07 December 2013

FEDDEV launches new programs to support innovation, productivity

The Honourable Gary Goodyear, Minister of State for the Federal Economic Development Agency of Southern Ontario on Friday announced a suite of new funding programs that will support innovation and productivity in the region. The Southern Ontario Prosperity Initiatives (SOPIs) are four programs designed to create and grow businesses, and foster public-private R&D partnerships & resilient regional economies.

These new funding instruments - totalling $530M - will go a long way to support private sector innovation, as enabled by innovation intermediaries in southern Ontario. Applications are available on the FedDev website, within funding to start in April of 2014.

FedDev Ontario has funded many important and innovative initiatives in the region.  George Brown College has participated in two FedDev funded initiatives: The Connected Health and Wellness Program and the Green Building Centre. Minister Goodyear was at George Brown College's Waterfront campus at our recent Applied Research Day to celebrate the Connected Health Wellness Project, where we sampled some of the recipes our Chef School students have developed in support of this innovative project.

The Green Building Centre, which features a new building and expanded applied research capacity, is already helping many entrepreneurs to access the talent, facilities, market and networks at GBC. One such success story is Garden Connections, who access our new Building Information Modelling Studio to create new market opportunities. Read "The business of beautiful: Gardens in the sky," a story about how the Green Building Centre helped landscape architect Fred Hann usher in the future of building.

This is just one of many success stories enabled by FedDev Ontario.

02 December 2013

NRC launches concierge service

The Honourable Greg Rickford, Minister of State for Science and Technology, today announced the launch of the much anticipated National Research Council's concierge service. The concierge service is a one stop shop approach to enabling firms to access government programs, and was a key recommendation of the Jenkins Panel. As the NRC completes its transformation into a Research Technology Organization, elements such as the credit note voucher (launched in Budget 2013) and the concierge service will go a long way toward enabling firms to innovate by accessing a single point of contact for referrals and "warm handoffs" among partners who act as innovation intermediaries.

Our common goal is enabling firms to access support for innovation, and a service such as the NRC will deliver will add significantly to our collective ability to marshal the right support, at the right time. We have been working on a similar portal into the college applied research system - the P3RD site. Public-Private Partnerships for R&D are imperative to releasing the untapped potential latent in our polytechnic and college applied research facilities across the country. Linking our world leading scientists, our polytechnic and college applied research capacity, and firms requiring innovation support will boost overall productivity. P3RD provides a map based interface that connects firms by geography, industry sector, and assistance required. Matching services like P3RD will plug into the concierge service, giving all innovation system agents access to information about the capacity that exists to serve the needs of firms.

The concierge service is a very timely addition to the innovation system in Canada. Minister Rickford spoke at the recent Polytechnics Canada Student Applied Research Showcase, where he reinforced the value of connecting firms with the applied research services we offer. As Minister Rickford put it: "Colleges also play a leading role in performing applied research that leads to economic growth and high-quality jobs. Applied research equips students with the positive work experience and entrepreneurial skills needed in today’s knowledge economy. Small businesses that partner with colleges are often the primary drivers of the economy in their communities, bringing more innovative products to market faster."

By linking firms with the talent, technology and networks we help these firms innovate, while enabling students to acquire innovation literacy. We look forward to working with our colleagues at the NRC as the concierge system rolls out, and ensuring firms can get the kinds of supports needed to boost Canadian innovation and productivity.

15 November 2013

Innovation is a behaviour

The eighth annual Polytechnics Canada Student Applied Research Showcase was convened this week at SAIT Polytechnic, and featured some really outstanding presentations from students from each of the 11 members. GBC mechanical engineering design student John-Allan Ellingson took second place in the competition - congratulations John-Allan! John-Allan presented his work with SOS Customer Service on an innovative crane for lifting curtain walls into place. See a video of the project here.

The event was presented by Cisco, and SAIT did a truly outstanding job of hosting, with many innovative features in the program, including an RFID real time location system for the gala dinner seating.

The event was opened with keynote speeches by The Honourable Greg Rickford, Minister of State for Science and Technology, and The Honourable Michelle Rempel, Minister of State for Western Economic Diversification. Ministers Rickford and Rempel both spoke about the importance of college and polytechnic applied research as linked to skills, a theme picked up by the Honourable Jason Kenney, Minister of Employment and Social Development and Minister for Multiculturalism, in his keynote address.

This connection - between focused applied research and innovation skills acquisition and demonstration by our students - is the hallmark of polytechnic applied research. My recent article in the online journal Technology Innovation Management Review - Measuring Innovation Skills Acquired by College and Polytechnic Students through Applied Research - makes these connections, as part of work we are doing to measure outcomes and innovation literacy. Research Money also published a short opinion piece on this topic. Supply and demand in the innovation economy is available on the R$ website.

One of the speakers from the gala - there were five in a series of short speeches on the value of innovation in  variety of contexts - spoke about how innovation is not an end in and of itself, but that innovation is a behaviour. This is a really strong point - the demonstration of innovation literacy - the skills of innovation and entrepreneurship - models the kind of behaviour needed for a strong, resilient and productive economy. Seeing the students from the 11 polytechnics showed all that the future is a more innovative place when these are the kinds of graduates who enter the workforce running.

It is events like these that really showcase the value of innovation skills to our industry partners. Kudos to SAIT for putting on an excellent show, and for raising the bar on the ability of our members to show the world what innovation looks like.

10 November 2013

Polytechnics Canada Convenes Applied Research Showcase this week at SAIT

The Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT) this week is the host for the annual Polytechnics Canada Applied Research Showcase.

The event is presented by CISCO, and the theme of this year is "Innovation: Going the Distance."
Featured speakers at this year's event include The Honourable Greg Rickford, Minister of State for Science and Technology, The Honourable Jason Kenney, Minister of Employment and Social Development and Minister for Multiculturalism, and The Honourable Michelle Rempel, Minister of State for Western Economic Diversification.

Other highlights include 11 student competing teams, Janet Walden the President of NSERC, and an outstanding set of college leaders in industry innovation. The focus is on college-university-industry collaboration as a go forward priority, and a demonstration of how complementary innovation intermediaries can work together to create jobs and wealth in the economy, all while equipping students with the innovation skills needed to foster created productivity in the economy.

Polytechnics Canada: Propelling business innovation; Creating jobs for tomorrow.

07 November 2013

Skills, Education and the Innovation Economy

The Conference Board of Canada is convening Skills and Post-Secondary Education Summit 2013: Developing the Talent We Need for a Competitive Nation yesterday and today. The agenda yesterday featured some excellent discussions, particularly international examples of education as linked explicitly to the needs of the economy. Finland, Germany, Switzerland, the UK and Australia were featured, and some strong themes emerged. These include educational instrumentality - these countries have not been afraid to be explicit in directing the aims of education to the needs of the economy, nor in streaming students at a young age into particular programs. This includes the tactical acquisition of specific skills as well as strategic social skills for citizenship.

The approach by these countries is an approach that contrasts to the Canadian system - or rather systems - in which we have a strong college and polytechnic sector explicitly linked to the needs of the economy, and a university sector that is not so much (other than professional faculties). This is changing, and I am glad to see the universities start to pay attention to the need to define and articulate what skills students emerge with from any program. BUt our somewhat libertarian view in Canada is defined by a bias toward a degree as being the sole ticket to social and economic prosperity, and we seem disinclined to tell anyone that there are other, often better options, commensurate with skill and aptitude.

We err when we focus specifically on a university degree as the main driver of skills, a point made in some of the media at the summit. Of course a university degree is a good thing - as is a college or polytechnic degree, apprenticeship ticket, diploma, or graduate certificate. When we focus only on degrees we ignore the reality that these are not always connected to the economy - nor should they always be. But a focus on degrees, as evident in some of the program material, is at odds with the concomitant focus on the skilled trades, as well as the gamut of credentials that are directly plugged into the needs of the economy. In short, we have a supply side system, when what we need is a demand driven model. If this sounds familiar, it is: this is exactly the issue the Council of Canadian Academies report "Paradox Lost" states we have with our approach to R&D.

What we in Canada need is a more balanced approach to demand driven economy (for both education and research), as well as an explicit recognition (as in Australia among others) that socio-economic balance is lost when a country is weighted too far on supply.  For our part, we would do well to speak about the credentials needed for a given occupation, rather than simply focus on bland statements like a degree being the pathway to success. I've made this point before, and it bears repeating, for we do ourselves a disservice when we pander to simple ideology around the supply of credentials when this is dislocated from demand and the means of production in the economy.

Australia has a demand driven model including a national accreditation and quality framework that shows how credential work together. The Swiss model, like the German and the Finnish models, is highly prescriptive and instrumental, but is also defined by a "high degree of permeability," meaning that even when students are streamed at a young age into particular programs, there is the ability for mobility throughout credentials, occupations and life spans.

Of particular note is Finland, with its "human-centric, equal opportunity" model that is focused on practice-based and open innovation. The Finns seem to have figured out that practice-based innovation accounts for 96% of economic growth, with science and technology innovation the other 4%, according to the EU. They strive for a balance between knowing, acting and being - all of these EU countries focus on a balance between professional skills and citizenship and life skills. Education and research are closely coupled with industry, have well defined occupation specific skills sets, link well with industry sector councils, connect to international contexts, and are oriented toward strong citizenship and civic participation.

Last month the online journal Technology Innovation Management Review published an article I wrote on Measuring Innovation Skills Acquired by College and Polytechnic Students through Applied Research. The piece is based on the work many of us in the applied research sector are engaged in, and articulates a way to measure outcomes related to our support of business innovation through applied research. The focus here is on skills, and linking these explicitly to the activities of applied research, with potential downstream effects in firms that are supported by college and polytechnic applied research, but also those that employ graduates with innovation literacy. Our team is working on this as part of a larger project; watch this space for more in the months to come.

02 November 2013

This is what applied research looks like

On 25 October over 150 staff, faculty, students and industry partners gathered at George Brown College to celebrate applied research. A highlight of the day was a visit from the Honourable Gary Goodyear, Minister of State for the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario (FedDev Ontario). Minister Goodyear was on hand to celebrate the Connected Health and Wellness Project, on which GBC is a partner, and which is funded by FedDev Ontario.

The theme of the day was cross pollination, and it was a day of celebration not only for applied research here at George Brown, but in Canada at large, as we stand at a cross-roads of innovation.

This innovation is not possible without the kind of collaboration that was explored on the day: bringing together students, faculty and industry together to create new ideas and innovations.

Cross pollination means looking at the intersections of disciplines. There was great discussion throughout the day on the ways in which students and faculty from across many departments at GBC work together to help our partners innovate.

Cross pollination means bringing our incredible talent in our faculty, staff and students to bear on the challenges our industry and community partners face.

Cross pollination means the intersection of technical and innovation skills our students gain as a result of working with partners on applied research. These innovation skills (innovation literacy) will help our partners to realize innovation goals, and help our graduates add value to their future work places.

The day featured several panel discussions on Partnerships; Enabling the Innovation Economy; and Preparing Diverse Learners for Job Success:

Moderated by Miriam Tuerk, Co-Founder and COO, Clear Blue Technologies | Panelists: Carlos Paz-Soldan, Tenet Computer Group | Rami Alhamad, PUSH Technologies | Diana Facchini, Business Development, George Brown College  (Health Sciences) | Colin Furness, Infonaut Inc. 

Enabling the Innovation Economy
Moderated by professor Gary Hoyer, Centre for Hospitality and Culinary Arts | Panelists: Alan Majer, Good Robot | Sam Zhang, Good Robot | Iris Epstein, Professor (George Brown School of Nursing) | Winnie Chiu, Director (FIRSt) | Kimberly Lugsdin, Kimberley’s Own | Fred Hann, CEO (Garden Connections) | Clint Kissoon, George Brown School of Architecture 

Preparing Diverse Learners for Job Success
 Moderated by professor Tyler Krimmel, Centre for Construction & Engineering Technologies | Panelists: Steffanie Adams, GBC ARGILE | Miyoko Oikawa, GBC ARGILE | Jamie McIntyre, CCET Professor | Elliot Carney-Killiam | Robert Sgrignoli 

Ted Hewitt, Executive Vice President of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, gave an address on How SSHRC supports college research and talent. and Dr. Uwe Erb , Professor, Department of Materials Science and Engineering, University of Toronto, gave a keynote talk on transforming science ideas into market realities.

Minister Goodyear's appearance was a highlight of the event, who spoke about the importance of the Connected Health and Wellness Project, and the role that the college is playing in enhancing innovation on the project. Minister Goodyear also presented Student Innovation Awards, presented to students nominated by their professors. More on this, including pictures and videos, will be posted in the days to come. 

The Chef School students who worked on the recipes for the Connected Health and Wellness Project, under the tutelage of GBC professors Chef James Smith and Chef Tim Belanger, really stole the show. They presented three of the many recipe videos produced in GBC's Health eHome, and there were many recipes for the attendees to sample. As Minister Goodyear quipped: this is what applied research tastes like

Thank you to all who attended, and to all who make college and polytechnic applied research the success it is.

17 October 2013

Science, Technology, Innovation

Yesterday's Speech from the Throne  included many items of relevance to the post secondary education community: experiential learning, apprenticeship and skills, credit transfer across provincial boundaries, and importantly, the updated S&T Strategy, due out in the coming months. This is notable for a subtle shift in language: the new document is a Science, Technology and Innovation Strategy. The inclusion of innovation signals a move toward a more inclusive approach to the full spectrum of S&T or R&D: basic, applied research through to experimental development and market entry (c.f. innovation).

This does not come as  surprise to anyone in the sector. As I pointed out yesterday, the Council of Canadian Academies' recent summary on how research can better be connected to innovation (i.e. making money from the fruits of R&D labour) makes explicit the need to better connect supply and demand in the R&D space. This is not to say that our world leading basic research institutions are not productive - far from it. As the CCA report The State of Science and Technology in Canada 2012 outlines, Canada punches far above our weight in terms of our track record on publications: "Canadian science and technology is healthy and growing in both output and impact. With less than 0.5 per cent of the world’s population, Canada produces 4.1 per cent of the world’s research papers and nearly 5 per cent of the world’s most frequently cited papers." This is something to be very proud of.

But as everyone knows, we are not good at applied research or the innovation side of the spectrum. While it is true we have strong pockets of applied research, notably in our university engineering departments and in the college and polytechnic sectors, the latter who focus on industry applied research, more work is needed to ensure more of our basic research leads to Canadian industrial productivity, not just academic productivity.

Alex Usher explores the differences between basic and applied research in his daily column today. He offers some good thoughts relevant to the innovation spectrum discussion. He also provides a link to a very interesting HBR article on the DARPA model of research and innovation. The DARPA model is well worth the read, as the authors cite three operating principles of the storied agency: Ambitious goals, Temporary project teams, and Independence. In reading this it occurred to me that one of the issues we have in Canada is the lack of the second point - that is, we do not orient ourselves toward temporary measures, instead preferring to set up large institutions around which we cohere our R&D and innovation policies. It also occurs to me that this point is connected to the fact that one third of the Canadian population works for some form of government - a high percentage by international standards. We seek security and stability (not such a bad thing, really), but in so doing run the risk of being risk averse.

The point that I want to make is that there may be a direct link between our need for security and this oft-cited risk aversion we purportedly possess. More to the point, an independent-ish agency like DARPA, with its temporary assignments and audacious goals, has a model that looks to harness the best and brightest for almost ad hoc work with relatively short event horizons, thus producing a highly mobile and extemporaneous approach to projects that embrace failure and iteration, as well as uncertainty (i.e. no job security within DARPA itself).

I'm making a lot of assumptions here, but I think there is a connection to be made between our model of institutionalizing the R&D&I enterprise and a relative inability to be flexible and to embrace innovation more fully. This is coupled, of course, with a lack of instrumentality in connecting the ends of basic research to the means of production, as I have pointed out before. Therein lies the paradox of Canadian research.

16 October 2013

The paradox of Canadian research

The Council of Canadian Academies recently released an overview of the Canadian R&D and innovation,
Paradox Lost: Explaining Canada’s Research Strength and Innovation Weakness. The report is a summation of successive expert panels on the state of R&D and innovation capacity, and the result is best summed up by the view that Canada suffers from "demand-side problems for which supply-side solutions continue to be proposed." What this means is that we have a systematic failure in this country to capitalize on the excellent basic research capacity we possess in our world leading research institutions. This failure is two-fold: we do not commercialize inventions effectively, nor does our industry invest in R&D and innovation, thereby offering a poor receptor to the outputs of academic excellence.

The issues that arise in the CCA analysis are given a good treatment in Richard Hawkins's Institute for
Science, Society and Policy paper Looking at Innovation from a Uniquely Canadian Perspective. Hawkins provides one of the more cogent reviews of why we as a country are not advancing innovation to the extent many feel we should be. His analysis includes the relative terms under which the innovation policies of OECD countries are keeping pace with each other, but also in that we have ICT related measurements when we should be looking elsewhere for our yardstick. Specifically, Hawkins says we are yearning to be a knowledge based economy, when in reality we are a resource extraction and a knowledge based economy. This is a subtle yet important distinction that relates to the supply-demand disruption that the CCA report informs. 

This reinforces a point I've made a few times, and most recently in commenting on CCA's State of Industrial R&D report: when the production of new knowledge is dislocated from the means of production in the economy, then we have the kind of innovation malaise that Canada is plagued by.

Not all research needs to be oriented toward a practical outcome, but better science policy is needed to ensure that where applicable our world leading basic research can be effectively channeled into the market. This needs to be coupled with industrial policy whereby industry does a better job of investing in the trifecta of industrial productivity: investments in R&D, education and training, and new technology.

I am looking forward to discussing these important issues at the upcoming Science and Society 2013 conference at the University of Ottawa. There is an exciting agenda for the conference, and I'll be on a panel discussing "The Future of Fundamental Research in Canada."  In addressing the conference theme question of How can we understand and improve the interplay between science and society, and improve science policies for the future?, I will be speaking speak to concepts related to going From Ideas to Innovation: The Role of Colleges and Polytechnics is Supporting Canadian Applied Research.

02 October 2013

Toronto Vital Signs 2013 launched - going from analog to digital

Rahul Bhardwaj, president and CEO of the Toronto Community Foundation, yesterday launched the release of the 2013 Toronto Vital Signs report. The report offers an excellent look in the Toronto region and the basis for our future prosperity. This year's theme, "Reboot the logic, please," shows why Toronto is the fourth ranked most livable city in the world, but warns there is work to be done to ensure we continue our leadership position. There are issues to deal with - transit, housing, employment - that requires us to reboot our approaches. In the opening message, Bhardwaj states: "Yes, this logic reboot carries risk. But the real peril lies in staying the course. If we opt for the status quo, we risk becoming analog players in a digital world – left behind as a city of the past."

A compelling metaphor, and one germane to many aspects of the Canadian experience. Read the report; it's a good look at the drivers for social and economic prosperity.

George Brown College is the Lead Research Partner and a proud partner in the report.

30 September 2013

SSHRC launches Imagining Canada's Future

I was very pleased to attend the launch event last Thursday of SSHRC's Imagining Canada's Future. This initiative is SSHRC's bold move at defining the future challenge areas that humanities and social science researchers have determined are the most pressing for the country. As SSHRC President Chad Gaffield has opined, the future is about people, and a people-centred innovation approach is essential for Canada to compete globally.

Here, from SSHRC's website, are the six future challenge areas:
Each future challenge area question has sub-questions that will help propel Canadian humanities and social science research well into the 21st century.  As a member of the SSHRC Programs and Quality Committee, I am extremely proud to have been a part of the process of developing this forward looking, provocative, and important work.

SSHRC has produced an excellent video on the Future challenge areas - check it out here.

19 September 2013

GBC Research at the Toronto Mini Maker Faire

George Brown College Research & Innovation is one of the sponsors of the Toronto Mini Maker Faire, being held 21-23 September at Wychwood Barns. The Maker Faire, created by Make magazine, is an event designed to "celebrate arts, crafts, engineering, science projects and the Do-It-Yourself mindset". Professor Jamie McIntyre, who leads GBC's Advanced Prototyping Lab, will be there with our mechanical engineering design students showcasing the things we “make” here at GBC.

The Maker movement and its relationship to advanced manufacturing has been gaining steam for a few years now. The relationship of our industrial capacity to design and make things is made easier with the advent of prototyping tools such as 3D printers, tool libraries, and the community cohering on the Internet that focuses on making represents the advent of the next industrial revolution. Or, as Thomas Friedman put it recently, "When complexity is free" and you can crowdsource ideas and rapidly iterate prototypes on their way to market, we have a much shorter time from idea to innovation. This is good for a participatory innovation, and has parallels in our basic through to applied research continuum. While many ideas take time to come to fruition, collapsing this time when and where appropriate across all industries and sectors is one way Canada can gain competitiveness.

30 August 2013

CCA releases the State of Industrial R&D report

The Council of Canadian Academies has released its report on the State of Industrial R&D (IR&D). The report is a complement to the CCA's State of S&T in Canada, 2012, of which I was a member of the expert panel, and as such I've been awaiting this report. Along with other reports such as the Jenkins Panel report and the CCA's Innovation Impacts (among other excellent reports on S&T and related phenomena), these two taken together provide a good picture of all that is working well and not in Canadian research, development and innovation.

There are very few surprises in the report on IR&D. We see more evidence that Canadian industry does not perform much R&D compared to our international counterparts, and compared to our public R&D. This is old news. George Brown' College's report Toronto Next: Return on Innovation provided a snapshot of industry's lackluster approach to R&D and innovation, namely that over half of those businesses we surveyed said it is the responsibility of government for innovation. Coupled with the overall weak investment in new technologies and training for employees, it is not surprising that the State of IR&D is dismal.

I was pleased to see the expert panel on IR&D conduct an analysis of the alignment between public S&T (HERD), industrial R&D (BERD), and economic strength. No surprise here either: there isn't much. There is a good discussion on the different incentives inherent in the public and private sectors. For a look at the stark difference between the US and Canada, turn to page 143, where we see two juxtaposed quotations. The first, from the US, states: "the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (2012) argued that university research can 'benefit the Nation only insofar as these accomplishments are effectively coupled to the needs of a strong private sector.'" Second, we hear from Marcel Côté and Roger Miller, who say that "Universities are generally concerned by the lack of connections between professional research and economic development in the surrounding region. They should not be." The value of universities is in preparing HQSP and creating new knowledge. Both true. But when the production of new knowledge is dislocated from the mean of production in the economy, then we have the kind of innovation malaise that Canada is plagued by.

There is no easy fix here, and I am not suggesting that all basic research be tied to economic imperatives. But the State of IR&D is a wake up call for all of us involved in promoting better productivity through research - both basic and applied -  to do a better job of linking our world leading S&T capacity to what Canadian industry can capitalize on. Or, we continue to be complacent with our role as hewers of wood, drawers of water, and producers of ideas for others to commercialize. Either way, let's get serious about connecting public policy, S&T capacity, and firm productivity and innovation.

20 August 2013

The future of Canadian innovation

It's been quite a summer for Canadian innovation. By this I mean the incipient dissolution of Blackberry, which seems to be headed for a rather uncertain fate. A recent Globe article, If BlackBerry is sold, Canada faces an innovation vacuum, underscores the importance of Blackberry to the Canadian innovation landscape. It also reinforces a point I've made repeatedly - as others have - about Canada's lagging industry R&D spending being one of the main drags on the innovation economy.

A couple of months ago I got a new phone and I chose the Blackberry Z10. By all accounts it's a good product - a tad derivative in its form factor perhaps, but all told a pretty solid and reliable phone. The problem is, as many have pointed out, it is too late. As some tell it, Blackberry missed the concept of user experience and the ecosystem of apps that Apple and Android have encouraged. Regardless, if Blackberry isn't revived it doesn't augur well for Canadian technology companies. Or does it? Perhaps this will reinforce the value of failure and spur others on to greater heights.

The federal government and here in Ontario the provincial government have launched industry innovation vouchers as a way to get industry engaged in R&D. College, polytechnics, even universities now are open for business innovation. This is a good thing. We need to explicitly link the talent, facilities and networks latent in our world leading public R&D institutions to the needs of industry. Some will decry this as the corporatization of education, of meddling with the sanctity of science, of an impending zombie apocalypse. Do not listen to these people, for they fear the future and live in the past. We need good science, unfettered by practical concerns. We also need good science, inextricably linked to practical concerns.

It's time to get past our either|or libertarianism and realize that we do not just have rights on the present, but we have responsibility for the future. I'm optimistic about this future - with or without Blackberry.

02 July 2013

The polytechnic moment

It's fitting on the day after Canada Day that we turn to a discussion of Ken Coates' excellent article This is Canada’s polytechnic moment. Coates gave a spirited presentation at the recent Polytechnics Canada annual conference, and he picks up many of the ideas in the Globe article.Of interest to me is the focus not only on the needs of Canadian industry (in order to be more innovative and productive) but also the needs of today's learners. In addition, the call for greater cooperation among all actors in the post-secondary education space is important. The applied nature of our programs, our focus on working with industry on education and applied research, and in ensuring our graduates have the necessary technical and innovation skills for today and tomorrow are hallmarks of the polytechnic advantage.

The article is timely, given the recent release of the OECD's Education at a Glance 2013. Canada once again is at the top of the world in terms of post-secondary education attainment. The Globe's James Bradshaw outlines the reason for this is because High number of college graduates lowers Canada's youth unemployment, OECD report says. The OECD report contains a lot of information and variables, but the overall statistics are good in terms of attainment, not so good in terms of cost and funding. But a key take away, and relative top the Coates piece, is that there is a real need for the kind of education that Canadian polytechnics provide. This is complementary to that which is provided by colleges and universities across the country.

And so at a time when Canadians tend to reflect on the value of working together, it is timely to think of education in this way, with all parts contributing to a whole greater than the sum of its parts.

05 June 2013

Intelligent Communities

The annual I-Canada Intelligent Communities Summit was convened at the George Brown College Waterfront campus these past two days, featuring some excellent discussion on the nature of smart cities and how they enable greater productivity and citizen engagement. GBC President Anne Sado opened the second day of the summit, referring to college graduates who gain innovation literacy are key to the future of resilient and innovative communities because their skills enable them to promote "change they generate, versus change they just react to." This is an important point relating to the value of experiential learning and our role as enablers of the innovation economy.

Highlights included discussion on public safety, civic governance, and on day two a panel discussion on mobile technology, launched with a keynote by OCADU President Sara Diamond who talked about the results of the Taking Ontario Mobile report put out by the Mobile Experience Innovation Centre. I was part of a panel on health as enabled by intelligent networks. The panel was moderated by Cisco-s Rick Huijbregts, and included a discussion about the need for decision making and governance by ETC's Jim Gragtmans, Tridel's CIO Ted Maulucci, who spoke about the need to accelerate the physical build of infrastructure to enable health, such as in seniors' centres and other consumer oriented health contexts, and GBC Research partner Tenet Computer Group's Carlos Paz-Soldan, who spoke about GreenRack and Augmundo, technologies that enable real time and location based access to health care information. Cisco had a mobile health unit on display that showcased technology that can enable community health care linked to providers via Internet technologies. All in all a lot of impressive demos and discussion about how a future world of intelligent infrastructure (read: Internet technologies to enable living and working) can lead to improved outcomes: social, economic, and health.

The summit continues over the next two days in New York.

30 May 2013

On Discovery, and Making Manufacturing

The Ontario Centres of Excellence hosted the annual OCE Discovery conference earlier this week, featuring those involved in the Ontario innovation ecosystem. GBC Research was there showcasing our own centres of excellence: the Food Innovation Research Studio (FIRSt), the Green Building Centre, and our Advanced Prototyping Labs. An opening keynote by Peter Diamandis, founder of the X Prize, was instructive as much for his points on what he calls "exponential technology" and "crowd sourcing genius" as for the fact that the underlying message was that it is the private sector, not the public, that needs to lead innovation. Public-Private R&D partnerships matter (c.f. P3RD), but it is the private sector that must drive commercialization. This is the essential idea of customer focused innovation. Diamandis talked about how "humans are a linear thinking" but that "technology is exponential," and "The difference between these is either disruptive stress or disruptive opportunity." This differential between stress and opportunity is a pharmakon: a remedy for what ails us, or a further poison to our well of productivity.

Which brings me to making things.

An article in today's Report on Business features a lesson from Germany's manufacturing, and what Canada can learn from this is to re-imagine and rebuild our capacity to make things. Germany shows that making things still pays outlines key points in improving productivity, including partnerships between academic and industry and a sound manufacturing foundation. I've written before about the capacity for making and manufacturing, and the college and polytechnic capacity for building and making makers is a distinguishing feature of our approach to innovation literacy. We will be featuring our Advanced Prototyping Lab capacity at an upcoming industry networking event. Join us to Meet your Maker.

Meet your Maker industry networking event flyer

23 May 2013

FIRSt celebrates First Anniversary

A crowd of industry, students and GBC FIRSt and Chef School faculty and staff were on hand yesterday to celebrate the FIRSt anniversary - one year since the Food Innovation and Research Studio (FIRSt) was launched as one of NSERC's first Technology Access Centres. The event featured FIRSt industry applied research partners showcasing the products developed in the region's leading culinary research studio.

Entrepreneur and George Brown College Graduate Chef Christine Cushing delivered a keynote address that celebrated the work of FIRSt in supporting entrepreneurs and innovators, as she discussed “Bridging the Gap Between Idea and Commercial Product.” Chef Cushing inspired the audience with her stories of taking products from idea to invoice, and spoke about how FIRSt can help re-risk the long road to successful product launch. Also featured was Steve Peters, Executive Director, Alliance of Ontario Food Processors (AOFP), who talked about “The Importance of Food and Beverage Processing in the Ontario Economy.” GBC President Anne Sado and Dean of Hospitality and Culinary Arts Lorraine Trotter talked about the importance of applied research as linked to industry innovation and student experiential learning.

Most inspiring were the partners who displayed their products and stories, accompanied by students in our chef and culinary nutrition management programs. All in all the event was a recipe for successful business innovation, as linked to training the next generation of innovators ad entrepreneurs in the important food and beverage sectors. Please take a moment to learn more about our partners featured at the event:

And so it was timely to read in today's Globe and Mail a piece by economist Todd Hirsch, who offered "A rave review for the restaurant industry" and a good overview of the economic importance of the sector and the transferable skills learned through this important work. It links very well with the Toronto Region Board of Trade's cluster strategy on the food and beverage industries as well. This all bodes well for promoting industry innovation in the region.

Visit the Food Innovation and Research Studio. Follow us on Twitter @GBCFIRSt, and #askGBCFIRSt to learn how we can help support your food product development needs. Check out this video to learn more about FIRSt.

15 May 2013

On science and society

News last week about the retooling of the National Research Council into a Research Technology Organisation (RTO) has drawn some predictable hand wringing about the state of science funding in Canada. News reports are rife with pundits ready to pile on the negative criticism about the change, saying this represents a dire time for Canada and the capacity of our scientists to engage in "pure" research, unsullied by concern over the market or for applied research. I wish to offer some ideologically neutral and agnostic points to refute this point.

First of all, I put "pure" research in scare quotes because it is a bad term to use. It seems to imply that applied research is somehow unpure. I doubt this is what those who use the term intend, but if we accept that language constitutes reality then labels matter. I've made the point before that in the world of "pure" versus Other research, ideas are just another raw resource that we export out (publish) to the detriment of future application (patent, to use a simplistic bifurcation). This is linked to our history as a resource extraction economy.

I much prefer how the OECD's Frascati Manual defines a typology of research: Basic, Applied, and Experimental Development:
Basic research is experimental or theoretical work undertaken primarily to acquire new knowledge of the underlying foundation of phenomena and observable facts, without any particular application or use in view. Applied research is also original investigation undertaken in order to acquire new knowledge. It is, however, directed primarily towards a specific practical aim or objective. Experimental development is systematic work, drawing on existing knowledge gained from research and/or practical experience, which is directed to producing new materials, products or devices, to installing new processes, systems and services, or to improving substantially those already produced or installed. (2.1.64)
Second, as Alex Usher has pointed out, the delineation between basic and applied research is a relatively recent phenomenon. Usher shows that the arguments around these terms are a false dichotomy that distorts along ideological lines that seem to line up with being either for or against business.

I've made the point many times before: not all research need have commercial or immediate applications. We need a strong discovery pipeline of basic research. But we also need to do two things often ignored in the current debate: turn our best and brightest minds to the problems of today and tomorrow, and make sure that when we do invent something we capitalize on it in Canada, rather than export the idea to buy back the product. Failure of these points will relegate Canada to further innovation deficit.

Here's a story about the McMaster University Biointerfaces Institute that shows that academic units can in fact work with industry. Instructive is the closing quotation from the Institutes's director: "'We’re operating this in a very different way from what a typical graduate student would see in a standard academic lab,' Dr. Brennan says. 'When students leave this place and end up going off into industry they’re going to be incredibly well trained.'"

This is the real point about encouraging greater academic-industry collaboration: creating more meaningful learning and potential for downstream innovation and productivity in the economy - including the economies of science and technology - by engaging students and industry. We must train all students to think about how industry works and about industry innovation. We need the entire population to have innovation literacy.

Even if we ignore for the moment the fact that Canada has the single worst record in the OECD for commercializing IP emerging from our world leading university research, and even if we ignore the fact that we educate more of our population to tertiary levels that any other OECD country yet we lag seriously in innovation and  productivity performance, and that we lead the G8 and are fourth in the world for HERD yet 16th for BERD, we are still left with the need to foster greater firm-level innovation in order to lift our moribund productivity. Actually, let's not ignore these points. Rather, we need to correct these issues. Orienting the NRC to aiding businesses to conduct more and better R&D in Canada is a good thing for the country. Encouraging our scientists, humanists and engineers to orient themselves to solving the problems of the day is a good thing. For when we engage all students in innovation - from basic to applied research and experimental development - we foster innovation literacy across the entire economy (science, technology, commerce) while we help to create made in Canada innovation. The transition of the NRC to an RTO is a positive step forward in helping Canada realize our S&T potential and the potential of our firms to be more than just a branch plant economy.

10 May 2013

Polytechnics Canada promotes education, innovation for the specialist economy

The annual Polytechnics Canada conference was convened this week at the waterfront campus of George Brown College, and featured some excellent and provoking ideas and discussion around the polytechnic model of education.The Honourable Brad Duguid, Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities, Government of Ontario opened the day by welcoming the delegates and emphasizing the importance of how the applied education we specialize in delivering is highly valued by employers and the province.

Alex Usher of Higher Education Strategy Associates then convened a panel of international experts to kick off the discussion about trends in polytechnic education and applied research. The panel featured Dr. Thomas Deissinger, Business & Economics Education Chair at University of Konstanz, Germany, Dr. Vuokko Kohtamaki, Senior Researcher at Tampere University of Technology, Finland, and Dr. James Jacobs, President of Macomb Community College, U.S.A. We learned much about the European system that fosters greater mobility of highly qualified and skilled personnel (as enabled through pan-EU Bologna education approach), and how Macomb Community College is approaching education in an era of declining state support, raising questions about how education can enable transformation and transfer: of credits, skills and knowledge. The EU approach to fostering better linkages and credit transfer among institutions is coupled with a more advanced approach to credentials, including and especially apprenticeships, that are linked to industry and labour market needs. This is an important point. In Germany for example, industry invests to a very large degree in skills training, both formal and informal. And applied research in Finland and Germany is linked explicitly to local and regional economic development. These are seen as highly positive outcomes. Our own focus on education and applied research as linked to regional social and economic development is on very solid footing here. Our capacity as a country to engage in credit transfer and mobility however, are not so solid. There is work to be done to make of Canada a truly systemized system.

This point was picked up by keynote speaker Ken Coates, Canada Research Chair in Regional Innovation at the University of Saskatchewan. Dr Coates spoke about the "specialist economy" wherein skills and knowledge needed for specific occupations are increasingly the norm as an outcome of education. (Coincidentally, today's Globe and Mail features a story on specialization in nursing.) Education in the specialist economy is more episodic, linked to labour market needs, meaning that education providers will need to adapt to providing more timely and modular approaches to credentials. This approach to education is very thoughtfully presented by former BCIT president Don Wright, in a discussion paper on the future of the institution. Of particular note in this paper is Wright's point that the role of polytechnic education is to build human capital, not filter it. This notion of broadly building society's capacity to ensure a broadly based educated population by increasing credential laddering, transfer and outcomes linked to social and economic need is a hallmark of polytechnics. Indeed, Coates said that many who go to university do so as a default or reflex. We would do well to emulate European models where polytechnic education is not seen as second to a university education. The reality is that we need a range of education and credential offerings that reflect, promote and provide for a range of occupations coupled with citizen engagement. 

The afternoon featured a panel discussion on Green Building Panel|Building Green: Applied Research & Skills Training for the Green Building Sector. Nancy Sherman, Dean of Construction & Engineering Technologies, George Brown College, Ted Maulucci, CIO, Tridel, David Silburn, Research Associate, SAIT Polytechnic, Jennie Moore, Director of Sustainable Development & Environment Stewardship, BCIT, and Mark Hoddenbagh, Director of Applied Research, Algonquin discussed the specifics around "How members of Polytechnics Canada produce talent and innovation for the green construction sector, a key industrial strength of our membership." Nancy Sherman focused on the education and applied research approach of our Green Building Centre, funded by FedDev Ontario, the Canada Foundation for Innovation, NSERC, and our industry partners.

Rick Huijbregts, Vice President for Industry and Business Transformation, Smart + Connected Communities, Cisco Canada, concluded the speakers at the evening reception with an excellent overview of Cisco's approach to fostering skills and knowledge through the Cisco Academy (including at George Brown College). The linking of industry need to skills and educational outcomes is necessary, and as we see from the international experience, a good way to orient the education system to ensure we have a well-aligned supply and demand in the labour market. Of course we want to ensure that our citizens are broadly educated; there are non-industry specific outcomes that we want to encourage, such as innovation and entrepreneurship, critical thinking and democratic engagement.

07 May 2013

NRC now a Research and Technology Organization

It is somewhat fitting that on the eve of the Polytechnics Canada annual conference the Honourable Gary Goodyear, Minister of State for Science and Technology, has announced that the National Research Council of Canada is now a Research and Technology Organization (RTO). A recommendation of the Jenkins panel, the transformation of the NRC to a RTO represents a key step forward for Canada. With the NRC focused on fostering industry innovation, the country has gained an important new avenue for firms to tap into the world leading talent, facilities and equipment that are useful for commercialization and innovation activities. I look forward to learning more, and to referring industry to the NRC labs, who now form an integral component in the business innovation ecosystem in Canada.

29 April 2013

ACCC announces new president

The ACCC last week announced that Denise Amyot will be the new President and CEO of the Association as of 4 June 2013. Read the full press release here. This is great news for Canada's colleges, who are realizing a signal opportunity in our collective capacity to spur industry innovation and productivity.

18 April 2013

Franchising college applied research, and other notes from the ACCC Applied Research Symposium 2013

The ACCC Applied Research Symposium 2013 convened these past two days and featured some great presentations and discussion about the evolution of college applied research. The Honourable Gary Goodyear, Minister of State for Science and Technology, opened the conference by observing that this is an important time for colleges. Our applied research, conducted in concert with industry, is part of a rebalancing of the entire spectrum of research, from basic to applied, that Canada must undertake to be competitive in the global economy. The federal government has allocated funds to support business innovation - including the announcement of CFI funding, of which GBC Research is a recipient. Minister Goodyear noted that we are first in the G7 and fourth in the OECD for HERD, but 16th for BERD; Canada's colleges are key to increasing business R&D; "Canada can do better," he said. Coordination with the provinces is key, the minister added, as his department works to implement recommendations from the Jenkins Panel, including the NRC-IRAP Concierge service.

The concierge service will be an important new element in the Canadian innovation system. It will feature warm handoffs between IRAP field agents and approved service providers. Along with the new "credit note" innovation voucher system announced in Budget 2013, it will provide key, industry facing tools for increasing innovation in the country.

Seneca College president David Agnew addressed the audience and reminded us to look beyond the immediate and to forge a future in collaboration with other actors in the post secondary systems in which we work. This was a good start to two days of discussions around how best to continue the evolution of a leading applied research ecosystem present throughout the country. There was good movement at the symposium on creating a more cohesive national network of college applied research, which will fit well within the new emergent structures designed to get industry increasing their R&D. For the other facet of a warm handoff is a soft landing into new markets across the country. Many presenters focused on outcomes and measurement, as these are key challenges for the system as we continue to build a network of professional client service organisations specializing in linking industry to innovation supports while giving students crucial innovation literacy skills.

Bert van den Berg of NSERC and I closed the conference with a presentation on "Developments for Performance measurement in applied research and technology development," picking up on themes raised regarding outcomes and measurement. I've copied some notes from our presentation deck below (full deck to be available on the ACCC site soon). Our discussion focused on promoting a college applied research franchise that encourages and measures capacity: the capability of the institution and its units to work with clients on applied research and technology development; and contribution: the performance of applied research and technology development with clients and the downstream effect on social and economic productivity.  Key context here is the CCA Expert Panel Report on the State of S&T, 2012, of which I was a member, which found that while there is much activity going on in colleges conducting applied research, there is a need for a more coordinated approach to outcomes measurement of this activity:
Most of these other sources of data on applied R&D activity in Canada’s higher education sector and public research organizations are not broken down by the field or type of research. As well, in many cases, data are available only for specific institutions, sectors, or regions, and are not available consistently across the country. As a result, while general statistics of this kind may illuminate certain facts about Canada’s applied R&D strengths in specific institutional settings, their piecemeal nature precludes a systematic identification of Canada’s research and technology strengths. The Panel thus concludes that there remains a need for more systematic and detailed data collection of metrics related to applied research and technology development activity in Canada. (p 114-5)
Achieving and so measuring capacity and consistency via the definition of a college applied research "franchise" or "certification" would give (prospective) clients confidence with regard to perceived issues about working with colleges, such as:
  • access to foreground IP 
  • protection of company background IP 
  • who works with institution staff to ensure projects are executed 
  • the processes, protocols and parameters for AR&TD performance 
  • training of students with regards to IP, good lab practice ...
Franchising parts of college applied research and technology development will help us to define dimensions along which to measure capability at the institutional and intra-institutional level, define how this can be measured in a credible fashion (i.e., avoid self measurement), and may involve looking to ISO standards (or some such system) for measures that align with process capability for R&D.

The development of a common look and feel, commensurate with developing the brand of college industry applied research, is required in order to balance the needs of individual colleges to have a singular identity with showcasing the brand of college applied research. In this sense, look can be thought of as local, and feel as federal. A college's unique visual identity is matched to the ways in which an applied research franchise feels, or operates, in terms of policies, procedures, etc.

This is the signal opportunity that the Symposium has articulated, with the many good discussions on outcomes, metrics, and networks. The conference benefited greatly from the participation of the Quebec CCTT's, who operate now as a kind of franchise, and who collect good metrics (and have for the last decade or so) on outcomes and effectiveness.

The symposium closed with a keynote address by the Globe and Mail's Jeffrey Simpson, who extolled the virtues of the college system as key vocational education and training institutions that contribute greatly to Canada;s productivity. He warned the audience against trying to be something we are not, namely universities who conduct basic research. Referring to Germany as an example of a country with a long and proud history of celebrating vocational and skills education that coincides with basic research and university excellence (German, incidentally, has the lowest university attainment rate of the EU, yet the most productive economy and with lots of basic research excellence). This was a good reminder for the colleges, institutes and polytechnics to focus in our strengths and to work with universities in a collaborative and cohesive fashion.

The 2013 Applied Research Symposium marks another key milestone in the evolution of college applied research in Canada. I am heartened by the collaborative spirit fostered by the ACCC at the symposium as we work to co-create a national applied research and innovation system that promotes industry innovation linked tightly to producing graduates who will increase Canada's productivity and innovation.

GBC Research helps industry transform ideas to invoices.

15 April 2013

Scorecard 2013 from the Board of Trade: Focus on skills for the innovation economy

The Toronto Region Board of Trade has launched their Scorecard 2013, reporting on the region's capacity for productivity and innovation. The focus this year is on human capital performance. There is good news in this year's report, including Toronto ranking fourth in North America for having the labour pool needed to increase our productivity, and sixth for overall performance.

"Beyond capital investment and investment in R&D, productivity performance and economic success of a region is also dependent upon the quality of its human capital" (p 60), the report notes. This is the three-legged stool of innovation, and the skills and talent part of this equation is arguably the most important as it is a driver of and result of improved R&D and technology investment.

The timing if the report coincides with the release of the Board of Trade's cluster strategy and Budget 2013's focus on these three essential elements for improving economic health. The report picks up on recent discussion trends on education, in particular the inference that an undergraduate degree is the key to economic success. There is a strong focus on the role that colleges and polytechnics play, both in offering undergraduate degrees and other credentials relevant to the labour market. This underscores an inherent problem with reporting on educational statistics, in that there is little room for nuance in understanding the effect of those who take a university degree followed by a college program to obtain job-relevant skills. Statistics Canada reports on the highest level of educational attainment only, and so will lose this point entirely. This came up in a recent panel discussion I participated in on The Agenda, which airs this evening. The Future of Higher Education is grappling with issues pertinent to skills and the innovation economy, and the need for a greater focus on outcomes at all levels of education coupled with a linking of education to labour market outcomes. Of course not all education need be instrumental  but we should nonetheless provide students (and so graduates) with the keys to future success via an articulation of what skills a particular program teaches.

James Bradshaw, writing in Saturday's Globe and Mail, makes this point well in Toronto’s recipe for prosperity: More graduates – and more paths to good jobs. There is a good example of how GBC graduate Noe Galeana is now working with Clear Blue Technologies, a company GBC Research is supporting. The point here is that when education - and in this case applied research - is linked directly to the needs of industry  everyone wins: the company who is innovating and who accesses skilled talent, the graduate who deploys these talents, and the economy generally. It is companies that commercialize products and services, and the people inside them who innovate.

Scorecard 2013 offers many good points for industry to heed, and presents a positive picture overall of the region's capacity to innovate. It notes areas for improvement, including getting more females in management occupations, increasing female labour market participation overall, and doing a better job of linking highly skilled immigrants to industry.

The Board of Trade is providing the kind of leadership we need in Canada: non-partisan analysis on how our world leading education system can work together to provide the required inputs for the labour market.


11 April 2013

"The root of productivity is product"

The 12th Annual RE$EARCH MONEY Conference - Budget 2013: Checking the Pulse of Canada's Innovation Policies - convened these past two days in Ottawa. The conference is Canada's premier innovation policy forum, and featured many good speakers and discussion on Budget 2013 outcomes.

The Honourable Gary Goodyear, Minister of State, Science & Technology and the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario opened the conference with a positive message about the state of innovation and where the country is headed. Reinforcing the results of the CCA Expert Panel Review of Science and Technology in Canada, 2012, Minister Goodyear outlined how we are fourth in the world in absolute ranking for basic research output. Budget 2013 builds on this bench strength to get more basic research commercialized and to encourage greater industry investment. It is imperative for us to step our our efforts to increase IP protection and commercialization of the basic research inventions done in our world leading university labs. As Minister Goodyear said, "Invention without IP protection is philanthropy."

Many speakers outlined how Budget 2013 is good for business, as it puts the tools of innovation in the hands of industry and encourages industry to increase investment in R&D partnerships with colleges, polytechnics and universities, as well as increased industry skills training and investment in new equipment. The new IRAP voucher program is one of these tools, and industry leaders are looking to IRAP to show leadership in how this can best spur companies to increase their R&D by tapping into public+private R&D partnerships. IRAP has had its overall budget increased in the last two federal Budgets as the NRC makes the transition into a more industry-facing organization. This is a very positive evolution, and one many are watching closely, ready to provide support.

A positive output of the conference was the focus on product and what customers want. That is, what matters for commercialization and innovation is strong customer demand. Tom Jenkins put it well when he said that "Committing R&D to solving problems creates recursive value" in the community. Brokering "the difference between knowledge and know-how" is the role of innovation intermediaries, which was the focus of a panel discussion that outlined how colleges, polytechnics, universities and granting agencies are using innovation tools articulated in Budget 2013 to increase industry partnerships. Ted Hewitt of SSHRC addressed a common theme of the conference in leading a discussion about metrics and outcomes measurement, talking about SSHRC's focus on "Achievement Reporting" as one way to get the measure of how innovation intermediaries are increasingly encouraging investment in creating social and economic value by bridging labs to the world. Niagara College president Dan Patterson spoke about how college students gain innovation literacy skills while working with industry on applied research projects  reflecting the need for the entire work force to be focused on innovation and productivity.

William Harney, Executive Director of Research & Development, Magna Exteriors & Interiors, articulated the theme of productivity and productization by stating that "the root of productivity is product." It was refreshing to be part of a conversation that acknowledged the value of creating value from research, of encouraging researchers and industry to work together to create products and services, made in Canada, for both Canadian and international markets. This is the future of the R&D enterprise. Kudos to Re$earch Money for another excellent conversation.

05 April 2013

Ground breaking: the Green Building Centre

George Brown College was very pleased to host the Honourable Peter van Loan to beak ground on the new building that will be a core part of the Green Building Centre. Minister van Loan spoke on behalf of the Honourable Gary Goodyear, Minister of State for Science and Technology and Minister of the Federal Economic Development Agency of Southern Donation (FEDDEV). The Green Building Centre is funded in part through a $6.6M contribution from FEDDEV.

The Green Building Centre will offer industry access to talented and skilled students and faculty, state of the art facilities, and market and networks, all geared to helping industry to innovate and get new products and services to market. As noted earlier, we will conduct applied research in partnership with local businesses while training students in advanced construction systems, green energy and computer-enabled, efficient buildings. In particular, this centre will focus on construction practices that are environmentally responsible and resource-efficient throughout a building's life-cycle: from siting to design, construction, operation, maintenance, renovation, and demolition.

The Green Building Centre exemplifies the value of Budget 2013 measures to foster industry applied research with colleges and polytechnics, invest in skills training, and promote investment in new technology.

This is an exciting day for the college, our industry partners, and faculty and students. While the new building will open in one year, the Green Building Centre is open for business innovation.

04 April 2013

On zombies, and the continuing horror story of Canadian innovation

It reads like a post-apocalyptic horror story, only this isn't a B movie, it's a D. As in the Conference Board has once again given Canada a D rating for innovation. The only good news in this story is that last year we were 14th, and this year we are 13th in the world. If this story was released on a Friday it would fit the B movie plot perfectly.

As reported in the Globe and Mail today, R&D, innovation should be ‘on A list,’ Conference Board urges. The issue here is the long standing lag in business R&D performance. Even though we get an A for education, our ability to innovate - and to capitalize on the fact that we have the most educated work force on the planet - is seriously hampered by the trifecta of low business investment in R&D, skills training and investment in new technology.

Outgoing University of Toronto president David Naylor recently gave an Empire Club speech in which he decried the zombies of Canadian research. Saying we need more unfettered research, Naylor says that the "zombie idea" that "won't die" and is "hard to kill" is the focus on applied research. The idea, he says, "has infected some decision-makers," who presumably are now out eating the brains of scientists desperate to escape the slow stumble into research ruin. Professorial pundits lament the end to unfettered research funding, saying the rise of applied research in Canadian colleges and polytechnics represents an apocalyptic war that pits the forces of good (basic research) against the forces of evil (applied research, and dare I say, commerce). The reality show in all this is that Canada just does not have the GDP to support unfettered research into everything.

The atavistic yearning for a past research state that never really was represents a dangerous degeneration of Canadian innovation capacity and productivity. When we do not socialize our students - undergraduate and graduate alike from across the entire educational spectrum, college, polytechnic and university - we short change our future capacity to innovate. By disengaging the academic R&D enterprise from industry, our students are socialized away from industry application. The odd person that actually commercializes research is the lone hero walking the post-apocalyptic world left in ruin, a world in which ivory towers are overgrown with vines, waiting for a hero to cut through to unearth the glory of a past civilization.

But the moral here is that we should celebrate the many successes of applied research in our colleges, polytechnics and universities. Enlightened programs such as NSERC's College and Community Innovation Program, Engage, and MITACS are all finding ways to link industry with the academic sector. These are good for Canada's future productivity.

For the real research zombie in this tale are the ideas emerging from our basic research that we ship off the land to be commercialized by another country, only to stumble back across the border as they are sold back to us. They haunt us still, and find company in the lagging industry R&D spending. To those who fear the future of trying to exercise the potential of the entire educational spectrum, realize that these are not the ruins of the past, but rather the runes of the future: the ability to resurrect our moribund record on R&D commercialization, and to breathe new life into our capacity as a country to innovate. As any good literary scholar will tell us, the apocalypse is not an ending; it is a new beginning.

02 April 2013

Board of Trade cluster strategy launched

Last week I had the good fortune to attend the launch of the Toronto Region Board of Trade (TRBOT) cluster strategy. Over two days, two clusters were launched - one on the food and beverage industry and the other on life sciences.

The TRBOT's cluster strategy was kicked off last year when Michael Porter came to speak about the value of clusters. The focus of clusters is to collaborate to compete as a region  and the two events brought together leaders from business, academia and government to really put some shape around what actions and next steps are necessary in order to move the region's cluster development forward.

Both the food and beverage and the life sciences clusters are large economic development engines in the region, and we have the elements to make these even more successful in terms of industry, academic/skills training, and support from a range of state and nonstate actors. The Toronto Region Board of Trade's leadership in formulating cluster strategies and action plans to move the region forward is significant, and well timed. A more proactive linking of business R&D, skills training and education and new technology adoption in industry are the key drivers of productivity and innovation  By getting all the players together to work together, the TRBOT has opened up a conversation that dovetails with the focus on the recent federal budget - to encourage more public-private R&D partnerships, a better linkage of skills training with industry, and the value of new technology to drive innovation and productivity.  I am looking forward to learning more - and participating - in growing the region's clusters, and I encourage all to contact the TRBOT to learn how you can get involved in this exciting and worthwhile initiative.

26 March 2013

On research, applied and otherwise

A story in yesterday's Globe and Mail provides fodder for the ongoing discussion in Canada over how much research should be basic versus how much should be applied. Federal budget ignites debate over what science is for features a much-needed debate over what some have termed "fettered research" - research that is directed, applied and linked explicitly to commercialization. The article is a fair and balanced view of the issue, which, while seemingly insoluble, is important for all of us involved in Canadian S&T to grapple with. I've pointed out before the issues and consequences of our HERD/BERD imbalance, and the real fact that, even with a world fourth ranking per capita HERD spend we just do not have the GDP to support unfettered research into every topic. We have to make choices, and orienting our best and brightest minds to the problems of the world - particularly those that concern Canada - are good candidates for prioritization, in my view. This is not popular with all. The article makes good points about the reorganization of the NRC, which is focusing more on linking industry to academia, and ensuring that Canada can get our BERD in order. The new voucher system for NRC IRAP announced in last week's budget is a good place to start, for example. And while there are certainly those not happy with the budget, I am heartened by the fact that most people from universities to colleges to industry are aligning on the need for the country to work together to solve our skills gap/mismatch and our research to commercialization issues. Focusing the discussion on how the public and private sectors can work together on everything from R&D to skills and education is a positive step forward. Skills are where the puck is going, and ensuring that the country's skilled workforce includes scientific, engineering, design, humanist and business thinking will help us to emerge as a post-industrial powerhouse in the innovation economy.

22 March 2013

Budget 2013: A glass half full

Budget 2013 is an austerity budget, but one that contains some very positive news for colleges and polytechnics. Read our press release: George Brown College ready to deliver on federal budget initiatives aimed at bridging skills mismatch.

Several key recommendations from Polytechnics Canada were contained in the budget, including an increase to the College and Community Innovation Program funding, the inclusion of college undergraduate students in the NSERC Industrial Undergraduate Student Research Awards program, apprenticeship requirements for federal procurement, and the industry innovation vouchers pilot program as part of IRAP (“credit notes to help pay for research, technology and business development services at universities, colleges and other non-profit research institutions of their choice”). Funds for the Canada Foundation for Innovation for research infrastructure and a renewal of FEDDEV Ontario are good news items - George Brown College is building the Green Building Centre, a business accelerator and entrepreneurship centre for green construction and smart buildings, with support from FEDDEV. Part of the funding to FEDDEV will go to the new Advanced Manufacturing Fund, which represents strong potential for retooling the manufacturing industries, for example via the potential for disruptive change with new technologies like 3D printing.

A big part of the budget is the focus on skills and the new Canada Jobs Fund. A potentially contentious issue as it means renegotiating the Labour Market Agreements, the Canada Job Fund will require industry and the provinces to co-invest in skills training. It is well known that Canadian industry does not invest in skills training as much as it should. As reported in the Globe and Mail, Don Drummond and Ontario Finance Minister Charles Sousa are optimistic about the new program.

More analysis is needed, of course, and not everyone is happy with yesterday's budget, but the bottom line here for applied research and skills training is that we are seeing an emphasis on instrumentality and industry: directing education and research toward specific aims of increasing industry engagement and investment. These are essential to improving productivity and innovation in the country.

The focus on skills and innovation is a positive theme, and with the incremental increases to applied research funding we have strong potential for increasing the kinds of experiential learning and innovation skills acquisition that is a hallmark of George Brown College and polytechnic education. The federal government has given educational institutions, industry and individuals tools with which to increase innovation and productivity. It is up to us to pick up those tools and build a better future.