23 May 2012

George Brown College hosts Minister Goodyear for CFI announcement

Minister of State for Science and Technology Gary Goodyear was at George Brown College yesterday morning to announce the winners of the Canada Foundation for Innovation College-Industry Innovation Fund. Minister Goodyear spoke about the importance of engaging industry in innovation and fostering a culture of business innovation coupled closely with our research and development infrastructure.

As our press release notes, George Brown College has received funding for the Green Homes initiative, which provides an industry-focused applied research and innovation program tightly integrated with the training of highly qualified and skilled personnel in areas such as advanced construction systems, green energy integration and computer-enabled, efficient residential buildings. The project will provide private sector partners and George Brown College students enrolled in the Centre for Construction and Engineering Technologies (CCET) programs increased opportunities to pursue applied research projects, resulting in regional economic development and workplace-readiness for students. The following organizations are involved in the Green Homes initiative: ADL Process Inc., Canadian Computer Technology Inc., Centennial Global Technology Inc., Clearsphere Consulting, Convergineering Inc., eCamion Inc., eTime Energy Inc., Green Power Solutions Holding Ltd., SMT Resarch Ltd. and Zillacomm Canada Inc.

It is industry that creates jobs and wealth. Because colleges and polytechnics are close to industry, we are ideal innovation intermediaries to help industry innovate. We help industry get new products and services to market while future-proof the talent pool for the innovation economy, graduating students with innovation literacy who, while helping industry to innovate today, ensure they are able to innovate tomorrow as well. As Nobina Robinson, CEO of Polytechnics Canada, says in the Polytechnics Canada press release, "This kind of funding strengthens the ability of Canada’s college and polytechnic sector to better serve the needs of their industry clients.”

22 May 2012

Innovation or, the week that was

Last week was a good week for innovation, with two conferences held that are good harbingers of innovation potential. Discovery 2012 as always featured a vast array of of demonstrations of innovation and innovation potential. I also had the good fortune to be part of a panel on innovation intermediaries at the annual Re$earch Money Conference on "Budget 2012: Canada's new innovation strategy for an age of austerity?". While I was only able to attend the second day of Re$earch Money, it was one of the best discussions I've seen on innovation in Canada. The panel on Implications for innovative companies was excellent, as was keynotes by
Peter Nicholson, Founding President, Canadian Council of Academies (“Disrupting Canada’s Low-Innovation Equilibrium”) and The Honorable Kevin Lynch, Vice Chair, BMO Financial (“Economic renewal, Innovation and Budgets: A Longer-term Perspective”). Next year is not to be missed.

15 May 2012

GBC Research at Discovery 2012

Join George Brown College Research and many others in Ontario's innovation system at Discovery 2012. Many of our industry partners, faculty and students are demonstrating how GBC Research helps industry close the innovation gaps, in areas as diverse as food science, green building, health promotion, and new product development.

09 May 2012

Polytechnic Education Works: Talent and Innovation for Employers

The Annual Polytechnics Canada conference concluded yesterday at Sheridan college, featuring the generation of good discussion and ideas around the conference theme Polytechnic Education Works: Talent and Innovation for Employers.

Ian Shugart, Deputy Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development Canada spoke about the need for the sharing of labour market information, and outlined HRSDC's plans for an "open government" approach to collecting and collating information on the labour market. This is a good move, and one that will enable all in the post secondary system to work together to gather relevant data on how best to respond to emerging trends. I look forward to learning more about this, and to participating. A real highlight was the panel discussion “Manufacturing Innovation & Talent: Are we going to make it?”moderated by Bert Van den Berg, Director-Knowledge and Technology Transfer, Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada. It featured Rob Atkinson, Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, Washington DC and Jayson Myers, Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters. Atkinson in particular offered some excellent insights on the differences between a science-based and engineering-based innovation culture - the former being a hallmark of the united States, and the latter of Germany. Saying that "Canada is neither the US nor Germany," Atkinson spoke about how over-investment in basic research puts a country at risk because knowledge (in the form of workers) is portable. What is needed is more investment in talent and the capacity to engage in applied research and development in higher technology (as opposed to medium or lower technology) manufacturing. The focus on short term profits has put our productivity in peril, as this is counter to investment in work force training (a major theme of the conference) and more attention to higher order manufacturing. 

The key here is a balance that is needed between basic and applied research, and science and engineering. To this we would include the people-centred innovation skills required for a fully functioning innovation economy. The discussion yesterday drew attention to this necessary combination of skills. 

My last post referred to the Economist's take on the Third Industrial Revolution, and the Globe has picked this up today as well. Elsewhere I've spoken about the need to be a price setter, not a price taker, which NSERC's van den Berg amplified during the session. The bottom line for polytechnics in Canada is that we fill a necessary void in providing both labour market support in our education and training programs, as well as innovation and applied research support to help firms be more productive. 

Another highlight of the day was the closing address by The Honourable Gary Goodyear,Minister of State for Science and Technology and Minister responsible for Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario. Minister Goodyear spoke about how "Collaboration between government, applied researchers and the private sector is vital to building an innovative economy," said Minister Goodyear. "The College and Community Innovation Program supports research collaborations between companies and colleges. It illustrates the importance our government places on creating the conditions for innovation and entrepreneurship to thrive in this country." The full press release is online here, which provides details of the colleges and polytechnics who are receiving funding under the College and Community Innovation Program. This includes two for George Brown College:
  • The Green Homes initiative, based in our Centre for Construction and Engineering Technologies, which focuses on novel building retrofit materials and methods and "Smart" building automation, sensor and control system technology development; and
  • The George Brown College Food Innovation Research Studio (FIRST), which is one of the country`s first Technology Access Centres.
Congratulations to all the winners, and in particular to the George Brown College recipients. These are all examples of how polytechnic education works, for Canadian innovation and productivity. 

07 May 2012

Polytechnics produce innovative thinkers, makers

The Polytechnics Canada annual conference is being held tomorrow at Sheridan College. The theme this year is  “Polytechnic Education Works: Talent and Innovation for Employers.” It's a fitting focus given the need for Canada to re-imagine our approach to training the talent for the innovation economy. Expert panels feature the future of manufacturing and industry+academic engagement. The conference features a closing address by The Honourable Gary Goodyear, Minister of State for Science and Technology and Minister responsible for Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario.

On manufacturing, there is a very timely piece in the Economist on The third industrial revolution, which examines what others have called the Maker Movement. This is important for Canada in that being able to make things is both an output and driver of innovation. After years of off-shoring the manufacturing of goods, the Maker Movement is giving rise to a new generation of skilled engineers and crafts people who are busying themselves with the connections between thinking, making and innovation literacy. My recent post on reindustrialization refers to the rise of Making in Britain as well. Having the capacity in-country to devise, design and deliver is essential to the health of our economy, and represents a key area where polytechnic education pays dividends.

And speaking of paying dividends from polytechnic education, George Brown College professor Leo Salemi recently led a team of talented students to a first place finish at the Canadian final of the Microsoft Imagine Cup. Read about Team Greeni on Leo's website. Their project on smart electrical consumption using the Microsoft Kinect is an example of the kind of innovation Canada needs to remain (and increase) competitiveness. Team Greeni is now off to the world finals in Sydney, Australia. Congratulations to Leo and his team: Alecsander Granger, Timur Sharaftinov, Dmitry Zhivotovsky  and Vasily Gurin.

02 May 2012

"Innovation is a team sport"

Polytechnics Canada CEO Nobina Robinson has an article in the May Policy Options that outlines this concept: innovation as a team sport requires the participation of all involved in the invention to innovation pipeline. The article gives an insider`s view of the Jenkins Panel report and compares the recommendations made by this Panel to Budget 2012 and measures to increase Canada`s innovation capacity.

Robinson points out many salient points on what Canada needs in an innovation strategy, including a reference to our reliance on natural resources that some see as creating complacency. This point is picked up by Alan Bernstein, new head of the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research, in an interview in today's Globe and Mail. As I've pointed out, this reliance has led to Canada under emphasizing innovation (applying research to the world) - we see basic research and the production of ideas as one more raw commodity to be exported. We need to add value here in Canada and create a virtuous circle where basic research feeds into applied research that then feeds into business innovation, giving rise to more basic science. Alan Berstein puts this very well: "In Canada, our scientists, engineers and scholars are as good as anyone in creating new knowledge. But, unlike their counterparts in the U.S., they haven't been trained to create companies or new products. We need to develop entrepreneurs and venture capital investors that are as good as their counterparts in the Canadian oil and mining sectors." To Nobina Robinson's point, we need "an innovation strategy that shifts our thinking
to 'demand-driven innovation'" wherein basic science sees itself not in opposition to business innovation, but as a conduit for its realization.

A related postscript: Amanda Lang's op-ed "Why we need to teach our kids how to fail" raises important issues about the need to teach failure. This should be required reading for anyone involved in teaching, learning, research and innovation. Fail fast; learn quickly.