06 December 2012

Innovation, Partnerships, Productivity

The ACCT Canada conference Innovation Partnerships 2012 was held this week in Ottawa, and featured  excellent discussion on fixing Canada's lagging innovation and R&D productivity record and how innovation intermediaries can do more to foster and enhance Canadian R&D competitiveness.

I convened a panel on P3RD, on which the panelists provided some excellent discussion not only on what works in linking industry and academic R&D partnerships, but how best to measure performance over time. More on this in a minute. The P3RD panel members were as follows:
  • Drew de Kergommeaux, Director, Industrial Research Assistance Program, National Research Council Canada 
  • John Fielding, Regional Director, Business Development, Ontario Centres of Excellence 
  • Marc Nantel, Associate Vice-President - Research & Innovation, Niagara College 
  • Bert van den Berg, Director, Knowledge & Technology Transfer, Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada
The issues the panelists discussed focused on how R&D funding programs encourage public-private partnerships, wherein academic and industry work together toward innovation outcomes. The packed audience heard about NRC IRAP's planned concierge service, OCE's funding programs, examples from Niagara College's leading work on college applied research, and some notes on how best to manage performance from Bert van den Berg. The presentation file is online here.

Measuring performance is important for the community in order to adequately and effectively assess what works and what does not. Since we are stewards of public investments in increasing industry innovation capacity, we need to make sure that these investments have a return on innovation, so to speak. As such, it is important to measure the effectiveness of the many actors in the system: the funders, the innovation intermediaries, the faculty and students  and the firms we are serving with industry academic partnership program support. Key here is a logic model approach to understanding all of these actors, the inputs and outputs, and importantly the outcomes of these investments. Bert van den Berg articulated these as impacts:
  • Ultimate: economic & social benefits for citizens 
  • Intermediate: increased sales, profit, employment at firms 
  • Immediate: increased R&D, commercialization, innovation focus by firms, training of HQSP 
These are interesting to note as they are proxies in a way for the work that academic innovation intermediaries do. Our value proposition is that we give industry access to talent, facilities, markets and funding. There are two primary benefits here: students gain crucial innovation literacy skills, and firms get assistance with innovation and market entry for new products and services. Thus a good way to measure the success of George Brown College's support of industry innovation (and by extension any intermediary providing this innovation support) is through the downstream effects we have on the companies we help. This is not to say that we do not measure our own performance, but rather to see our performance and its effect through the main proxy we are here to help: students and industry. To put another way, if we do our job well, we are in the background of greater industry innovation and productivity.

At the P3RD panel we also launched the P3RD site and the mapping innovation application we have developed to assist firms in finding an academic innovation provider. Under the tagline of Putting the S&T in Start Up, the P3RD site lets firms  indicate where they are located, what kind of innovation service they are looking for, and what industry they are from. They are then taken to a map which displays providers, partners and past projects. These past projects are an online resume of past work a provider has done, giving firms an idea of the kind of projects the college, polytechnics or university has done before. We are working with Tenet Computer Group on the technology, specifically their GreenRack cloud service, with plans to further leverage their Augmundo augmented reality technology. Read more about Tenet's leading innovative technology here.

We built this as a marketing vehicle for George Brown College, but have included the ability to add any innovation provider as a way to promote the idea of a concierge service. Think of it as LavaLife for creating public-private R&D partnerships. As I mentioned earlier this year, place matters to productivity. We need to encourage innovation in firms and enable these firms to find a provider of choice, be this down the street or across the country. The P3RD application enables this. 

At the conference we demonstrated the map, including an easy to use tablet interface for adding people. Minister of State for Science and Technology the Honourable Gary Goodyear stopped by to review the P3RD Mapping Innovation application, and to learn how this can aid industry in finding an innovation service provider.
Minister of State for Science and Technology the Honourable Gary Goodyear reviews P3RD Mapping Innovation
We will continue to work on refining the P3RD application with our partners. Check back as we continue to develop the site in partnership with others.

The P3RD panelists discussed how enabling technology innovation is relatively straight forward. What is needed most by firms is business expertise. This was reflected in an excellent panel I attended on social innovation convened by SSHRC president Chad Gaffield.  The social sciences and humanities are key to fostering what Dr Gaffield calls people centred innovation. Specialists in human thought and behaviour are key to enabling the innovation economy. The panel discussed concepts related to public-private partnerships, including not for profits, that are working together to bridge academic and industry sectors. Gaffield spoke about promoting "cultures of innovation" and panelists talked about how building partnerships involves having difficult conversations to link academics with firms when the latter needs to understand how these will help them earn money. Pam Laughland of the Network for Business Sustainability (a SSHRC funded organization that and has since raised $2M in investment) works to connect research and practice to convene and shape and transform ideas to make them usable by both audiences: businesses and academics. She spoke about the need to make partners part of the problem so that there is upstream affective investment in the issues under development, particularly regarding embedding sustainability in corporate culture. This involves converting outcomes into economic language as way to translate value so that industry sees themselves as part of the picture. This is a necessary instrumentality that translates to students, who learn about how their skills translate into innovation no matter the sector they work in (private, public or not for profit). As panelist Susanne Lajoie of McGill University put it, we need to teach the skills for 21st century education. Innovation requires ability to learn in new contexts, problem solving, communication, and ability to self regulate and be self directed. These are the skills of innovation literacy.

I attended many great sessions at the Innovation Partnerships 2012 conference, and I encourage all to check out the files online, and to attend next year's event.

03 December 2012

P3RD: New online service connects industry innovators with applied research service providers

A new web service designed to give firms an easy way to find innovation service providers in Canada launches today at the ACCT Canada conference INNOVATION 2012 – Connecting R & D and Commercialization.

Public+Private Partnerships for R&D: Putting the S&T in Start Up: p3rd.ca

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 supported through industry-academic applied research programs.

We focus on speed to market and connecting innovators to R&D resources.

P3RD is your entry into Canada's applied research ecosystem. Available at p3rd.ca, it is a free online resource for industry to find an innovation support provider in community & clinical organizations, and government & academic institutes in Canada. We encourage P3RD: Public+Private Partnerships for Research and Development. We enable industry to find an innovation support provider, learn about projects and capacity, and find out more about industry-academic partnership opportunities across Canada.

It’s easy to use: Firms can indicate where they are located (using either a postal code or city name), indicate what kind of innovation service they are looking for, and what industry they are from. They are then taken to the map which displays providers, partners and past projects.

The map shows innovation support providers who are open for business innovation.

The P3RD  application allows small and medium enterprises (SMEs) to better understand how to get involved with innovation providers: Canada’s polytechnics, colleges and universities, government research labs, and other innovation intermediaries.