04 December 2010

Innovation is the solution: Showcasing Polytechnic Applied Research

Algonquin College in Ottawa yesterday hosted the fifth annual Polytechnics Canada Showcase. Featuring innovation in action, students, faculty and industry partners from our nine member institutions convened to highlight work aimed at improving innovation and productivity.

The agenda kicked off with a panel that discussed how best to foster a complementary R&D system in the country - something I've discussed extensively on these pages. Rick Tofani talked about the Alberta "Innovation Renovation", and the breaking down of silos between universities, colleges, research centres and industry. Taras Hollyer from FedDev Ontario spoke of their efforts to seed capital in the Ontario innovation system, with a particular emphasis on job creation and capacity building for economic diversification. Margaret Dalziel from the University of Ottawa Telfer School spoke about the gap between the scientific community and the business community - the innovation gap or incentive vacuum where polytechnic/college applied research is most adept at addressing. Dalziel also spoke about how innovation activities in this middle, mediating space is not easily measurable by traditional metrics (patents, disclosures, etc) because getting innovation from idea to invoice involves many nuanced activities that are more qualitative than quantitative. This echoes a point made in my RD Panel submission: the diffusion of innovation requires us to find proxies and precursors to job creation and economic development so that we can begin to measure productivity milestones. Janet Scholz from ACCT Canada completed the panel's discussion, adding that we need long term approaches to collaboration and complementary partnerships in the innovation ecosystem. (NB: ACCT Canada is hosting Innovation 2010 next week in Ottawa).

All of these panelists discussed concepts highly relevant to open innovation, a topic that was picked up by Angus Livingstone's (UBC) luncheon keynote address. Livingstone gave the audience an excellent perspective on the need for action in the innovation space, and linking the high performing academic R&D players with the low performing business R&D side of the equation. Livingstone outlined a 5-point scale for assessing a company's innovation capacity, and reminded all of us that our goal should be to get a company assessed at 1 to a 2, and those at 3 to a 4 and ultimately 5. This is a sensible approach to fostering increased business R&D and the diffusion of innovation. Livingstone also picked up on the panel theme of measurement, saying that we need to begin to measure the intangibles like the relationships we form with industry partners. Doing so will take us past simple metrics of innovation as we work together to foster true innovation system capacity across the country.

The highlight of the day was presentations from students representing all nine polytechnics. Each student was given a 5 minute slot to tell about their project and the industry problem they worked on. This was followed by an open discussion and questions from the audience, during which the students displayed the core tenets of innovation literacy: problem solving, entrepreneurial thinking, and collaborative team work. GBC's students presented on our work supporting industry partner Syndications Canada and the development of a vertical axis wind turbine. As indicated in my twitter feed, the quote of the day came from Syndications Canada Managing Director Douglas Chaddock: "We hire GBC grads because they have a can-do attitude. We're CANadian, not CANTadian." He further stated that the advantage of college graduates is that they are not afraid to get their hands dirty as they work their way through the applied R&D world of business innovation.

Polytechnic applied research: it's all about collaboration, economic development, and getting your hands dirty.

No comments: