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.

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