24 August 2016

"And the end of our exploring..."

"...is to arrive from where we started. And know the place for the first time."

This line from TS Eliot is a fitting epigraph for my final week at George Brown College. Over the past 9 years I have led the development of applied research at GBC, in Ontario and across Canada, working in concert with many outstanding people inside the college and out. College applied research has grown exponentially over the years into a viable and complementary component of a healthy innovation ecosystem in Canada.

The history - in metrics - of GBC Research since 2007: 781 partnerships; 7592 Student research experiences; $96M in research funding from public and private partners; 724 Applied research collaborations; 180 Research-active faculty members; 7 Academic partners. 
I am very proud of these accomplishments, but I am most proud of the 7592 students who now have innovation literacy. They are the future of our country, flexible innovators who will be integral members of teams no matter their careers or profession.

Two students have been members of our Innovation Advisory Board. Comments from each are below, which speak volumes for the work that the college system does in fostering industry innovation while ensuring that students like these gain innovation skills so essential to the future of our society and economy.
James Henderson: "As one of the 7,500 students who have participated in applied research during your tenure, I can attest to the profound impact such opportunities have on us. The skills we acquire, the network we form and the experience we gain makes our transition into the workforce so much easier. For so many of us, applied research has allowed us to explore interests and discover passions we might not otherwise have known were there."   
John-Allan Ellingson: "I'm glad to have been a part of the 'Luke Generation' of researchers, and the experiences I had with the group have been extremely valuable in the time since. I am confident that they secured me my current internship, certainly I drew from them heavily during interviewing. It could be the solution to the 'Entry level position: 3 years experience required' problem - possible marketing opportunity." Beyond helping students through the difficult post-graduation period, exposure to the wide spectrum of industries involved with the R&I office will remain career-long assets for the cohort of student researchers. With one foot now in the working world, I'm starting to better understand this - how a problem tackled in the Food Service or Assistive Device realm provides solutions for Construction and elsewhere, with the right perspective - and appreciate how rare the experience was. I'm sure that fostering this ecosystem, and its added value for students, ranks highly among your successes at GBC.
If anything exemplifies why I have been so committed to this work it is contained in these statements.

As of next week I take up the role of Vice President, Research and Innovation at OCAD University. You can find periodic updates here, connect with me on LinkedIn, and follow me on Twitter @LukeRobert.

30 June 2016

Social Finance and Impact Investing

On the day that Food and Beverage Ontario convened their annual meeting for the food cluster, the
Institute for Competitiveness & Prosperity launched their latest paper on Clusters in Ontario: Creating an Ecosystem for Prosperity. The paper provides a good overview of the importance of clusters; these will figure prominently in the new innovation agenda, and rightly so. We have been supporting cluster development for several years through the Toronto Region Board of Trade. And the recently launched Tech-Access Canada featured discussion on how Technology Access Centers are important portals into local clusters, supporting resilient regional economies. 

Yesterday also saw Research Money convene the Future Finance and Social Innovation conference. This was an excellent discussion focused on social impact investing and social innovation. It was sponsored in part by SSHRC, who featured the College and Community Social Innovation Program, including GBC's professor Jaswant Bajwa's project, funded in the first round. We hosted the Honourable Kirsty Duncan's announcement of the second round announcement two weeks ago. It occurred to me as I listened to the many presenters, including CICan's Christine Trauttmansdorff (who provided a great overview of college applied research into social innovation) that college applied research is a great example of impact investing. When governments and our partners invest in applied research we engage students, and these students gain innovation literacy, all while while derisking social change and future-proofing economy. R$is commended for convening thought leaders on an important topic - clearly at the forefront of social innovation. 

28 June 2016

Canadian Chamber of Commerce convenes roundtable on Talent for Innovation

Yesterday the Honourable Perrin Beatty convened the Toronto roundtable in this series, examining the important topic of what talent Canada needs for the innovation economy. Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship the Honourable John McCallum opened the session with remarks on the importance of immigration to the supply-side of talent for Canada - this is particularly important for a country where we need people to fill the growing demographic gap due to retirements. I made the point that international students - important to the national economy - are prevented from participating in entrepreneurship programs - let's hope this can be changed.

I joined Cisco's Rick Huijbregts, VP Innovation and Digital Transformation Lead, Cisco, Americas, Wendy Cukier, Vice President, Research and Innovation, Ryerson University, and Alex Parizeau, Managing Director, Ubisoft Toronto in providing remarks for the roundtable discussion.

The Chamber set the stage thus:
Talent for Innovation is our topic. Through this project, our central question is: How can Canada cultivate talent for innovation? We are preoccupied with business innovation (i.e. innovation within companies) and innovation that comes to market (and not on pure “science and technology”). During our project, we will explore three key sub-questions:
  • What are the skills that foster innovation?
  • Where and how do we cultivate innovation skills and talent?
  • What can the federal government do?
We discussed many important topics, from the importance of generational change, to digital literacy, and main street entrepreneurship - fostering growth companies in all sectors of the economy, not just new technology. Diversity was an important theme - building on the initial discussion about the importance of immigration, but also encouraging women in STEM and other fields.

My remarks used Technology Readiness Levels as an example of the need for diversity and complementarity in skills, competencies and credentials. That is, if you are going from TRL 1 - where I have an idea to build a rocket - to TRL 9 - where I am actually launching that rocket - you require a team of multidisciplinary people who are educated at different level - from PhDs, to engineers, to technicians, marketers and beyond. When people from varied competencies/credentials work together there is a multiplier effect. This is the principle of ensuring that everyone - from across the credential spectrum - has innovation literacy. 

We need to focus on the skills Canada needs, but also the skills Canada wants - both transactional and transformative skills for the economy and civil society. A focus on Work Integrated Learning is essential here - both as a component of all undergraduate programming, but also as a model for integrating and socializing youth into careers. This latter point fits well into the federal government's initiative to reboot a Katimavik 2.0 - a kind of youth internship for a gap year between secondary and tertiary education. The government could offer tax incentives to businesses who participate, pay a stipend to youth to participate in social and economic nation building while trying out a potential career. This could be a way to avoid the $500-600M in student loan defaults per year, by enabling students to find a career, and so educational path, that suits their interests and aptitudes well.

Above all an integrated approach to fostering education for innovation is required. The Chamber should be applauded for adding its voice to this Canadian imperative.

20 June 2016

SSHRC Social Innovation announcement

Last Friday George Brown College was very pleased to host the Honourable Kirsty Duncan, Minister of Science, and the announcement of the results of the second round of the SSHRC Social Innovation awards. GBC received 7 awards in this round, bringing to 11 our total of these new funds. Our researchers are engaged in a wide variety of innovative projects with community partners, from literacy to nutrition. See below for the list of our recipients. Congratulations to all, and to everyone across Canada who have received funding from this new and necessary program that supports college faculty.

Round 2:

Community Guide to Cancer Nutrition
Faculty: Amy Symington

Generating Success for Farm to School Programs
Faculty: Gary Hoyer

Job Talks: Innovative Study and Website for Recruitment in the Skilled Trades
Faculty: Jonathan Callegher

Adaptive Clothing for persons living with hemi-paresis
Faculty: Milan Shahani

The Early Childhood Cognitive Sensitivity Training Study
Faculty: Zeenat Janmohamed

Improving Health Numeracy in Health Science Students and Professionals Through an Online Instrument
Faculty: Taras Gula

Literacy Uplift
Faculty: Przemyslaw Pawluk

Round 1:

Partnership for Applied Research to Support the Development and Evaluation of the Post-Secondary Students with Disabilities Network (PSDNet) faculty: Charles Anyinam

Co-designing On-line Tools for Engagement and Holistic Crisis Planning with Diverse Youth Groups in the Region of Peel
faculty: Elise Hodson

From Margins to Center through Education: Integrating Victims of Torture and Political Oppression
Faculty :
 Jaswant Kaur Bajwa

Toys or Tools? Using Tablet Computers for Open-Ended Literacy Learning faculty: Monica McGlynn-Stewart

15 June 2016

Federal government launches Innovation Agenda, Science Review

The last couple of days have been a busy one on the Canadian innovation policy front. The new Innovation Agenda consultation process has been launched by Minister Bains, and prior to that Minister Duncan launched the Science Review. The latter looks at basic research, and the former applied research and experimental development. Amidst this the Institute for Research on Public Policy convened a discussion and published a review of the Jenkins Panel report. All of this is good for Canada - if it leads to substantive changes in how we invest in the continuum of research and innovation.

The Innovation Agenda is most relevant to colleges and polytechnics, and we are well represented in the language - our focus on industry-partnered research is a key platform for innovation, for both the private and public sectors. Specifically the background on the Innovation Agenda asks: "How can colleges play a larger role in the innovation ecosystem?" This is a positive step forward for the country and our urgent need to refocus efforts on research and innovation for Canadian productivity gains.

In addition, the Technology Access Centres, represented by Tech-Access Canada, are well suited to being the portal into local and regional innovation ecosystems (a point expertly made by NSERC president Dr Mario Pinto at the recent launch of Tech-Access Canada). TACs are at the forefront of college applied research, enabling the innovation economy in several important sectors and clusters. The colleges, cegeps and polytechnics that form Tech-Access Canada are already functioning as important portals into regional ecosystems, supporting private firms to get new products to market swiftly.

As the Canadian college and polytechnic applied research system matures, the Innovation Agenda offers an important avenue for enhancing the strategic value we represent to the country. Earlier in May GBC submitted advice to Minister Bains on the Innovation Agenda. In preparing this input we gained advice from our Innovation Advisory Board, industry partners, and the Practical Policy Exchange (PPX), an ad hoc collaboration of public and private sector participants we convene for input on important policy matters relevant to the College. Our input was organized according to the following themes:
  • Canada has a two-fold productivity problem
  • Start-ups need to Scale-up, and Stay up
  • Work-Integrated Learning drives industry innovation
  • Supporting homegrown talent
  • Place matters to innovation
  • De-Risk personal innovation investments
  • Engaging First Nations communities 
  • Enhancing Academic Productivity 
  • IP Pooling from public R&D creates public value
  • Bridging the Academic-Industry divide
  • Innovate the machinery of government
Watch this space in the days to come for our input.

14 June 2016

City of Toronto Launches Digital Main Street

Yesterday marked the launch of Digital Main Street a new program from the City of Toronto and the Toronto Association of Business Improvement Areas focused on helping main street businesses connect to digital tools to help them manage and grow their businesses. This is an exciting initiative that will help Toronto businesses get online where their customers are. GBS students have been involved in the Digital Main Street Project through startGBC, our Gateway to Entrepreneurship.
As outlined on the site:

By joining Digital Main Street, main street businesses receive a free digital assessment and a recommended to-do list that identifies technologies and service providers that can help businesses meet their digital goals.

Graphic of Digital Main Street project

07 June 2016

Happy Birthday NRC!

Yesterday was the 100th anniversary or birthday of the National Research Council (NRC). This is a storied institution with a fantastic history of invention and innovation - from basic to applied research right through to experimental development. There is much to be proud of in the NRC - check out the excellent story in the Globe on its ongoing evolution. Much has been made of the transformation the NRC engaged in a few years ago in a more business-focused innovation organization. I am consistently puzzled why this is seen in opposition to basic research. Why pundits see these as mutually exclusive reflects an inherent bias in the country over the role of publicly funded research and our ability to take inventions to market. We need both basic research and applied research. We need to invoke innovation where relevant and applicable. So let's celebrate the NRC, and work on insuring that the great work that they do sees the light of day.