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Competition Guide

2014 Business-Led Networks of Centres of Excellence (BL-NCE) program competition

How to use this guide

The 2014 Business-Led Networks of Centres of Excellence (BL-NCE) Competition Guide provides an overview of the competition process and selection criteria for the BL-NCE program. Throughout the competition the NCE Secretariat will release additional ‘Application Guides’ that describe how to complete the different applications at each stage. The Application Guides should always be used in conjunction with the 2014 BL-NCE New Competition Guide as well as the BL-NCE Program Guide.


The BL-NCE program was created by the Government of Canada in Budget 2007.  The budget allocated $46 million for the creation of Business-Led Networks (BL-Networks). The first competition selected four BL-Networks in 2009 for the period of four years at a total grant value of $8-$12M.  In Budget 2012 the Government of Canada made the BL-NCE program permanent.  This competition will select up to four new BL-Networks over a period of up to five years. 

Program goal

The goal of the BL-NCE program is to address private sector research and development (R&D) challenges in Canadian research priority areas through the creation of business-led research networks that increase private sector investment in R&D, innovation, and competitiveness.

Each BL-Network will be proposed and lead by the private sector with partners in academia and government to focus on industry issues. Through these BL-Networks the program will deliver on the expected results to:

  • Increase private-sector investment in R&D;
  • Increase industry capacity and receptivity to R&D;
  • Work towards application of the proposed research;
  • Reduce roadblocks and accelerate commercialization;
  • Help retain and strengthen companies in Canada; and
  • Strengthen domestic collaboration between public and private sectors;
  • Train post-graduate and post-doctoral fellows in innovative research

What is a BL-Network

When businesses face challenges that are shared with other companies in their sector and these challenges can be addressed through research and collaboration, a BL-Network can be the mechanism to address and overcome these challenges.  A BL-Network is a not-for-profit entity that is composed of private sector members to address an issue relevant to the private sector membership. As a federally funded not-for-profit entity, the BL-Network is driven by the leadership and partial funding of the private sector to focus on their needs.  The BL-Network devises the formula for matching funds through cash and/or in-kind contributions from the participants.  This enables the Network to leverage grant dollars and direct research projects to share the results with the Network participants.  The research needed can occur in any space within Canada and for the benefit of the Network’s members.  A BL-Network is the nucleus that connects private sector leadership, government funding, and research at all levels to solve the challenges of Canadian businesses.

Business-Driven network and the involvement of the private sector in the different stages of a Business-Led Network

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Business-Driven network and the involvement of the private sector in the different stages of a Business-Led Network

Definition of success

To achieve the above goal the BL-NCE program invests in BL-Networks who will focus on relevant challenges to their sector.  A successful BL-Network will:

  • Be business-driven with a research program that is managed and directed by the private sector participants and that addresses key issues that affect the performance of their sector;
  • Enable businesses to develop, capture and share innovative approaches and new solutions to the challenges identified by working collaboratively across the private and public sector participants;
  • Increase the scope of the solutions and speed of delivery of the research results through a focus on common goals and pooled resources (expertise, facilities, cash);
  • Reduce the roadblocks to commercialization for all participants;
  • Use an open approach that encourages engagement of large companies, SMEs, not-for-profits, academia, and government with a plan to integrate new partners as the solutions evolve; and
  • Generate research results, processes and techniques that directly increase business value and/or produce competitive advantages for the private sector.

Who can apply? Who can use grant funds?

Applicants must be Canadian, however applications may come from private sector companies, consortia, associations, research networks with a focus on business issues, etc. who are proposing to deliver a successful BL-Network (as defined above) in a Canadian research priority area.  Although applicants applying to the BL-NCE program do not need to be incorporated initially, all applicants to the program must be eligible to incorporate as a Canadian not-for-profit corporation under the Canada Not-For-Profit Corporations Act.  If successful in the competition the applicant must be incorporated as a Canadian not-for-profit prior to signing a funding agreement. 

Once funded, a BL-Network uses Network Members to realize the research and dissemination objectives.  Some Network Members, such as the members of the private sector consortium, provide grant funds while other may use the funds to deliver specific activities related to the BL-Network.  Organizations receiving grant funds for specific activities include academic institutions, private sector enterprises, and Canadian not-for-profit organizations.  Please see the BL-NCE Program Guide for complete details.

Eligible expenses

Eligible expenses fall under two categories: i) networking and administration; and ii) research.  Eligible expenses in the networking and administration category can be covered up to 75% (where 25% comes from non-government sources).  This category includes expenses such as BL-Network Director and staff salaries, communication, travel, market study, prototype development costs, etc. The eligible expenses for research may be covered by the grant up to 50% (where a minimum of 25% comes from non-government sources and up to 25% may come from other government sources).  This category includes expenses such as salary of research staff, protection of intellectual property, equipment, material, etc.

The BL-NCE program also permits the purchase of capital equipment when vital to the success of a research project.  The cost of that equipment is limited to a maximum of $1 million and/or must not represent more than 20 percent of the total eligible expenses for research costs.

Competition process

Competitions of the BL-NCE program follow a three application stages: i) Notification of Intent (NOI); ii) Letter of Intent (LOI); and iii) Full Application. The NOI is mandatory and reviewed by the NCE Secretariat for eligibility and fit to the program. The LOI stage follows and provides more depth of what is being proposed.  The LOI is reviewed by the Private Sector Advisory Board (PSAB) and a select number of applicants are recommended to advance to the Full Application stage.  The full application solicits an even greater level of detail surrounding how the BL-Network will operate and deliver on the proposal.

The following diagram outlines the stages of a BL-NCE competition.  Please refer to Appendix A for a detailed diagram and information regarding each competition stage.

The following diagram outlines the stages of a BL-NCE competition

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Selection criteria

The following selection criteria form the basis for the review committee evaluation of applications to the BL-NCE program.  Each of these criteria may be addressed in one or over multiple competition stages.  Please refer to the specific application guides for the information required to facilitate evaluation. 

1. Benefits to Canada

  • Identification of the vision for a given sector and the major R&D and commercialization challenges to be addressed to significantly advance the Canadian competitive advantage of that sector;
  • Strengthening of public-private sector collaborations to meet private sector needs;
  • Increasing industrial R&D capacity and receptivity to the results of R&D across large, medium and small enterprise;
  • Positioning of Canadian firms in high-value segments of production chains;
  • Creation, growth and retention of companies in Canada;
  • Business and product innovations to capture new markets; and
  • Increasing domestic collaboration across wide array of firms, sectors and regions.

2. Track record and potential of the applicants

a. Past progress:

  • Past achievements of the applicants;
  • Demonstration of success in past collaborations across firms and in public-private collaboration;

b. Potential for success:

  • Potential to advance the proposed research and business activities;
  • Excellence, focus and coherence of a research program;
  • Capability of attracting new investments;
  • Mechanisms in place to track and manage BL-Network impacts;
  • Evidence of capacity to address significant research challenges that meet business needs; and
  • Proposed training and exposure of post-graduate and post-doctoral HQP in innovative research.

3. Business plan:

a. Rationale for funding:

  • Value of the partnerships both financially and in advancing the BL-Network;
  • Value-add of the network approach;
  • Plan to overcome challenges of the sector;
  • Identification of outcomes for the funding cycle; and
  • Justification and appropriateness of the budget request.

b. Description of benefits to private sector participants:

  • Plan for the business application for the proposed research;
  • Business cases for the involvement of large, medium and/or small enterprise in the BL-Network; and
  • Identification of links between researchers and HQP with firms.

c. Business approach:

  • Clear description of the path to market for the research through a market analysis;
  • Identification of key risks and mitigation strategies;
  • Communication strategies to engage under-represented entities within the current BL-Network membership;
  • Identification of future projects and anticipated changes to the technology readiness, stage-gate or maturity level of each;
  • Effectiveness of the plan to manage, protect and exploit IP in the network context; and
  • Mechanisms to accelerate commercialization and/or business application of technologies, goods and services within firms.

Available funds

The BL-NCE program grants budget is approximately $11M for each fiscal year starting in 2013-14.  Over a five year funding cycle the BL-NCE program expects to fund up to four new BL-Networks. 


Milestones Deadlines
Competition Launch January 17, 2013
Notification of Intent (NOI) Deadline February 15, 2013
Letter of Intent (LOI) Application Deadline April 15, 2013
Full Application Deadline September 15, 2013
Expert Panel Review October 1-15, 2013
Notification of Applicants December, 2013
Release of funds March, 2014


For more information, please contact:

Networks of Centre of Excellence
BL-NCE Renewal Competition
16th Floor, Mailroom
350 Albert Street
Ottawa, ON K1A 1H5

Program Officer
Renée Leduc
Telephone: 613-996-9825

On-line resources

NCE website

Information Regarding the Meaning of Signatures

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Information Regarding In-kind Eligibility

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Tri-Agency Use of Grant Funds

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BL-NCE Program Guide

Appendix A:

Appendix A

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