This council is the latest effort aimed to strengthen Canada’s semiconductor industry. In its recently-released budget, the federal government earmarked $90 million over five years to the National Research Council to modernize the Canadian Photonics Centre. Photonics is the science behind fibre optics, advanced semiconductors, and a number of other critical technologies.

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One of the key priorities for the new council is to retain technical talent in Canada. According to data from Statistics Canada, nearly a quarter of all post-secondary enrollment was in computer and electronics-related programs in 2019.

“Canada is rich with STEM talent at all levels, from recent graduates to experienced professionals,” Prevette told BetaKit. “The challenge is keeping them in here, rather than losing them to other countries.”

Nations around the world are mobilizing a response to the global semiconductor shortage. President of the United States Joe Biden’s infrastructure plan earmarks $50 billion for the American semiconductor industry. The European Union has also been open about plans to strengthen its semiconductor manufacturing capacity and rely less on foreign producers.

“Given the investments that other nations are making in this sector, it’s critical to get Canada’s priorities identified and actioned in a meaningful way,” Teja said.

“Canada must own the podium and strike our competitive advantage as a leader in the global semiconductor sector,” added Chee. “This is our opportunity to think boldly about an industrial sector strategy for achieving decarbonization goals and future-proofing our automotive, energy, life sciences, and manufacturing sectors.”

The council told BetaKit it will begin working with more industry stakeholders over the next few months, following which it will begin creating its strategy and action plan.

Image source Jonas Svidras via Unsplash.

Isabelle Kirkwood

Isabelle Kirkwood

Isabelle is a Vancouver-based writer with 5+ years of experience in communications and journalism and a lifelong passion for telling stories. For over two years, she has reported on all sides of the Canadian startup ecosystem, from landmark venture deals to public policy, telling the stories of the founders putting Canadian tech on the map.