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The broad themes will help steer a consultation effort over the summer, leading to the release of an action plan in the fall and funding announcements in next year’s budget.Getty Images/iStockphoto

The Trudeau government is lifting the lid on its much-discussed innovation agenda by unveiling six broad economic challenges that will guide its overhaul of programs and policies, including a focus on scaling up successful companies and accelerating green growth.

The themes will help steer a national consultation effort being launched Tuesday in Ottawa by Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains and Science Minister Kirsty Duncan.

The other four main areas of focus are: how to foster business clusters, commercialization, upgrading the talent of the work force and promoting better discovery science, according to government and industry sources.

The announcement comes amid continuing concern about Canada's lagging performance on key measures of innovation, including research-and-development spending by businesses, productivity and patents.

A government backgrounder was obtained by The Globe and Mail titled, "An Inclusive Innovation Agenda: The State of Play."

It outlines some of the international examples that are expected to shape the government's thinking. In large part, they point to governments opening the spending spigots to fund early research initiatives, support scaling companies and applied research, and fund infrastructure and education improvement.

The document also highlights the challenging economic landscape facing Canada, including slow growth, an aging population, climate change and new disruptive technologies.

Consultations will go on over the summer, leading to the release of an innovation action plan in the fall and eventual funding announcements in next year's budget. The effort will include broad consultation with individual Canadians and co-ordination with the provinces.

The document highlights a number of ways other countries are dealing with these challenges.

The U.S. government has invested $600-million (U.S.) – matched by $1.2-billion in private funding – to support 15 institutes dedicated to helping scale up advanced manufacturing technologies and processes, tripling in number by 2024. The United States has also provided $220-million (U.S.) to fund more than 600 innovation competitions since 2010 and has a $1-billion program to increase the number of science, technology and math teachers at schools that have underperformed in the area.

Germany's Fraunhofer Society pours €2.1-billion annually into applied research to support competitiveness of its economy, and Britain's Catapult Centres support late-stage research-and-development. Several countries fund clean energy research and commercialization, including Norway's Enova.

Several countries, including Australia, Britain and the U.S., have multibillion-dollar innovation agenda budgets, while China is expected by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development to surpass the U.S. in R&D funding by 2019.

The document points out that while Canada has a strong economic base, open markets and the most highly educated work force in the OECD, it has had limited success commercializing technologies. The country also lacks management capacity and serial entrepreneurs, and has a serious deficiency of large companies anchoring innovation hubs, according to the document, prepared by the department of Innovation, Science and Economic Development.

Canada lags only Israel and the U.S. in terms of venture capital invested as a share of GDP, but VC deals are relatively small and weighted toward early-stage companies and "may not be sufficient for companies in later stages looking to scale up," the document says. Canada ranked just 20th out of 27 surveyed countries in terms of number of engineering graduates per capita, for example. Canada has a burgeoning clean-tech industry, but a tiny global market share.