18 March 2014

IRAP supports demand driven innovation: Business Innovation Access Program launched

The honourable Greg Rickford, Minister of State for Science and Technology was at Sheridan College today announcing the launch of the NRC Business Innovation Access Program (BIAP). BIAP, also known as innovation vouchers, were promised in Budget 2013. As Minister Rickford stated in his address to the crowd, the program features "hassle-free vouchers, valued up to $50,000 per project, to access business and technical services carried out by Canadian researchers and students." The vouchers are a direct result of the Jenkins Panel which recommended vouchers as a way to support firms to get access to talent, facilities and networks in Canada's postsecondary education institutions.

This is a smart update to the innovation toolkit - it puts the funding in the hands of firms and creates demand driven innovation - this is the "pull" model of R&D that Canada's polytechnics and colleges excel at, but which universities also do well. Linking these systems in Canada to provide business innovation support fosters an open innovation approach to encouraging firms to invest in the development of new products and services.

With BIAP firms can tap into business and technical services provided by innovation intermediaries such as colleges, polytechnics and universities. The program assumes there will be good industry awareness, so communication of the opportunity will be key. Also assumed is the effective working of the NRC concierge service, which was also recently launched. These programs reinforce innovation as a social activity, and their success is contingent on all actors in the innovation ecosystem - firms, intermediaries, economic development agencies and other governmental supports (NRC, OCE et al) - working together.

There is good precedent - not just for vouchers (as they have been successfully delivered in other parts of the country)  - but also for the innovation ecosystem approach. We are working toward an effective integration of the various players all in support of fostering greater productivity, here of firms to tap in to R&D capacity, but also more broadly of basic research conducted in our world leading labs. The Concierge service, much like the P3RD system, are oriented toward fostering greater transparency of who can provide services, where and how, and developing public-private partnerships to support R&D.

At a round table discussion about academic-industry partnerships after the announcement, Minister Rickford spoke about the importance of measuring outcomes, and of those providing services to use common forms and formats for reporting on how the BIAP service works.  Such outcomes should include both inputs and outputs, but also throughput: what firms find BIAP and how were they referred or otherwise located the service; how did they locate a PSE service provide; what kinds of services were required; how well were these matched to regional opportunities/service providers; what was the time required to launch a project; what the the time of the conduct of the project; did BIAP accelerate innovation for the firm; and what were the outcomes in terms of new products and services in the market.

There is a strong consonance here with the emergence of a collective capacity not just to foster greater productivity of R&D in firms and academia, but also of learning how best to benchmark performance against these kinds of goals. Canada has not really tackled these issues yet, but the discussion is at least focusing examining what we do and how we do it, in terms of innovation, and how can we leverage complementary systems to national advantage. And for BIAP at least, this means looking downstream at what firms are doing in the economy, and how those of us whose mandate it is to help can best support them.

For now, spread the word. Firms seeking innovation support should contact their local IRAP office.

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