30 November 2010

College applied research and the diffusion of innovation

I had the opportunity yesterday to address the Expert Panel on Review of Federal Business Research and Development Programs on the role of college applied research in the Canadian innovation system. My slide deck with notes is available here.

Appearing on the same time slot was John Molloy, president and CEO or Parteq Innovations, who was representing the university technology transfer side of the equation. Molloy led with an overview of the need for "aggressive commercialization," which boils down to the need to properly fund industry liaison activities external to, but which are cognizant of, the academic environment. Their focus is on disruptive innovation, not incremental innovation, seeking to take the big science finds and get these to market with as much alacrity and capital as possible.

The college applied research piece of the innovation system focuses on the incremental innovation space and the diffusion of innovation. We were highly aligned on the need for a complementary approach to industry R&D. We are also aligned on the need for integrating students from all levels of education into innovation activities. I've made the point earlier that fostering innovation literacy has a multiplier effect on industry innovation capacity.

Of particular importance to colleges and universities is how well we prepare the next generation of talent for entrepreneurial and innovation activities. Typically in Canada we measure the effects of student engagement in R&D by counting Highly Qualified Personnel (HQP), which refers primarily to graduate students. We need to expand this to include undergraduate college students and count Highly Qualified and Skilled Personnel (HQSP) to capture the larger potential of engaging our entire work force in innovation capacity development. Those with graduate degrees represent a small percentage of our population (less than 5%). HQSP embraces the role of advanced skills and education and reinforces a multiplier effect that innovation literacy can have on the wider population. When we expose our students in colleges to applied research problem solving they gain innovation literacy, as noted above. Colleges offer diplomas through to undergraduate degrees. Students so equipped with innovation literacy are more amenable to working with those with advanced degrees on innovation activities. We need innovation literacy at all levels of the work force. Our productivity and innovation challenges demand of us a consolidated approach to improving the innovation capacity of all workers in all sectors of the economy. Doing so will enhance the diffusion of innovation at all levels of the economy.

The key for college applied research is instrumentality, or the intentional application of applied research and innovation services to industry needs and contexts. This means that we are focused on addressing the industry problems faced by firms who are seeking to innovate and create new value in their sectors. We are an explicit instrument for addressing these industry problems, meaning that we respond to what is needed, fitting into the R&D continuum for latter stage innovation support.

No comments: