Help Canada solve the biggest challenges of our time

8 min read

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Innovation is about creating something that delivers value to the world. It’s about changing the way we do things to make life a little better for everyone. It is the future, delivered.

The Government of Canada understands the importance of innovation for our future, and has specifically designed programs that foster innovation in the areas we need it most. To help shape the ways technologies develop, these programs don’t just take what’s off the shelf, but create brand new areas of opportunity. Demand-driven programs aim to tackle everything from climate change, to COVID-19, to the health of our astronauts. This approach gives innovators the support they need to push the boundaries, and the opportunity to go in new directions that benefit Canadians and people around the world.

If you’re an innovator and you want to help Canada solve its biggest challenges, here are some programs you should consider:

Innovative Solutions Canada (ISC)

ISC's Challenge Stream helps Canadian innovators who want to start, grow, and get to market, by funding R&D and testing prototypes in real-life settings. By working with its many government partners to carry out their initiatives, ISC’s challenges cover a wide spectrum of innovation, in a variety of industries, that either meet the Government’s needs, or address a broader market gap.

How it works:

  • Successful candidates receive up to $150,000 for up to 6 months (Phase 1) to develop a proof of concept for a solution in response to a challenge, and then up to $1 million for up to 2 years (Phase 2) to develop a prototype.
  • In Phase 3, a federal department can then purchase the solution developed from Phase 2 – giving companies their first customer and creating a new market for novel technologies.

Growing Canada’s plastics ecosystem

  • One area that ISC has helped to drive innovation is related to plastics. Plastic pollution poses a threat to Canada’s environment and our economy. Plastic ends up in landfills, litters parks and beaches, pollutes rivers, lakes, and oceans, and has harmful effects on wildlife. This is why the Government of Canada is supporting Canadian businesses in developing innovative solutions to plastic pollution.
  • To combat these problems, the Government of Canada has issued 14 challenges to innovators related to plastics. By launching several challenges in this space across different departments and agencies, the Government of Canada is creating new markets for sustainable plastic technology, and demonstrating its leadership in creating a more sustainable low-carbon-footprint technology.
  • One example of a company that received support through this set of challenges is Nova Scotia-based Ashford Inc., which has received $804K for how it addressed the Department of Fisheries and Oceans’s challenge for innovations in fishing and aquaculture gear that can reduce or eliminate ghost fishing and aquatic plastic pollution.

Impact Canada

Challenges from Impact Canada are where innovators come to solve big problems by offering unique solutions that can lead to major breakthroughs in human knowledge and practice. Innovators are awarded based on the social, environmental and economic results that are achieved for Canadians.

Challenge types:

  • Challenge prizes – outcomes-based funding awards to innovators that can first or best meet the challenge statement and criteria.
  • Grand challenges – open and thematic competitions to fund a broad range of potential innovations.
  • Competitive accelerators – intensive and time-limited business support for cohorts of early stage enterprises.
  • Indigenous initiatives – Innovation to bring forward ideas inspired by Indigenous knowledge, while finding pathways to develop these into sustainable solutions that can have meaningful, positive impacts on Indigenous communities.

Drug Checking Technology Challenge

Solutions generated under Impact Canada challenges are helping to solve complex and persistent problems. For example, the Drug Checking Technology Challenge led by Health Canada was designed to help address fentanyl overdoses through accessible, accurate and affordable drug checking technology. A game-changing device won the challenge, which can accurately and quickly test drugs for multiple substances, including hard-to-detect fentanyl.

How it works:

  • The Impact Canada Centre of Expertise works with federal government partners (who lead on the challenges) to undertake advanced research, engagement and challenge design, and then to launch and assess the challenges.
  • Lead departments use the Impact Canada challenge platform to host challenges, engage with applicants, innovators and jurors (who assess solutions and recommend winners).
  • Impact Canada supports the lead department throughout the challenge, including access to flexible terms and conditions for transfer payment programs, assessment of solutions, jury recruitment and management, testing and validation of data and prototypes associated with solutions.

More information on the types of challenges can be found in the Impact Canada Challenge Guide.

National Research Council of Canada (NRC) Challenge Programs

Through its Challenge programs, the NRC partners with private-and-public-sector, academic and other research organizations in Canada and internationally to advance transformative, high-risk, high-reward research that addresses Canadian priorities.

How it works:

  • SMEs, non-profit organizations and academic institutions collaborate with NRC researchers on R&D projects and are eligible for grant and contribution (G&C) funding.
  • Programs span a variety of areas including environmental sustainability, quality of life in the Arctic and North, health care, aging, artificial intelligence, quantum and more.
  • Other collaborative R&D programs include the Supercluster support programs which work the same way and offer G&C funding for collaborating institutions.


Pea is one of the key protein crops in western Canada, and one challenge the NRC is addressing is improving pulse protein flavour and quality through processing. Demand for peas and their fractions continues to increase due to their known nutritional and health benefits, as well as growing demand for vegan and gluten-free products.

Without addressing the common challenges of using pea proteins, the creation of new products will be limited. This collaborative research project aims to improve the flavour and quality by developing and applying a novel pre-processing treatment using hydrodynamic cavitation. These innovations have the potential to increase the use of peas as a plant-based protein ingredient and improve the taste and nutritional quality of countless consumer goods.

Canadian Global Innovation Clusters (CGIC)

The Canadian Global Innovation Clusters (CGIC) is a flexible program that brings innovators, investors, Canadian companies and researchers together in 5 key industries, through collaboration. This program is all about doing things differently.

CGIC is designed to help strengthen Canada’s most promising economic clusters and help businesses scale up in highly innovative industries where Canada has a significant competitive advantage: digital technologies, plant-based protein industries, advanced manufacturing, artificial intelligence and supply chain logistics, and ocean economy. These Clusters are run by independent, not-for-profit organizations. They move at the speed of business, respond to conditions on the ground, and capitalize on innovation and market opportunities.

Through their next round of funding, the Clusters will advance joint missions aligned with key government priorities, such as fighting climate change and addressing supply chain disruptions.

They already have a history of supporting the Government’s areas of focus, including through supporting the pandemic response. As part of this work, the Clusters launched over 70 COVID-19 projects that addressed a range of issues, including new techniques for the production and packaging of hand sanitizer, creating open-source ventilator designs, and improving the accuracy of rapid test kits.

There are many advantages to joining a Cluster. It can be a great opportunity to collaborate on shared projects, reach new clients, and access global supply chains, while also contributing to a more innovative Canada and our future economy.

If you’re interested in submitting a project proposal or joining other Cluster activities, reach out to the Cluster directly:

Innovation for Defence Excellence and Security (IDEaS)

The IDEaS program focuses on solving the toughest defence and security challenges faced by the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF). IDEaS offers 5 funding mechanisms to its innovators as well as access to world-class subject matter experts. It invests over $80 million through these elements to push technology forward, from early research and development to prototyping and testing solutions.

How it works:

Each element is unique in how it’s designed to advance Science &Technology and deliver support to innovators.

  • Competitive Projects provide up to $1.2M in phased development funding to build and move technology forward. Promising solutions can be selected to advance to demonstration/testing stages of IDEaS and receive additional funding opportunities.
  • Innovation Networks provides $1.5M in funding to establish research clusters among academics, industry and other partners that stimulate the free flow of knowledge and information critical to innovation.
  • Sandboxes are opportunities for innovators to demonstrate their prototype solutions to National Defence military users and science experts for a specific IDEaS challenge, receiving observational feedback to assist innovators in their solution development. The Sandbox element doesn’t provide funding directly, but will partially reimburse up to 50% of eligible travel expenses related to the sandbox.
  • Contests are a competitive means of finding and rewarding creative solutions to the toughest defence and security challenges. Funding is contest-specific. IDEaS most recent Pop Up City contest had a total prize pool of $3.5 million for the winner.
  • Test Drive is specifically for the most advanced and promising technologies. IDEaS acquires solutions so that DND/CAF can assess the readiness of the product in a real-world environment for a military audience.

Through the Detection and Classification of objects of interest challenge launched in 2018, one innovator stood out. Ecopia, a Toronto-based company, successfully made it through the Competitive Projects lifecycle proposing the use of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning Technology to solve this challenge. Their project was recently selected to transition to the Test Drive element, awarding Ecopia an additional $5.8M to test their solutions in a real-world environment.

As government challenges evolve, new opportunities for innovators to join the fight emerge. The Business Benefits Finder is your one-stop-shop for the latest information on government challenges, so make sure you sign up for email notifications so you can get notified when new challenges are launched. Not sure how? Check out these insider tips on how to use it and get the most targeted results.

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