27 November 2015

Unpacking the Black Box of Innovation or, the Planning and Management of Innovation

As noted earlier the Canadian Council of Chief Executives recently initiated work on the Business Higher Education Round Table (BHER). There are two areas of focus for the BHER: research collaborations and work integrated learning.

Industry-academic partnerships are an excellent vehicle for increasing both academic and industrial productivity when it comes to research and development and innovation. Strengthening these partnerships requires industrial receptivity to working with academic partners, as well academic receptivity to working with industry.

This can be further unpacked as ensuring that there is industrial capacity to receive the outputs of basic research performed in our world leading research labs (either directly or through “bundling” approaches to IP where individual IP is combined with others to create companies/marketable products). Tandem Launch is one company specializing in bundling of IP. Read an overview of it here.

Similarly, industry-academic cooperation models need to account for applied research and experimental development (the innovation side of the discovery to innovation continuum in OECD terms) where industry has a need and seeks academic help to address (this is the applied research model common in colleges and polytechnics. This also happens in universities.)

Models of cooperation thus need to account for the need to socialize both sides of the equation to working with each other according to context: who is the initiator of the research (industry or academic) and what goals or outcomes are desired (commercialization of basic research or addressing applied research needs of firms). And, who is the right person or what is the right facility at what point in time to address the stated outcome.

These models of cooperation could feasibly account for the type or nature of skills/competencies/facilities required for a given project. If we understand the discovery to innovation continuum as a horizontal process (though not necessarily linear), then the vertical axis at each stage of the process requires various people with complementary skills. This could be pairing a PhD with technician lab support at one end, through to engineers, technologists and technicians for prototype development on to marketing materials design and sales at the other. The point is that at each stage there are a host of complementary skill sets and facilities that various types of institutions can provide. This model would serve the need of increasing commercialization success of basic research through to addressing the applied research needs of firms.

In addition to the way in which colleges and polytechnics work to support demand-driven innovation in firms and universities (GBC for example supports many projects at the University of Toronto, helping scientists there create products for market based on research discovery), there are universities engaged in similar pursuits. The best example I know of is the UHN’s  Techna Institute, whose mandate is to link clinicians and scientists with the needs of industry and vice versa.

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