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.

Complementarity, coopetition, and clusters

While we in Ontario await news from the Ontario Budget as to how it will affect research funding - in particular the scaling back of Commercialization and Innovation Network Support - there is the Federal Budget coming today that promises a focus on innovation and productivity. Meanwhile, two articles from yesterday offer relevant insights as we retool Canada to support more innovation, from business investment in R&D to skills development for the innovation economy. The first, encouraging Canadians to take more economic risks, offers good insights on collaboration as one key way to capitalize on our inventiveness. Another article on the MITACS program, featuring Arvind Gupta, a member of the Jenkins Panel along with Polytechnics Canada CEO Nobina Robinson, shows the value of applied research while engaging graduate students in industry focused innovation. It's too bad the article did not also focus on the applied research colleges and polytechnics do, as this is our model of education. Anything that makes it easier for firms to tap into the talent in our post secondary system is of value to the country's productivity and innovative capacity.

The idea of collaboration and the relationship of clusters is being taken up today in the Toronto Board of Trade's Economic Summit. The article is an interview with Ted Lyman from Silicon Valley's IHS Global Insight, speaking at today's summit, who rightly points out that a public-private partnership approach to R&D and innovation (P3RD). On the linkages to education he says
There are flagship universities that produce the PhDs and the applied research. But the other universities, and community colleges, where the journeyman engineers and technicians come from, are all key to this. A lot of clusters actually sponsor training [programs] at community colleges. They pay to put in place a curriculum [and] everybody wins. The community college has their bills paid, the companies have people trained exactly for what they need and the people looking for employment have jobs delivered on a platter.
This is a sensible approach to complementarity, coopetition, and clusters supporting the geography of innovation.

26 March 2012

On clusters and place: the geography of innovation

The Toronto Board of Trade released its Scorecard on Prosperity, emphasizing regional innovation and clusters. The Globe and Mail has a good summary of its findings, including useful infographics that show Toronto's regional innovation strengths. As I've indicated earlier, place matters to productivity, and it is good to see that the TBOT report reinforces food manufacturing as one of Toronto's main economic engines. The GBC Food Innovation Research Studio (FIRSt) is a hub for industry innovation in the food product development space, capitalizing on the vast economic potential of the food industries in the Greater Toronto Area. (As I've indicated before: 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 report outlines the need for Toronto to focus on industries that will drive further economic growth. Of some of the obstacles noted, the report includes the regional "inability to commercialize cutting-edge research; and issues around access to capital to support the creation and growth of innovative firms" - issues well noted by many others. The report further states that "Toronto needs a strategy to take advantage of the growth opportunities in certain clusters while trying to improve the performance of those clusters that are important to the region’s economic fabric but have been lagging," points that will be taken up at a regional summit being held this Thursday. I am looking forward to the event.

23 March 2012

Let's make of Canadian R&D "a thriving innovation engine"

Innovation and productivity are top of the agenda for the upcoming federal budget. Business innovation in particular is a key area of focus, as indicated in this article featuring Minister of State for Science and Technology Gary Goodyear. Minister Goodyear struck the Jenkins panel (Polytechnics Canada CEO Nobina Robinson was a member of that panel) last year to review private sector R&D spending, and they came up with many good recommendations to get the country in line with our international counterparts. This complements the two panels recently struck by the Council of Canadian Academies on behalf of the Minister of Industry. A renewed focus on innovation and productivity is the right thing for Canada as we work toward the articulation of a new Science and Technology Strategy.

The Globe article quotes Liberal critic Ted Hsu as saying that we should not let industry drive research in government labs. This is wrong thinking. Government labs should be working to link both discovery-based research emerging from university labs and industry needs - think the US National Laboratories, which focus on strategic priorities and the needs of the country. The National Labs bridge the gap between basic and applied research, addressing pressing needs of today. University labs address the needs of tomorrow. Polytechnic and college applied research is another bridge between basic and applied research, academia and industry. As a country we must stop thinking of industry partnered research as a bad thing; we continue this at our own peril.

Let's embrace the possibilities inherent in realizing the gains of our own discoveries, and link together the universities, polytechnics, colleges, government research facilities in an innovation chain that sees industry as a partner in our own national efforts of "a thriving innovation engine."

20 March 2012

Innovation Followership

Here's an interesting report on innovation measurement out of the EU earlier this year. The EU report uses standard metrics for innovation excellence (R&D included in this), things like percentage of populations with doctoral degrees, but also percentage of those age 30-34 with tertiary education completed. As I've noted many times, Canada is number one for tertiary education attainment when you include Type A (university) and Type B (vocational, or college). The EU is also tracking growth rates in education, which gives a hint at a future performance potential. Publications, R&D expenditures in public and private sectors and migration of HQSP all figure prominently here. It will be very interesting to read this against the Council of Canadian Academies' Expert Panel report on the State of Science and Technology in Canada (of which I am a member) and the sister Expert Panel on the State of Industrial Research and Development in Canada. Taken together, these two reports will provide a good snapshot of where Canada is in terms of international R&D performance.

What interests me in the EU Report is the concept of innovation followers. Business schools abound with courses on leadership, and some teach the concept of followership. It would be interesting to apply this concept of followership to Canada's innovation performance. Perhaps if we think of Canada's innovation performance in terms of followership we will have a better picture of a more suitable role for a country who, while outspending most other OECD countries on R&D, does very poorly at innovation (translating R&D into goods and services - social and economic). After all, it's the second mouse that gets the cheese.

16 March 2012

Sally M. Horsfall Eaton named inaugural Chancellor of George Brown College

Becomes first Chancellor at an Ontario College
TORONTOMarch 15, 2012 /CNW/ - Sally Horsfall Eaton - a respected Toronto volunteer and philanthropist widely recognized throughout the city for her devotion to numerous not-for-profit organizations and advocacy for social issues - has been named inaugural Chancellor of George Brown College.
Ms. Horsfall Eaton will serve a three-year term as titular head of the college; underlining the important role it plays in the community. As Chancellor, she will preside over convocation each year, presenting students with degrees, diplomas and certificates.  She will also play a key role in advocating for the college's vision and in advancing George Brown's engagement in the broader community.
Ms. Horsfall Eaton becomes the first Chancellor of an Ontario college.
"While a distinguished member of our community, Ms. Horsfall Eaton was primarily chosen as Chancellor for her credibility, integrity and commitment to applied education," said Christopher Griffin, Chair of the George BrownCollege Board of Governors and Executive Vice President, Operations for USG Corporation. "Her reputation as a leader, advocate and philanthropist makes her a role model for our students and a tremendous asset to the college."
"I am tremendously honoured to be given the task of serving as an ambassador for an institution that is responsible for so much achievement in our city," said Sally Horsfall Eaton. "George Brown College plays an essential role serving the needs of the workforce and the community, and I will do all I can to support it in my new capacity as Chancellor."
The George Brown College Board of Governors will officially install Ms. Horsfall Eaton at a June 8 ceremony.
"George Brown College has developed a strong reputation for the quality of our credentials," said Anne Sado, President. "Sally will be a valuable advocate to help us raise our profile in the community even further and to help us support continued expansion and advancement."
Ms. Horsfall Eaton has broad experience in many organizations at the Board, Committee and Executive Director level.  She is Honorary Colonel 32 Signal Regiment, Member of National Honorary Colonels Executive Council; Honorary Chair, Festival of International Conferences on Caregiving, Disability, Aging and Technology (FICCDAT) 2007 & 2011; Past Chair of the Boards of St. John's Rehabilitation Hospital and Breakfast for Learning Canadian Living Foundation and Past Honorary Associate for Asian Heritage Month.
Previously, she has served as a Trustee of McMaster University, Founding Executive Director of the Ontario Trillium Foundation, founding Managing Director of The Canadian Hearing Society Foundation, Assistant Executive Director of the Canadian Hearing Society and a Registered Nurse, working in Emergency Departments in several hospitals.  She has been awarded with the 2006 Outstanding Volunteer Award, and in 2008 the Canadian Forces Decoration.
About George Brown College 

Toronto's George Brown College has established a reputation for equipping students with the skills, industry experience and credentials to pursue the careers of their choice. From its two main campuses located across the downtown core, George Brown offers 148 full-time and 1,600 continuing education programs across a wide variety of professions to a student body of approximately 63,000 (including those enrolled in full-time, part-time and continuing education programs). Students can earn diplomas, post-graduate certificates, industry accreditations, apprenticeships and four-year bachelor degrees.
For further information:
Robyn Breslow
Apex Public Relations
            (416) 924-4442       x256

15 March 2012

Open Letter To His Excellency the Right Honourable David Johnston: On Innovation in Canada

15 March 2012

His Excellency the Right Honourable David Johnston
Governor General of Canada
Rideau Hall
1 Sussex Drive
Ottawa ON K1A 0A1

I read with great interest the article in today’s Globe and Mail in which you outline your views for improving Canada’s innovation performance. I agree with your view that we need to foster a culture of innovation in order to encourage social and economic productivity. Your point about industry receptor capacity resonates with our own work in applied research and the college and polytechnic ability to engage industry with our talented faculty and students. It is on these points that I would like to make two very important additions to the conversation on innovation:

·         As a country we need to encourage innovation emerging from our world leading university research labs, but just as important we need to encourage firms to invest in research and development. This includes applied research conducted at colleges, polytechnics and universities that work with industry to translate discoveries into new products and services.
·         Canada is well on its way to building high functioning innovation ecosystems, but these must also include the talent stream from colleges and polytechnics. Canada is first in the OECD for post secondary education attainment, only when you include colleges. In fact, over 25% of George Brown College students come with a prior university credential or experience.

Resilient regional innovation is a cornerstone of any highly innovative and productive society. By integrating the complementary strengths of our college, polytechnic, and university capacity, and by linking this with industry and innovative firms, we can best future proof the Canadian economy. George Brown College faculty, students and industry partners are hard at work in getting new products to market in diverse fields: from health technology, to green building systems, to food products. We invite you to visit us to see firsthand what colleges and polytechnics are doing to enable the innovation economy.


Robert Luke, PhD,
Assistant Vice President, Research and Innovation

14 March 2012

PPF Releases "Leading Innovation - Insights from Canadian Regions"

It's a banner day for innovation in the news as we lead up to the 29 March Federal Budget. The Public Policy Forum this week released their report "Leading Innovation - Insights from Canadian Regions." It offers good insights on innovation and locality. The part on Accelerators, Incubators and Networks is perhaps most interesting as much for its definitions of these aspects of an innovation system. The focus on place is very important, as fostering resilient regional innovation is key to ensuring that we can transform the Canadian economy in areas where we once led. This relates to Jim Stanford's op-ed today on "buying Canadian." The Globe's cogent editorial on the report advises "Don’t just co-operate on innovation: Collaborate, too".  Last night the CBC featured a panel on innovation which, among other points, picked up the themes of education and teaching innovation skills, as well as a focus on the end user. Roger Martin's point is that innovation is understanding what the end user or customer wants or needs and creating products and services to meet this need. As Polytechnics Canada CEO Nobina Robinson says: companies commercialize; people innovate.

13 March 2012

Innovation Finishing School: One Year College Programs

An article in today's Globe reinforces the value of one year post graduate programs colleges and polytechnics offer. These programs are a finishing school for many with undergraduate degrees seeking additional skills and credential applicable to the job market. College business programs aim to create job-ready grads features George Brown College business programs, which give students practical education and industry internships as a fast track into the world of work.

As I noted earlier, this is part of the missing link in the evolution of education in Canada: 22% of 500000 students (50000 graduates) in the 9 Canadian Polytechnics already have a university credential. The missing link here is in programs such as those featured in today's article. Key here is the idea of pathways--from college to university, and university to college. It is time to break down traditional, siloed thinking of the types of education (university vs college; Type A vs Type B tertiary), and move forward on what employers need: graduates with people-centred innovation skills readily applicable to today's and tomorrow's job market. The innovation finishing schools that are college and polytechnic post graduate programs are an excellent avenue for training the talent needed for the innovation economy.

12 March 2012

Reindustrialization or, Innovation Made in Canada

Here is a link to an excellent article by Doug Saunders on famed British inventor James Dyson and the movement of reindustrialization. In a nutshell, reindustrialization is the re-making of the industry base in those economies where this has been hollowed out by off-shoring. This applies as much to Canada as anywhere else.

Last year I wrote about the relationship between thinking, making and innovation literacy, and the concept of reindustrialization fits well here.  In the innovation economy thinking and making are inextricably linked to creating new products and services. Britain's "budget for making things" represents a key step in linking what has been decoupled: basic and applied science, and industry capacity to innovate markets.  Polytechnics  Canada, as the missing link in the evolution of Canadian education and applied research, explicitly links talent preparation and applied research: this is learning by doing.

On the eve of 2012 I was on BNN talking with Michael Hainsworth about the need for Canadian industry to be price setters, not just price takers. This means adding value to products and services and innovating on the shop floor. Connecting our world-leading basic research and applied research capacity in colleges and polytechnics, and further enabling industry to access these deep pools of knowledge, expertise and talent will lead to great productivity and innovation realized. That is, we need to ensure the Canadian economy has enough regional resilience in order to capitalize on our basic science and technology strengths and foster industrial excellence around bringing discoveries made in Canada to market, made in Canada.

08 March 2012

Polytechnics Canada: The Missing Link in the Evolution of Education

Alex Usher's blog post on Canada’s Universities of Applied Sciences today makes some excellent points about the emergence of the Polytechnic education - what he terms a limnal space between colleges and universities. It is worth noting that NAIT is in fact a member of Polytechnics Canada. He makes a very useful distinction in the use of the term University of Applied Science, but it may be more useful to remediate the term polytechnic. At Polytechnics Canada we are working hard to advocate for this form of education as a key driver of the innovation economy. It is worth noting that the 9 Polytechnics graduate about 50000 people per year, and about 22% of these have university credentials already. This complicates somewhat a very useful statistic regarding OECD Type A (university) and Type B (vocational education): Canada is number one in the world for post secondary education attainment, only when colleges are included.

Key here is our focus on applied research and applied education - a learning by doing model that promotes advanced innovation skills in lock step with advancing social and economic productivity in the country. These themes were part of my recent discussion with BNN's Michael Hainsworth.

07 March 2012

Companies commercialize; People innovate

The upcoming Federal Budget promises to continue the evolution of the Canadian R&D system, if Prime Minister Harper's comments in the press about getting value for money are any indication. Minister of State for Science and Technology Gary Goodyear says in today's Globe that the changes that are coming won't be simple fixes.

On Monday I was on BNN's the Close speaking with host Michael Hainsworth about the SR&ED tax credit, picking up the themes from this week's release of the C-Suite Survey.

Notwithstanding a couple of "speakos" (verbal typos; notably on the 99% of basic research in universities versus 1% - not a dollar - on college applied research), it was a good discussion of the need to simplify the SR&ED system. As I note in the segment, Canada enjoys some of the most generous tax credits for R&D in the world. We need to streamline the system and focus on people. Focusing incentives on more upstream supports like an industry innovation voucher system (such as that in Alberta) will help small companies have better access to applied research supports offered by colleges and polytechnics. The Canadian innovation system needs a single-window approach (something recommended by Drummond and the Jenkins Panel) that offers a streamlined access point to industry innovation supports in the public sector. I've earlier called this a P3RD system: the explicit linking of public and private sector R&D. Most importantly we need to focus on the talent stream.

Companies come to colleges and polytechnics to access three critical components in their commercialization efforts:

  1. Access to equipment and space
  2. Access to funding and grants to support their own R&D spending (P3RD)
  3. Access to talent, both our faculty who are industry experts and our students.
It is the access to students that is the most important aspect of college and polytechnic applied research. Students gain crucial innovation literacy skills while learning to apply their technical skills to industrial contexts. As I note in my last post, the people-centred innovation skills are the essential wrapper around the technical skills gained at all levels. 

Take the example of Clear Blue Technologies, a GBC Research industry partner who is working at our Business Accelerator and Entrepreneurship Centre for green building and green energy. Clear Blue Technologies has developed an off grid, dual power (wind and solar) street light, part of their focus on  intelligent cloud-controlled street lights and security systems. Having already hired one of our graduates, the Clear Blue team works alongside our faculty and students, as well as a Ryerson University doctoral student (an example of complementarity), which amplifies  the acquisition of innovation skills for all. This is the multiplier effect that leads to an approach focused on speed to market for industry while ensuring that the students at all levels acquire innovation skills.

Again, this is about a people-centred innovation, because companies commercialize; people innovate.

05 March 2012

ACCC Applied Research Symposium highlights growth, skills for innovation

The annual ACCC Applied Research Symposium held last week in Ottawa featured excellent discussion of capacity building and the continued evolution of college/polytechnic applied research as a key enabler of the innovation economy. Seneca President David Agnew reminded the college community that we are in a lengthy development phase--and of the importance of our unflagging commitment as we chart a future path in developing the applied research layer of the Canadian innovation system. Also productive was recognition of the various tiers of  applied research taking place across the system, highlighting as it did the ways in which the college community can work together as innovation enablers--while teaching graduates essential innovation skills.

A panel on Social Science and Humanities research at Canadian colleges featured the report by Marti Jurmain and offered much that was helpful. This environmental scan shows a wealth of Humanities and Social Science (HASS) research is underway in the Canadian college system. Key here is colleges' ability to recognize where HASS exists and articulate how HASS fits into the S&T Strategy. I've made this point before in noting SSHRC President Chad Gaffield's focus on people centred innovation. It is vital for all of us engaged in research--applied or otherwise--to recognize that STEM skills alone are not enough to ensure innovation and productivity. As Christine Trauttmansdorff, Director, Policy, Planning, Governance and International at SSHRC, outlined in her address to the ACCC Symposium, understanding human thought and behaviour is essential to understanding how people innovate and how economies function, both socially and economically.

Polytechnics Canada's CEO Nobina Robinson, in a recent Research Money editorial, rightly posits that "companies commercialize; people innovate". The development of talent for the innovation economy demands a full and complete perspective on a mix of skills. A piece in today's Globe has some very good insights on this issue. The essential skills outlined by Janet Lane and Todd Hirsch are central to a fully functioning innovation economy. There is another article on skills--Business leaders cite skilled-labour shortage as priority--focusing on the shortage of skilled workers across the country. To put these two perspectives together is to gain a fuller picture of social and economic productivity in Canada.

George Brown College's strategic emphasis on "understanding employment" and our emphasis on soft skills as necessary to employment success reflect our recognition of the need for a skills-combinant approach. To understand employment is to understand the difference between what employers want and what employers need. Research GBC conducted last year emphasizes this differential (employers want higher productivity but do not value innovation; however, innovation is the surest way to achieve productivity gains). This result is in keeping with research by the OECD, Conference Board, STIC, et al., who all call for a complex mix of skills to drive innovation and productivity. The Conference Board has done some good work on the relationship of advanced skills and innovation, though its argument focuses only on university graduates and ignores the fact that Canada is first in the OECD for tertiary (post secondary) education only when colleges are included (they do point out a Japanese college connection). This is the signal opportunity of college applied research and our emphasis on innovation literacy.

Key here is understanding how to integrate essential skills most effectively in curriculum while ensuring our students graduate with the ability to articulate how essential skills/soft skills/people skills relate to their employment. That is, how best can we teach what I would call the language of innovation in order to ensure our graduates can future-proof the economy? Innovation literacy is a term that refers to the bundling of essential skills that represent the recombinant mix of skills essential for enabling the innovation economy. The skills needed for the innovation economy will be a defining feature of the years ahead.