29 March 2012

Open for business innovation

Budget 2012 shows the federal government focusing its innovation efforts on the private sector, something sorely needed in Canada. There are many elements in the Budget that offer incremental changes and spending increases to the federal support of R&D. A predominant theme here is that companies are going to be able to get money and choose who to go to in order to access innovation support services. This is right thinking to get businesses investing in R&D.

There is good news with $1.1B in additional funding to support research, development and innovation. This includes $500M for the CFI, including specific mention of the College-Industry Innovation Fund. There is $15M for NSERC to foster industry-academic partnership under the Strategic Partnerships Initiative, and $7M for SSHRC for industry-academic partnerships. For the latter this will go a long way to encouraging a participatory, people-centred innovation. The Business Development Bank of Canada gets needed risk capital, which industry can access to help get innovations to market. IRAP gets their budget doubled, again offering industry with a valuable conduit for funding innovation. The SR&ED reforms will be watched closely, as will the revamp of the NRC. We are looking forward to the consultations that will lead to a better “demand-driven focus” for the NRC. Also of note is the creation of a “concierge service” to help firms navigate the federal funding waters. There is much to be said here for the government taking seriously the Jenkins Panel recommendations. The Polytechnics Canada news release offers good analysis on the benefits of collaborative industry-academic applied research.

Budget day was also the day Michael Porter spoke at the Toronto Board of Trade’s Economic Summit. Porter’s work on clusters is well known, and his keynote address was an excellent overview of how the Greater Toronto Area is emerging as a real economic powerhouse. Porter said that “the region is on the right path to start to make a meaningful impact on competitiveness,” but we require better coordination – of businesses, governments, and educational institutions – all oriented to fostering greater social and economic productivity. “Economic development is a process of continual upgrading” he said. Regions are critical to national economies, and within clusters it is important to encourage training and development, and business partnerships with colleges and universities. On the issue of education Porter said that our education and training system is not as strong as it could be, likely because of the fragmented nature of the post secondary system. We are a region without articulated education, and making it easier for learners to access education and training across the system rather than in pockets or silos will go a long way toward increasing our competitive advantage. On this Porter reminded us that “all clusters should try to strengthen education and training capacity in their regions.”

And so Budget 2012 offers good fodder for encouraging a resilient regional innovation, putting funds in the hands of businesses and giving them the option to access innovation support services from across the post secondary system. This is the staple element of how George Brown College and polytechnics and colleges work to foster business innovation while training the talent for the innovation economy. Michael Porter said today that on a microeconomic level, only businesses create wealth and jobs. Because polytechnics and colleges are close to industry, we are ideally situated to help the private sector innovate. With more direct access to capital, industry can choose the right support, in the right place, at the right time. Polytechnics and colleges are open for business innovation.

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