27 February 2012

Mapping Innovation: Place Matters to Productivity

MaRS has put out a great resource showing the region's start-ups. Startup City features a visual of Toronto's start-ups and offers a glimpse of the innovation ecosystem cohering around the Greater Toronto Area. The map offers a good correlate to TRRA's Innovation Jobs report.

The relationship of place and innovation and innovation capacity is a good topic to delve into more deeply. The March issue of Wired (not yet online) has a great short article called "Cultivating Genius" by Jonah Lehrer that shows historical evidence of innovation emerging from distinct geographies. He makes the point that the pace of innovation can be taught and managed by bringing rigour to the processes that enable it (a point made by Roger Martin as well, including at this event). Lehrer's point is that the US currently does this, only with athletes. If we were to focus the kind of energy we do on creating world class athletes and apply this to science and engineering, we would create the conditions similar to other epochs in history noted for the emergence of both disruptive and incremental innovations. It's a great premise.

To paraphrase Roger Martin, innovation literacy can be taught. And the link to regional innovation should be pursued as one plank of an innovation policy closely linked to economic development. Bert van den Berg, NSERC's Director of Knowledge & Technology Transfer, recently sent me a link to the following article which provide for excellent reading on this topic. Innovation in Cities and Innovation by Cities by Robert Atkinson outlines the view that place matters when it comes to innovation.

By way of example, the GBC Food Innovation Research Studio (FIRSt) works with others across the Greater Toronto Area serving the food innovation needs of local industry. There are 25000 SMEs within 80KM of GBC FIRSt working in the food product development area. The sector contributes over $84B annually to the Ontario economy (half of this in the Toronto area), employs 30% more people than the auto industry, employs 1 in 13 people in Canada, and is 9% of Canadian GDP (to put that into perspective, oil, gas and mining combined are 4.5% of GDP). The point here is that innovation in the food industry is very much linked to locale, as evidenced by the amount of companies and money flowing in the GTA.We link the education and training of graduates in this area closely with all sectors of the industry. Ensuring these graduates possess innovation literacy acquired through applied research is one way we can ensure that the innovation capacity of the region will continue to develop. 

And this takes us back to mapping innovation. Connecting companies to each other and to innovation support services such as those offered by colleges, polytechnics and universities is one way to map the innovation ecosystem and orient the region to increased innovation capacity. Key here is the ecosystem approach: everything is interdependent, related, complementary. The Ontario Network of Excellence, CONII, OCE, MaRS Innovation are all ecosystem actors supporting and sustaining the emergence of an innovation ecosystem. It will only work to the extent that we know and are known to each other. I've often said all of us agents of the innovation system function like LavaLife, helping to understand industry innovation needs and putting them together with the right supports. The rise of concepts such as open and participatory and people-centred innovation, or research clusters (virtual and proximate) are part of the emergence of place as the way to understand how to enact innovation for greater social and economic productivity.All of this is predicated on industry adopting innovation as a business strategy and understanding the links between innovation skills and productivity. 

George Brown College last year conducted a GTA Employer Survey in which local employers of college and university graduates were asked to state the skill or ability they find to be the most important. We found that the link between innovation skills & productivity may not be fully recognized yet, but this link is fundamental to an innovation economy. We continue to do more work in this area in order to map out the future for essential skills for the innovation economy.

23 February 2012

TRRA Launches Innovation Jobs report

On 21 February the Toronto Region Research Alliance convened a Forum for Employers: Toronto Region Labour Market 2012 and released a report on their study of Research and Innovation Jobs in the Toronto region. It's a good look at what the labour market is in need of in order to foster greater innovation and productivity in the region. The findings correlate well with other reports of late, and support the premise of instilling innovation literacy in all graduates. On a related note, the Institute for Competitiveness & Prosperity releases the Institute's 15th Working Paper, Small business, entrepreneurship, and innovation.

16 February 2012

Drummond offers prescription for fiscal health

The much-anticipated Drummond Report released yesterday contains many recommendations for fixing Ontario`s ailing economy. As pundits weigh in on what options will get the most traction, it is worth noting that the recommendations for the post secondary education system align well with the need for Ontario to modernize its approach to providing talent for the innovation economy. Differentiation, articulation and pathways all point to a more systematic approach to ensuring that learners can access education in stages and can ladder credentials through work and life.

Some highlights:
"Recommendation 7-7: Create a comprehensive, enforceable credit recognition system between and among universities and colleges. This is an absolutely essential feature of differentiation."
It is also a feature of any modern economy.

"Recommendation 7-8: Post-secondary institutions need to devote more resources to experiential learning such as internships; allow for more independent or self-assigned study; develop problem-based learning modules; and increase study abroad and international experiences. Many institutions already incorporate these features into their programs, funding them from within existing portfolios."
Experiential learning (what we at George Brown College call field education) internships, and problem based learning are all hallmarks of how applied research is integrated into college curricula.

The focus on "strategic research" is code for applied research (NB the CFI's Strategic Roadmap also has this as part of its mandate) and reflects the need for Canada to take a proactive approach to managing research inputs to gain more from its outputs. The Report notes that we continue to do poorly at commercializing research. There is no mention in this section of the need to link to industry to accelerate commercialization of basic research nor to aid industry in innovation.

"Recommendation 7-17: Award provincial research funding more strategically and manage it more efficiently. Consolidating and offering a single-window approach for access and reporting through an online portal will greatly improve efficiency and reduce paperwork, both for government and for post-secondary institutions."
This was also suggested by the Jenkins report, and was included in the recommendations GBC sent to the Jenkins Panel. Simplifying the contact into the Ontario innovation system will reap huge gains.

More study is necessary of course to grasp the full potential of the Report's recommendations. The good news is that we have begun to talk seriously about the modernization of the Ontario education system.

14 February 2012

Infonaut in the News

George Brown College Research partner Infonaut, Inc. is featured today in the Globe and Mail for their project at Toronto General Hospital. "Data scrubbing: Hospital’s surveillance tools help track infections" provides an excellent overview of the technology developed by Infonaut, who has worked extensively with the GBC Research Labs over the past several years. Our students have supported the testing of the technology in our Simulated Practice Centre applied research facility. With our move to the new GBC Waterfront campus this coming summer, we are looking forward to further supporting Infonaut and other industry partners in our new research facilities.

01 February 2012

The Globe's Simpson offers commentary on productivity and innovation

In his column today, the Globe and Mail's Jeffrey Simpson asks "Can Ottawa spark innovation? It hasn’t yet." The piece is a good commentary adding to the national discussion on productivity and innovation, offering further insight (and prognostication) on the upcoming budget and the government's focus on improving business innovation. Simpson's focus on the outputs of the Jenkins Panel, notably the creation of an Innovation Council and the need to foster more Canadian R&D, are good paths forward. Our investments in Science and Technology and skills training need to start paying better dividends to future proof our economy.