25 June 2012

From research, through development, to innovation

McGill University's Heather Munroe-Blum offers an op-ed in today's Globe and Mail to fix Canada's ailing R&D system. While making some good points, including the need for people-centred innovation, she neglects to mention the role that Canada's colleges and polytechnics play in the applied research capacity in the country as they do in other countries. Comments left on the Globe site decry the need for more money when what is needed is the ability to focus this world-leading R&D system into industry innovation. This point is made quite well in an interview with Electrovaya's Sankar Das Gupta, which I will quote here in full:
Is there a problem with the culture of innovation in Canada?
There is a huge problem. In Canada we are No. 1 in [financing research] input. But on the output side of innovation, we are last in class. Most of the money for innovation and research goes to universities. Some policy planner figured out that universities should do the research, then companies should that take that research and commercialize it. But in reality that never works.
Universities are terrible at innovation. Ninety per cent of the research [PhD students do] is basically data collection. Innovation comes from a totally different source – people who understand the problem, and who have to solve the problem. The university guys aren’t stupid, they just don’t know what the actual problems are and how to solve them.
While overly simplistic, the point is relevant: Canada needs to enable industry/academic partnerships to flourish and have each party play to their strengths, be this basic research, applied research, or industry focused innovation. We need a better balance between the input and output sides of the innovation equation, and a focus on Public+Private Partnerships for R&D. The issue here is not to redirect focus from R&D to innovation, but rather to recognize that these are different, are complementary, and equally necessary.

21 June 2012

P3RD - Public+Private Partnerships for Research and Development

On the crowded highway of research, development and innovation, Public+Private Partnerships for R&D (P3RD) gives industry a unique avenue for accessing capital, talent, facilities and markets through the college/polytechnic applied research programs. Our focus is on speed to market and engaging our students in industry innovation. 

15 June 2012

Education, Polytechnics, Economics

This morning I came across an article with more detail on the OECD's Economic Survey of Canada that offers some keen insight into the relationship between education and economic performance, and the role of polytechnics in enhancing productivity and innovation in Canada. Dan Ovsey's Financial Post article In depth: How the OECD says Canada can fix its ‘key long-term challenge’ goes into some good detail from the report. As I noted yesterday there is good reference to education as a driver of productivity, but Ovset provides more detail from the OECD report of relevance to Canada's number 1 ranking in tertiary education with a specific focus on college and polytechnic education which I will quote here in full:

Immigration, of course, is one, but more importantly, a new emphasis needs to be placed on “tertiary education” and primarily that found in community-colleges that can offer a streamlined path to certification in skills that will be in increasingly desperate need throughout the country.

“Colleges differ from universities in that their programmes tend to be shorter in length and emphasise practical, technical and occupational training for the labour market. While colleges typically grant diplomas and certificates rather than degrees, a small but growing subset of “polytechnic” institutes has emerged that grants baccalaureate degrees and differentiates itself by its focus on applied research for industry.”

Ovsey goes on to decry the lack of credential transfers we are plagued with, though I remain optimistic that we will  address this (it is, after all, a primarily economic argument: why should a student spend money on a particular piece of a credential and not have this transferable? This is a waste of system resources.).

Key here is the credential ladders offered by polytechnics in Canada, as well as by some colleges, and the relationship to applied research with industry. On this topic, Ovsey further quotes the OECD:

“Academics should be provided with stronger incentives to produce research relevant to business needs, starting with the peer-review granting process, then sharing their IP with business through collaborative efforts and finally having some form of ownership rights over their patented inventions.”

This P3RD - the public+private partnership model for R&D - is a key area to develop in Canada. In this sense, polytechnics as innovation intermediaries are also intermediaries between education and economics, offering a bridge that celebrates instrumentality and lifelong learning.

14 June 2012

Drawers of ideas and the privilege of the a priori

The Public Policy Forum today hosted a Leadership Roundtable on Canada's Global Science, Technology and Innovation Priorities, sponsored by DFAIT, which I was fortunate to attend. The discussion was excellent and focused on how Canada can better position itself internationally to enable soft landings - both outbound and in coming - for Canadian business to realize international markets as well as to link international businesses to Canadian contexts, linking to our world-leading S&T capacity. This capacity is reflected in our leading university research facilities, our college and  polytechnic applied research capacity, and the conjoint post-secondary training ground that makes us the world leader in producing highly qualified and skilled personnel (i.e. graduates) for the innovation economy.

Greater integration of our capabilities as a country will enable us to better sell Canada as an investment destination. This is the notion of complementarity and the need to better connect the academic enterprise with industry. We can call this P3RD - the public+private partnership model for R&D. In my last post on this, P3RD: Public Private Partnerships in Research and Development, I outlined the notion of what in my title today I refer to as the privilege of the a priori:
the privileging of basic research over applied research in Canada - of the theoretical over the practical or commercialization aspects of R&D - can be read as a symptom of our collective historical identity as "hewers of wood and drawers of water". Basic research sans commercialization is just one more example of how Canada exports raw commodities (ideas) without adding value (commercialization of these ideas). To move past raw commodity exports and adding value through product design is key to Canada's future productivity, and P3RD - which the recent budget explicitly promotes - is a positive path to follow in this regard.
In this sense Canada is also a drawer of ideas - we come up with good ideas but leave it to others to commercialize. Ideas are just another basic resource that we draw from the land and export without adding value.

[Aside]I am reminded of the Roman poet Horace who, among other  things, said that the poet should put a poem away in a drawer for nine years before bringing it back to see if it is still good. Perhaps we have been too focused on the idea of putting things away (in publications) - drawing ideas, putting them away in drawers.You get the idea. Another thing Horace said is instructive to our discussion about instrumentality: "Mix pleasure and profit, and you are safe." This relates well to the need to mix the academic and industry communities - where applicable - for Canadian productivity and innovation capacity. [/Aside]

The timing of this roundtable was excellent, particularly given the OECD's release yesterday of Canada's country report. The report says that "Canada needs to boost innovation and human capital to sustain living standards," and offers more fodder to the need for Canada to increase our innovation quotient. The Economic Survey of Canada 2012 makes many good points relating to Canada's innovation capacity and economic growth, including the advice that "Greater integration of technical, business, communications and industry training within tertiary programmes could contribute to innovation and improving graduate skills." This integration exemplifies the notion of people centred innovation, and is what George Brown College and other colleges and polytechnics are doing with regards to the integration of applied research in course curricula. This leads to students acquiring innovation literacy skills that are our hedge against future innovation capacity and potential for the economy. The OECD's Canada report and the idea of better integration of these components coincides with the recent launch of the OECD Skills Strategy. This is a good resource for anyone with an interest in innovation.

All told, the roundtable ended on a very optimistic note. Canada is in a much better place now than it was five years ago with respect to the capacity we have to leverage our basic and applied R&D capacity. We are much better now at linking with industry for common goals. And we have a much more refined sense of the innovation ecosystem and the complementary roles universities, colleges and industry play in improving Canada's innovation and productivity.

11 June 2012

Welcome to Sally Horsfall Eaton, Chancellor of George Brown College

Sally M. Horsfall Eaton was installed as the inaugural Chancellor of George Brown College on Friday. In a ceremony held at Corus on Queen's Quay, Chancellor Eaton extolled George Brown College's reputation as a city builder. During her induction address Chancellor Eaton noted the strong connections between industry, community and the college that help to build social and economic prosperity. Please join the George Brown College community in welcoming our new Chancellor.

02 June 2012

Fostering entrepreneurship and growing companies

Here is a link to an article that describes a college-industry entrepreneurship model much like that which we are working on here in Canada. $1 Million Grant from Kauffman Foundation Aimed at Making Community Colleges a 'Front Door' for Entrepreneurship outlines the link between growing companies and start-ups with support from colleges. While I don't know much about the Ohio Community College entrepreneurship model, it would appear that the Ohio Innovation Fund is explicitly linking education and entrepreneurship with industry. This is the applied research model the George Brown College Research Labs is building: fostering innovation literacy in our highly qualified and skilled students, while promoting and supporting SME start-ups and company growth. The explicit linking of education with economic development is part of George Brown College's Strategy 2020 of "Understanding Employment."

Also of note, in today's Globe is an interesting article on the dearth of mid-sized companies in Canada. It's a good question, but one that perhaps does not account for the realities of global economics. At our Board fo Trade talk earlier this week, Niall Wallace and I were asked about this issue in terms of companies that grow only to be bought by the US for example. Our reply is mirrored in this Globe piece, which quotes Alexander Fernandes, CEO and founder of Avigilon Corp., who talks about the need for businesses who want to grow to have a global plan from the outset. In discussing this yesterday with a colleague and member of the GBC Innovation Advisory Board, he said that perhaps Canada should think of itself as a global business builder and incubator for companies. Getting bought is not a bad thing in this respect, as long as we can retain IP and job creation in the country. But it is an interesting idea to think of Canada as the world's business incubator, where we take good ideas and businesses with a solid innovation strategy and build them into global companies. This could just be the niche where Canada can excel.

01 June 2012

Speed to Market: How Colleges Help SMEs Turn Innovations into Income

Infonaut CEO Niall Wallace and I spoke at the Toronto Board of Trade on 30 May 2012 giving a breakfast talk on From Concept to Commercialization: How SME'S Can Turn Innovations Into Income, part of the RBC Business Advice Series: Innovation for SMEs.

It was a good overview of the value college and polytechnic applied research holds in supporting SMEs to take products to market. Our focus on applied research helps SMEs close the commercialization loop by helping take concepts from idea to invoice by providing access to the four key areas: capital, talent, facilities, markets.

Access to capital – government funding supporting college-industry applied research provides matching capital for industry to engage in innovation partnerships. 

Access to talent – this includes our talented faculty who are industry professionals (we call them dual professionals – industry experts + expert teachers) as well as our students. By engaging our students we help to train the talent needed for the innovation economy. Our industry partners get to test drive potential future employees, while ensuring that all students gain crucial innovation skills as part of their education. This is very important. Not only do students gain the technical skills inherent in their program of study, but they gain these crucial soft skills – innovation, entrepreneurial, product development, communication and team work skills essential to the innovation economy. We’ve had several students get hired in new positions created by industry partners who have worked with us. This includes Timor Sharaftinov who has been hired by Infonaut.

Access to state-of-the-art facilities  –  colleges and polytechnics have equipment and facilities SMEs need but perhaps cannot afford on their own that can be used in the various stages of applied research. Some of the GBC Research Labs facilities we offer include
  • GBC is investing in new campus facilities and infrastructure to create a business accelerator for Green Building applied research, which will help us amplify our work with industry in the construction and smart building sectors 
  • The Food Innovation Research Studio (FIRSt), in our leading Chef School, works with companies on food product development <
  • The new Waterfront Campus, a new centre of excellence for health education and community wellness in the heart of Toronto’s revitalized East Bayfront neighbourhood, will feature 22,000 sq. ft. of health care simulation spaces for applied research
Access to market  –  companies can leverage the extensive industry networks we have, which we use to introduce businesses with potential clients.

Our focus is on speed to market and helping companies to commercialize at the speed of business. At George Brown College, we are open for business innovation.