30 November 2015

From basic research to the entrepreneurial state

An interview in the Globe with the Honourable Kirsty Duncan, Minister of Science, offers a notably balanced view on the state of Science and Technology (S&T) and the differentiation between basic research and innovation. It nicely separates five often conflated issues: scientific muzzling in federal departments by the previous government (to be fair the Globe's Konrad Yakabuski says that the Chretien government did the same thing), the anti-environmentalism of the Harper government, the HERD spend, the BERD spend, and finally the need to increase commercialization and BERD.

It is important to point out that despite what the Globe reports in its interview with Minister Duncan, Canada ranks much higher than average on S&T. This was demonstrated by the Council of Canadian Academies' Expert Panel report on S&T, published in 2012 (and on which I served).

The consistent lumping together of low BERD (a proxy for poor industry innovation and productivity) with the lack of commercialization of basic research muddies understanding and does a continual disservice to public policy in Canada. 

First off, Canada has an excellent record when it comes to basic research (see the CCA's S&T report, linked above). Turning our research outputs into commercialization successes is where we fall down. Canada’s consistent lack of commercialization of basic research, well documented by many expert panels, is generally seen as a failure of business to invest in R&D or to be receptive to the outputs of academic research. This does not make sense as it confuses the basic research function with industry innovation capacity. These are related, but separate.   

There is an issue of receptivity for academic and industry partnerships, as outlined in my last post. These originate in the lab from discovery or basic research, or from industry, and are demand driven. A review of the mandate letters for Minister Duncan and Minister Bains shows that the government understands this distinction and is taking steps to correct a deficit of evidence-based policy. As well, they're taking steps to promote (and fund, presumably) the discovery to innovation continuum. This means basic research, through applied research right on to experimental development.

And into this mix the Science, Technology and Innovation Council (STIC) has filed its latest report. There are no surprises here: a focus on increasing both HERD and BERD, support more firm level innovation, take more risks, and importantly, "invest strategically, further focusing government funds to build globally competitive critical mass in targeted areas." This last point aligns well with the new government's incipient Innovation Agenda and its focus on being "the entrepreneurial state." Minister Duncan's goal to "Lead the establishment of new Canada Research Chairs in sustainable technologies, working with the Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development" aligns well with this mode of thinking. The state must be an active agent in the setting of national priorities for basic research. Climate change and sustainable technologies are among the most urgent priorities of the day.

The STIC recommendations, read alongside the incoming innovation agenda, show that the polytechnic and college applied research model is needed now more than ever. As I pointed out back in 2010:
The key for college applied research is instrumentality, or the intentional application of applied research and innovation services to industry needs and contexts. This means that we are focused on addressing the industry problems faced by firms who are seeking to innovate and create new value in their sectors. We are an explicit instrument for addressing these industry problems, meaning that we respond to what is needed, fitting into the R&D continuum for latter stage innovation support. 
Polytechnic and college applied research offers an instrumental component to increasing commercialization of basic research while helping to foster greater industry innovation capacity. We do this while providing our students with crucial innovation skills across a wide variety of industries, skills and experiences that are complementary to those that university graduates gain in their fields of study. 

We can benefit from more investment in basic research, as long as there is explicit planning and management of applied research and experimental development – the innovation side of the equation. Ultimately what we know right now of the new government's innovation agenda is good news for Canada and R&D generally. The challenge is to realize the downstream value of our HERD investments. Pushing harder on the innovate button won’t work. The role of the entrepreneurial state here is to specifically foster two things: greater academic productivity (read: commercialization) and industry innovation capacity (read: BERD).

There is really no mystery here: unpacking the “black box” of research commercialization and industry innovation requires the capacity for collaboration, and necessitates complementary approaches to increasing academic and industrial innovation capacity and productivity. Understanding these as two distinct yet intertwined phenomena is essential to ensuring we can leverage the right instrument against the right problem at the right time. Think of this as innovation therapy.

27 November 2015

Unpacking the Black Box of Innovation or, the Planning and Management of Innovation

As noted earlier the Canadian Council of Chief Executives recently initiated work on the Business Higher Education Round Table (BHER). There are two areas of focus for the BHER: research collaborations and work integrated learning.

Industry-academic partnerships are an excellent vehicle for increasing both academic and industrial productivity when it comes to research and development and innovation. Strengthening these partnerships requires industrial receptivity to working with academic partners, as well academic receptivity to working with industry.

This can be further unpacked as ensuring that there is industrial capacity to receive the outputs of basic research performed in our world leading research labs (either directly or through “bundling” approaches to IP where individual IP is combined with others to create companies/marketable products). Tandem Launch is one company specializing in bundling of IP. Read an overview of it here.

Similarly, industry-academic cooperation models need to account for applied research and experimental development (the innovation side of the discovery to innovation continuum in OECD terms) where industry has a need and seeks academic help to address (this is the applied research model common in colleges and polytechnics. This also happens in universities.)

Models of cooperation thus need to account for the need to socialize both sides of the equation to working with each other according to context: who is the initiator of the research (industry or academic) and what goals or outcomes are desired (commercialization of basic research or addressing applied research needs of firms). And, who is the right person or what is the right facility at what point in time to address the stated outcome.

These models of cooperation could feasibly account for the type or nature of skills/competencies/facilities required for a given project. If we understand the discovery to innovation continuum as a horizontal process (though not necessarily linear), then the vertical axis at each stage of the process requires various people with complementary skills. This could be pairing a PhD with technician lab support at one end, through to engineers, technologists and technicians for prototype development on to marketing materials design and sales at the other. The point is that at each stage there are a host of complementary skill sets and facilities that various types of institutions can provide. This model would serve the need of increasing commercialization success of basic research through to addressing the applied research needs of firms.

In addition to the way in which colleges and polytechnics work to support demand-driven innovation in firms and universities (GBC for example supports many projects at the University of Toronto, helping scientists there create products for market based on research discovery), there are universities engaged in similar pursuits. The best example I know of is the UHN’s  Techna Institute, whose mandate is to link clinicians and scientists with the needs of industry and vice versa.

16 November 2015

Network of Technology Access Centres launched to support business innovation

This past summer, the group of Technology Access Centres across the country put together a proposal to create a Technology Access Centres | Centres d'accès à la Technologie (TACCAT) Network. The TACCAT Network as it is presently called is funded jointly by NSERC and the TACs/CATs themselves.

GBC's Food Innovation Research Studio is a Technology Access Centre.

The TACCAT Network is comprised of college, polytechnic and institute applied research offices that serve the research and innovation needs of a specific regional economic cluster representing 9 technology sectors: advanced manufacturing, agriculture, construction technology, digital media and graphic communications, environmental technology/biotechnology, food technology, healthcare technology, nanotechnology and transportation (see our Members for more information). TACCATs serve vital industrial sectors across the country, responding to industry applied research needs through innovation support services delivered by college faculty, staff and students.

Here is a brief description of the goals of the Network:

In 2013, as part of its College and Community Innovation (CCI) Program, NSERC launched its first Technology Access Centre (TAC) applied research funding competition, with the intent of enhancing the ability of companies, particularly small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), to become more productive and innovative by providing ready access to polytechnic, college and institute specialized expertise, technology and equipment. Funding supports core operations for five years and is renewable. The TAC concept is based on the successful Centre collégial de transfert de technologie (CCTT) model developed over the past few decades by the Government of Québec.

The proposed network approach will enable Canadian colleges, institutes and polytechnics to take a leadership role in supporting economic development in Canada across the spectrum of natural and social sciences, engineering, humanities and health disciplines. 

The 25 TACCATs, which have been meeting regularly since 2013 to share best practices regarding establishing and operating this type of applied research centre, have recognized common challenges in driving industry innovation that will be aided through harmonious and standardized approaches to college applied research. The creation of a formal, national TACCAT Network (TN) is seen as the most effective way to harmonize and promote college applied research through the TACCATs. This will help ensure that industry partners, college stakeholders, and government funders have a shared understanding of the value of TACCATs as representative of college applied research and their collective value to enhancing Canadian economic development. All 14 TACs and 10 of 11 CATs are participating in the creation of the TACCAT Network, providing cash and in kind support over two years as part of the collective commitment to supporting college and institute applied research in Canada.

Watch this space for more details.

06 November 2015

Barn Raising the Innovation Economy

Of the many useful things I learned growing up in Saskatchewan, two in particular stand out as relevant to Canada's research and innovation ecosystem. The first is the importance of cooperation. The second is the weather.

Cooperation is the cornerstone of community building on the prairies, as anywhere really. I learned from a young age that when your neighbour is building a barn, everyone pitches in to help. "Collaborating to compete together" has real meaning: working together we create vibrant communities and resilient regional economies that amplify complementary strengths and common goals.

This form of "coopetition" defines how various actors in the research and innovation ecosystem work together. Where once we might have seen these actors try to upstage each other in a scramble for money and attention, we now see cooperation to achieve increased academic and industrial innovation and productivity.

There can be little debate about the need to increase business investment in research and development (R&D). We have too little firm spending on R&D (and new equipment and training for that matter). This translates into poor industrial productivity and innovation capacity.

For academic productivity, we are excellent in our ability to perform basic science. We need to start focusing more on leveraging and translating our basic research into practical applications for social and economic good. Successive expert panels have all identified a systematic failure in this country to capitalize on the basic research capacity of our world leading research institutions.

Countries like Canada, with economies dependent on resource extraction industries, need to start adding value to the raw resources we extract. Basic research with little or no focus on application or commercialization becomes just one more example of how Canada exports raw commodities (in this case ideas) without adding value (commercialization of these ideas).

Polytechnics and Colleges like George Brown work with many university scientists. We help them produce PhDs, patents, publications and products, just as easily as we work with industry to get new products and services to market. Here are some examples.

In 2012, the GBC Food Innovation Research Studio (FIRSt) collaborated with scientists at Mount Sinai Hospital / University of Toronto and Ryerson University to help test whether eating cheese fortified with Vitamin D could affect the levels of the vitamin in the body. Over the course of the study we recruited 120 students, staff, and faculty who volunteered to eat pizza—topped with Vitamin D fortified mozzarella—once a week for 8 weeks in a double-blind randomized trial. Our food scientists and chefs were able to design an optimal and delicious Italian style pizza and produce over 100 pizzas every week for 8 weeks. Leaving aside the difficulty we may or may not have had in recruiting volunteers, we were approached to participate in the study because we offered these scientists complementary expertise to help them test their hypothesis.

This project showcases a unique recipe that blended basic and applied research. The findings provide scientific support for commercialization of vitamin D fortified cheese, showing that Vitamin D3 is safe and metabollically available from fortified mozzarella cheese, even after being cooked.

Applied research at George Brown supports firms in a range of industries from construction and Building Information Modeling through to prototyping and food product development. Companies often access more than one academic partner in their engagement with industry-academic partnerships.  One such company is Clear Blue Technologies. Their "smart off-grid" street light uses solar panels and wind turbines to power street lights, networked through wireless technologies to provide cost effective and green power solutions for lights, traffic cameras and signs. The company received support from MaRS and Centennial College; at George Brown our Advanced Prototyping Lab helped take the product from prototype to production manufacturing. A graduate student from Ryerson University was also employed on the project. By working together and leveraging complementary strengths we have collectively helped propel the company from idea to invoice.

And so the weather.

Talking about the weather is a national past time, but it very nearly passes for religion on the prairies. Perhaps this is because so much of the growing season is determined by the whims of nature. Being able to talk about the weather is what is most important – predicting it, observing and commenting on it, lamenting it. The weather is something we all have in common. In this sense, weather talk is an important social lubricant, an expression of our commonality and shared experience in place.
And this is the point. Like the weather, innovation is a social activity. While innovation may involve a technical challenge, it requires us to recognize common goals and to socialize and realize we are stronger when we work together.

Place matters when it comes to innovation. By integrating the harmonizing strength of regional college, polytechnic, and university capacity, and linking this with industry, we can evolve the Canadian economy. Together we can ensure graduates from across the credential spectrum understand innovation, and can work together to stand up the innovation economy. 

This article is reprinted with permission from the Research Infosource Canada's Innovation Leaders 2015 / Feature Article and Editorials.

05 November 2015

"Because it's 2015." More on science, innovation, policy (and the launch of GBC's new Food and Beverage Labs)

What more can be said about the new federal cabinet. This is fantastic news for the country on many levels, not the least of which is to have a federal cabinet that reflects the reality of Canada today.

Of particular note is the naming of the Honourable Navdeep Bains as the new Minister of
Innovation, Science and Economic Development, and the Honourable Kirsty Duncan as Minister of Science.

Renaming Industry Canada as Innovation, Science and Economic Development seems to indicate that the new government is implementing the recommendations of the Jenkins Panel. If nothing else, there is explicit recognition that we need to focus on the entire science to innovation continuum. Some claim this is an elevation of science to the old Industry Canada portfolio. I'm very interested to see what this means for the science to innovation cycle. 

Advice for the new minister is already coming in; of these the return of the long form census and the use of statistics for business is most sensible in the short term. And it is important to acknowledge that the previous government did a lot to support R&D in Canada - maintaining our #1 public sector R&D spend in the G7, growing and making permanent the college applied research funding, and promoting greater industry academic partnerships. Explicitly linking innovation, science and economic development flies in the face of what I have called the libertarian nature of our position on research to date. This is a good thing for the country. This is Generation Renew.

And as if that is not enough good news, yesterday saw the launch of GBC's new Food and Beverage Labs (FaBLabs) at 215 King. Funded in part by the Federal Economic Development Agency of Southern Ontario, FaBLabs is our latest build out of our flagship applied research, the Food Innovation and Research Studio. 215 King not only houses our leading restaurant, The Chefs' House, but now also has an event space for food and beverage product launches and sensory evaluation, a beverage lab, and, on the fourth floor, the new home of FIRSt (opening in March 2016). For obvious reasons no federal government ministers were on hand yesterday, but we look forward to welcoming our industry, government and other partners to the space.

Check out the video: 215 King: This is the place.

04 November 2015

Innovation Policy Advice: Time to get rid of SR&ED

Writing in today's Globe regarding the incoming government's approach to innovation, Sean Silcoff provides some good advice on shaping a better innovation policy. Silcoff posits out that the Trudeau innovation platform was light on new ideas, and was merely an attempt to "Throw money at a problem without defining the problem." I don't agree. Implicit in the Liberal innovation platform is the need to foster greater business investment in R&D. This is important to unpack as it relates to our overall productivity and innovation challenges. Of course the issue is complex, but weak industry productivity and innovation coupled with poor academic receptivity to industrial efforts is a significant part of the problem.

The Liberal government's innovation platform includes targeted investments in clean technology and other important economic sectors (it's worth repeating: read the interview with Bill Gates in the Atlantic). And the incipient platform outlines
...direct support to business incubators and accelerators, research facilities, financing, and other support for successful small companies wanting to grow and export. The objective is to create successful networks like the American and German partnerships between businesses, government, and university and college research. Working with provinces, post-secondary institutions, and industry, this funding will also help modernize and strengthen the technology transfer and commercialization functions at universities and colleges.
The reference to international comparators (such as Fraunhoffer) and a Small Business Innovation and Research Program, modelled on the US program, looks to directly prompt industry to increase investment in R&D. Thus the problem is tacitly identified; rendering this explicit will be the job of the incoming government. Ensuring there is a strong, complementary academic support structure in our colleges, polytechnics and universities will help industry to innovate (and get more academic discoveries to market). This is an embrace of the entire research through to innovation continuum.

And it is here that Silcoff approaches some sensible advice, specifically on the Scientific Research and Experimental Development (SR&ED) tax credit scheme, as this is needlessly complex and seemingly a vehicle for to much overhead to be spent on applying to the program. He should go further: SR&ED should be eliminated and the money moved upstream to support direct industry R&D, or hiring as Silcoff writes about. I have previously outlined some of the problems with SR&ED; it really is time to get rid of this program. 

The Small Business Innovation and Research Program, and the IRAP industry voucher program as initiated by the last federal government, are key ways to incentivize industry to engage in R&D, and to partner with the most appropriate academic centre to get this done. 

02 November 2015

Generation renew: innovation policy and education

I've been reading the revised edition of The Entrepreneurial State which supports the idea of state intervention and the development (and funding) of priorities in basic research. Those interested in this viewpoint would do well to read the interview with Bill Gates in the Atlantic, in which he says the same thing regarding the need for basic science investment in climate change. This is an important point that needs to be discussed as it relates to innovation policy and the public funding of basic and applied research, as well as experimental development (which is the innovation side of the equation - see post script below). There is also an interview in the recent Report on Business magazine with nobel laureate George Akerlof, in which he also supports the notion of state intervention. We are witnessing the rise of behavioural economics that shows how rational actors are induced to act irrationally.

A positive link here is the work that the Canadian Council of Chief Executives initiated recently: the Business Higher Education Round Table (BHER). There are two foci here: research collaborations and work integrated learning. Of particular import is the fact that leaders of business and higher education are working together to find productive solutions to inherent challenges in our economy - the lack of productivity and innovation, as well as persistent (and perceived) skills gaps. Universities Canada new CEO Elizabeth Cannon (co-chair, with GBC President Anne Sado, of the BHER) recently came out with a list of 5 priorities, which includes better industry academic partnerships.

All of this points to what I will call Generation Renew: we are generating renewal through a politics of detente that sees business, colleges, polytechnics and universities working together to address common needs. This includes industrial and academic productivity and partnerships, as well as a greater focus on skills the economy of the future needs.

Generation Renew is not just the generation of new models of cooperation and collaboration, it is also the generation of people that will come up within this milieu and start to address the long standing issues faced by the Canadian economy. Generation Renew supplants the alphabet soup of generational change and flux. Generation Renew are those people who work their way through the educational systems in Canada to acquire skills and competencies, are entrepreneurial and innovative, and who work together to make Canada a better place for all. The right mix of intervention and coopetition will enable Canada to make maximal use of our basic and applied research capacity, while ensuring we have the right skills for the innovation economy.

Post Script: Today's One Thought a Day blog post by Alex Usher offers some good advice on innovation policy. Usher offers views on differential spending between what he calls "pure research and applied research." There is an inherent problem with calling basic research pure research - it implies that applied research is somehow impure (and this in one statement sums up Canada's problem with commercialization as seemingly not pure). And, Usher, like most, ignores the third component of R&D - experimental development, in which innovation emerges. However, let's focus on Usher's repeat of the Jenkins Panel recommendation to support the establishment of an innovation granting council. This is important. While the previous government did a lot to promote HERD as well as to continue the previous Liberal government's initialization of the college research funding program, a lot of the good was lost in the rhetoric of entitlement to what I would call a libertarian view on "pure research": don't tell me what I can and cannot research, just fund me to do what I want to do. As I have pointed out in this space many times over the years, state intervention is required to support the establishment of clusters and national priorities. This is because, even though Canada spends more per capita on HERD than any other G7 country, we do not have the GDP to support research into anything and everything.

25 October 2015

GBC Research #1 in College Research

This past week saw the release of the Research Infosource Canadian College Research rankings. GBC Research has climbed from third place in last year's rankings to first place this year in terms of research funding raised. We also placed first in research partnerships. This is due to dedicated hard work by the GBC Research office team and everyone at George Brown College who has been supporting research since our inception in 2007. You can read our press release here.

In other exciting news, GBC Research partner Clear Blue Technologies has won the 2015 OCE Mind to Market award. Clear Blue is a shining example of an innovative Canadian company. We are pleased to be able to support them, and congratulate them on this excellent award.

07 October 2015

Congratulations to Nobel Prize winner Professor Arthur McDonald

Yesterday the world learned that professor Arthur McDonald of Queen's University (my alma mater) won the Nobel Prize for Physics - this is great news for Canada's investment in basic science. Listen to Professor McDonald's comments on the need for greater balance in investment on basic science and the need for greater industry investment in science and R&D. This shows the value of investing in basic science in those areas where we have world leading expertise.


25 September 2015

Design is the bricoleur of innovation

Last week I wrote about innovation policy and its coverage in the media and in particular Mariana Mazzucato's book The Entrepreneurial State. It's in the news again today and what interests me most about this discussion is the unstated role of design in taking ideas to market. That is, intentional design - or design with intent if you will - is about finding ways to shape technology into useful and usable products and services. Many are fond of talking about Apple products and the particular genius that company had in taking others' inventions and packaging them in a way to make them appealing. Have a look at this site for an interesting look at how Mac products moved "forward through the rearview mirror." The designer is the bricoleur, and this is at the heart of innovation. Not invention, though this is important. Rather, when we take ideas emerging from basic research and put these together to form products and services that people will find useful and usable, then we have innovation. This is the stated goal of Tandem Launch, for example, and is well worth looking into. GBC's Design Centre for the Smart Economy is how we scaffold ideas and inventions through to innovations and invoices.

15 September 2015

Innovation policy the rhetoric of research

There has been some good coverage in the Globe and Mail recently on innovation policy in Canada, leveraging the current election to promote fruitful discussion on this important aspect of public policy. One of the better pieces was by Doug Saunders on Saturday, where he asks "The question of Election 2015: Can government create jobs and growth?". In a nutshell he lays bare the need for government intervention in the economy specifically as it relates to promoting innovation in extant and emergent industrial sectors. The government's role is not to pick winners and losers, but rather to create gravitational pull towards specific goals such that industries can develop. Most importantly he cites the work of Mariana Mazzucato and her book The Entrepreneurial State (a must read). We need to get away from the tax incentives as a spur to innovation - these are not working. Instead, direct supports - such as those recommended by Polytechnics Canada  recently - will go much further in supporting a holistic approach to both industrial and academic R&D productivity. This point, made by Saunders and repeated today by Kevin Lynch, is seemingly not well understood in Canada.

Saunders makes a significant error in his reporting; in paraphrasing Mazzucato, he talks about the Canadian predilection to invest in what he calls "pure research." In the quote from Mazzucato, she talks about the continuum of basic research, applied research, and commercialization. It is worth quoting this passage in its entirety:
“What doesn’t work,” Dr. Mazzucato says, “is when the direct investments are too focused on one part of the innovation chain. The kind of active government involvement that was characteristic of Silicon Valley and places like Denmark – that government involvement has been across the entire innovation chain. Basic research? Yes. Applied research and early-stage financing for companies? Yes. Those countries that think they can just spend a lot on science and a lot on basic research and assume business can take care of the rest, without also having a strong presence in public policy – they tend to fail.”
Saunders's error is a linguistic one that is common among Canada's R&D policy set: equating basic research with the term pure research automatically confers on applied research and commercialization the connotation that this is impure. You might think this does not matter. But language constitutes reality, and in the partisan world of research funding, where one is seen as preferable to the other in the scrum for scant dollars, we would be wise to heed Mazzucato's words to diversify our investments along the innovation chain.

Saunders should be aware of this linguistic issue, having written arguably one of the better histories of Canada's consistent failure to embrace innovation in a 2012 piece called "My ancestors and the worst thing that has ever happened to this country." In this, he outlines may aspects of the historical antecedents of our long standing failure to capitalize on anything other than raw resources, and how
the idea of an individualistic, entrepreneurial, industrially adventurous economy became alien and undesirable. The hewing of wood, the drawing of water and the selling of furs may been the origins of Canada, but the post-1812 rulers turned them into an unavoidable fate.
With the opportunity before us to engage in dialogue and debate, I believe we can turn around this "unavoidable fate."

On that note, a good read on the connections between all forms of research and the complementary aspects of various education outcomes can be found in Fragmented Systems: Connecting Players in Canada’s Skills Challenge, released this week by the Canadian Chamber of Commerce. 

04 September 2015

Job makers and job takers

Yesterday's news from the Conference Board that Canada still remains "an innovation laggard" is disheartening to say the least. There is some good news in that Canada has improved on some measures, and the report on the page linked above reminds us that a focus on incremental innovation is a valid path for companies to pursue. The Globe Report on Business story about this latest innovation scorecard contains reference to the new indicator of entrepreneurial ambition, on which Canada scores well. This is an important point that is well worth emphasizing.

George Brown College understands employment - this is core to our Strategy 2020. We rightfully focus on ensuring employment outcomes for our graduates - making sure that where the labour market is headed is where our graduates get jobs and excel in them. GBC was a partner on a recent labour market information report by the Toronto Region Board of Trade that offers the best LMI available for the region - find it here: Closing the Prosperity Gap.

The point here is that we focus on job takers - preparing people to take the jobs in the economy that need to be filled.

We also need to focus on the job makers - those people who have entrepreneurial ambition and who are creating companies and jobs in the economy. startGBC, GBC's gateway to entrepreneurship is our access point for the job makers in our programs. There are many programs and post-secondary institutions focusing on entrepreneurship, from MaRS to Ryerson University's DMZ. All have in common what the Conference Board is measuring as entrepreneurial ambition, which "helps shape the entrepreneurial and innovation performance of an economy." 

We should celebrate our A rating on this factor, and do more to encourage not just the jobs takers - who need innovation literacy to help companies and entrepreneurs to be more innovative and productive - but the job makers, who will create jobs, opportunities and new industries in the years to come.

25 August 2015

Innovation in Canada

The Globe and Mail has been running a series of articles on innovation in Canada, kicked off back in May by a piece by Jim Balsillie. These articles are not really telling us anything we do not already know: Canada spends more per capita on basic research than our G7 counterparts, but we are at the bottom when it comes to business investment in R&D (and education and training and new technology, while we are at it). A couple of weeks ago there was a good article by Ian Klugman and Kevin Lynch on how the Toronto-Waterloo corridor could be Canada’s own Silicon Valley. For the first time in the series an author (or authors in this case) acknowledged that there is an innovation intermediary system comprised not just of universities, but also of colleges and polytechnics. I suppose in some respects it is short hand for post secondary education for most writers and editors to simply say universities, but we ignore the wider system at our detriment.

The key point here is that, while we certainly need to focus on more startups emerging from our world leading basic science labs, we also need to focus on what we can do to help those companies who want to innovate. A well functioning innovation intermediary ecosystem includes the span of PSE institutions all working toward their particular strengths.

The Greater Toronto Area is emerging as one of these, with world leading university research labs and hospitals functioning well alongside smaller universities and start up ecosystems along with colleges and polytechnics that are each doing their part for the whole.

Ensuring everyone across the educational outcome spectrum is well equipped with innovation literacy skills - and knows how to work with others in the system - will future proof our economy. A good thought for a week when the world's markets are taking such a beating.

23 July 2015

GBC Receives funding from FEDDEV Ontario for Food and Beverage Research

Yesterday saw the announcement of $7Min funding for Food and Beverage Labs at George Brown College from the Federal Economic Development Agency of Southern Ontario. The announcement was made by Wladyslaw Lizon, Member of Parliament for Mississauga East - Cooksville at Furlani's Foods, also a recipient of FEDDEV Ontario funding. 

The GBC investment is focused on expanding the Food Innovation Research Studio (FIRSt), an NSERC-funded Technology Access Centre, which for the past four years has led research in the food and beverage sectors. It is part of a $14M renovation at our Centre for Hospitality and Culinary Arts in our King Street East Culinary Innovation District.

The project will establish the following:
  • Expand and enhance the Food Innovation and Research Studio’s operational capacity; 
  • Create a Culinary and Large Quantity Lab to enable process and product development for scaling up and large batch manufacturing of new savoury food products; 
  • Create a Bake and Large Quantity Lab to enable companies to develop large-scale baked goods manufacturing processes;
  • Create a Beverage Research Lab to support product development, sensory testing, scale-up and launch for beverage-specific industries;
  • Create an Industry Engagement and Interaction facility to support business-to-business food product introductions and launches; and
  • Engage with SME food and beverage client companies to:
  • Improve on or create new food and beverage products, including prototype development, testing, and refinement;
  • Improve on or create new manufacturing processes; and
  • Provide manufacturing scale-up preparation assistance.
Investments such as this are helping to encourage industry to invest in R&D and get new products and services to market. The Food Innovation Research Studio, one of GBC's flagship research labs, has been active in supporting the GTA Food and Beverage Cluster.

13 July 2015

The importance of labour market information

Polytechnics Canada CEO Nobina Robinson was quoted in a recent Globe and Mail article about the importance of labour market information (LMI) and nascent efforts by federal and provincial governments to produce these data for the Canadian economy. Polytechnics Canada has advocated for more effective LMI for the past year+, and the Institutional Research offices of the 11 members have compiled useful data on connecting supply and demand of education and skilled talent for the labour market. Many have been advocating for an independent, arms-length Labour Market Information Council, which is the name chosen for this group, though it is made up of provincial and federal government officials. It is likely that many will take a wait and see approach to this new LMIC and give it the benefit of the doubt - anything may be better than the current state, which is akin to driving a car without a dashboard. Having a coordinated approach to LMI will help guide investments in education - at the political and the personal level.

Last January George Brown College launched Career Coach, an online service that is designed to illuminate for potential students the gaps in the current labour market and which programs prepare graduates for these fields. It is a powerful application that draws on StatsCan data and links programs, pathways, and job openings with salary information. This follows on an excellent report the Toronto Board of Trade commissioned last last year, which GBC, along with our GTA college partners Centennial, Humber and Seneca, along with Colleges Ontario and the United Way, sponsored. This report - Closing the Property Gap - has the best LMI available to date; you can download the data cube and execute your own analyses on it. And while it is focused on the GTA, it offers a good start to what is needed to ensure that regions and regional economies can enable citizens to best respond to present and future labour market conditions.

24 June 2015

Seizing the Moment: Input to NSERC's Strategy 2020

NSERC President Dr Mario Pinto recently launched a wide consultation into a new Strategy for the organization. George Brown College hosted one of the town hall consultation session which was well attended by college faculty, staff and industry partners. I submitted the following comments to the online survey, pulling from many ideas and comments made in this space over the past few years.

Going forward, will the NSERC 2020 Strategy help the Canadian research community achieve this vision?

Canada has a productivity problem – industrial and academic – and the NSERC Strategy 2020 has the potential to reinvigorate the research, development and innovation (RDI) continuum in Canada, provided some small changes are made to its focus. Canada has a strong research and development capacity, though this is overly focused on basic research. Applied research, supported through universities, colleges and polytechnics, is lagging. We have excellent basic research capacity but very low innovation capacity – our academic research does not produce comparable outputs and our businesses do not invest in R&D to the rate of our OECD counterparts. This is a serious problem that needs to be explicitly addressed in the NSERC Strategy.

The Council of Canadian Academies State of Science and Technology, 2012 report outlines this problem:
  • Canada is among the 5 leading countries in 7 of 22 fields, and among the 10 leading countries in an additional 14 fields.
  • With 0.5 per cent of the world’s population, Canada accounted for 4.1 per cent of research papers in 2005-2010 (7th in the world)
  • However, Canada holds only 1.7 per cent of patents
  • In 2010 Canada had a negative balance of nearly $5 billion in royalties and licensing revenues
This represents a serious academic productivity challenge that is compounded by low industry investment. Where Canada leads the G7 in per capita public funding for R&D (Higher Education Expenditures on R&D – HERD), we lag the OECD in Business Expenditures on R&D (BERD).

The four strategic goals are highly laudable and will be effective inputs to a healthy and vibrant RDI ecosystem. Under number 2 – Building a diversified and competitive research base, it mentions that “We will build upon the potential of academic institutions of all sizes” – this needs to be amended to “all types and sizes.” Since 2003, when the federal investments first began for college and polytechnic applied research, these investment have not only grown steadily but have shown proven results. George Brown College, as one example, works equally well with our private sector partners – helping firms to get new products and services to market, in the process creating jobs and wealth in the economy. We also work with scientists and researchers in Greater Toronto Area universities, helping them to get products made, PhDs completed, patents and publications into the marketplace. We have an opportunity to link an emergent RDI ecosystem comprising universities, colleges and polytechnics, to the private sector. This will help ensure that we can work together in productive ways to aid universities in getting innovations to market, while linking the private sector to both applied and basic research capacity that exists in our post-secondary education systems. In so doing, we will increase academic and industry productivity, ensure that students from across the spectrum of qualifications understand innovation, and create prosperity for all. This supports your third strategic goal of “Strengthening the dynamic between discovery and innovation.” For the workforce functions best when complementary expertise from a variety of disciplines and depth work well together.

How can we work together to ensure success?

We have an unprecedented historical opportunity to leverage all components of the RDI ecosystem toward greater productivity and innovation capacity. When we focus on giving students – from apprentice through undergraduate to graduate – the experience of working together in high functioning cross disciplinary teams on invention and innovation, we help to create and foster the next generation of talent that understands complementary expertise as a vital component to vibrant economies. This means enhancing the capacity of colleges and polytechnics to engage in applied research with firms and university partners – the CCI Program has started this through innovative funding instruments that support college applied research capacity and college, university and industry partnerships. These efforts must be enhanced.

The commitment to global excellence is well founded, and there is strong precedent here. As the CCA 2012 report indicates we “punch well above our weight” in terms of our basic research capacity. It is widely known, and has been studied extensively by successive expert panels (Jenkins Panel, CCA) that our innovation capacity lags seriously. The NRC’s Concierge Service is one way that we can enhance and foster greater partnerships. We should do more. NSERC has a significant role to play in terms of your ability to have line of sight into world leading basic and applied research capacity. Linking universities, colleges ad polytechnics with the private sector can be the purview of NSERC partnerships. Taking a proactive view to building links and bridges, either via geography or sector-based, will enable scientists to access the skills and talent, machinery, equipment and markets and networks inherent in the college and polytechnic sector. Building complementary expertise in relevant scientific priority areas will enhance overall economic performance by ensuring higher academic invention productivity while linking to industry receptivity.

Industry as a whole does not perform enough R&D, nor understands the need for it in some cases. The geography of basic research in our world leading universities is not necessary linked to industrial receptivity. Providing greater stewardship of R&D results into, for example, prototyping and development capacity at a college or polytechnic, and then linking this explicitly to potential industrial partners, will help Canada improve our R&D standing. We need this kind of market intervention in order to realize the value of the investments we are making. There are those who will resist this thinking, either on ideological grounds (against any market intervention) or on the basis of any money going to one sector is less for another. This is outmoded thinking. The future prosperity of Canada demands we take a complementary and equitable approach, realize value for money on our investments, and ensure that we leverage all aspects of the publicly funded RDI system – linking the production of highly qualified and skilled personnel from across the educational spectrum. Doing so will future proof the investments made to date, and be a hedge against the global competition for talent and industrial development. The NSERC Strategy 2020 is a timely opportunity to stake out our future potential.

19 June 2015

Applied Research Day celebrates the Galaxy of Research at GBC

This week saw over 200 people convene on the George Brown Waterfront campus for Applied Research Day. Students, faculty, staff and industry partners were treated to interesting panels and an exploration of the #gbcgalaxy.
Applied Research Day 2015 at George Brown College
Applied Research Day 2015 at George Brown College

The panel discussions exemplifies how applied research enacts our Strategy 2020, engaging students in innovative and experiential learning opportunities while engaging high value partners in support of innovation and entrepreneurial activities. A highlight was the awarding of Outstanding Student Researcher awards and Research Mentor awards. These awards to students, faculty and staff celebrate applied research achievement at the College, and were presented by our Chancellor, Sally Horsfall Eaton. Each received a digital badge highlighting their achievements. Look for these to be displayed on their LinkedIn profiles!

Here is the list of student awardees:
  • Savannah Allmin, School of Fashion Studies
  • Lynn Bailey, School of Dental Health
  • Ryan Billinger, School of Mechanical Engineering
  • Nicholas Cramaro, School of Computer Technology
  • Robert DeCaire, School of Computer Technology
  • James Henderson, Angelo Del Zotto School of Construction Management
  • Cody Nairn, Chef School
  • Hyun Ju Jang, Centre for Construction and Engineering Technologies
  • Kai Tam, Sally Horsfall Eaton School of Nursing
  • Hayley Turnbull, Chef School
  • Holden Vetro, School of Fashion Studies
Outstanding Student Researcher Badge 2015
Outstanding Student Researcher Badge 2015
We also awarded a badge for Student Entrepreneur of the Year, as sponsored by startGBC, our Gateway to Entrepreneurship. This year's award went to:
  • Jerry Gou, a recent graduate from the Centre for Business' School of Marketing was named the 2015 Student Entrepreneur of the Year. He co-created REACH, a mobile app for job hunters.
Outstanding Student Entrepreneur Badge 2015
Outstanding Student Entrepreneur Badge 2015
As this was the first year we awarded Research Mentor badges we celebrated those from 2007-2014 as Outstanding Research Mentors:
  • Steffanie Adams, Professor, School of Architectural Studies 
  • Jean-Paul Amore, Professor, School of Design
  • Lorraine Betts, Professor, Sally Horsfall Eaton School of Nursing
  • Moira Cockburn, Professor,Chef School
  • Julie Gaudet, Professor, Sally Horsfall Eaton School of Nursing
  • Jamie McIntyre, Professor & Coordinator, School of Mechanical Engineering Technologies
  • Leo Salemi, Professor & Coordinator, School of Mechanical Engineering Technologies
  • Chris Timusk, Professor, Angelo Del Zotta School of Construction Management 
The 2015 Outstanding Research Mentors are:
  • Debbie Bonfield, Professor, School of Health & Wellness 
  • David Hu, Technician, School of Mechanical Engineering Technologies
  • Jean Niravong, Professor, Sally Horsfall Eaton School of Nursing
Each received the Outstanding Research Mentor badge:

Outstanding Research Mentor Badge 2015
Outstanding Research Mentor Badge 2015
Industry partners and faculty and staff participated in panels on Shaping the Future with Technology, Shaping the Future for Social Benefit, and Shaping the Future of Students. The student panel that capped the day's event was a real highlight, as the students articulated the innovation literacy skills they have gained through applied research experience.

We were very pleased to honour past, present and upcoming members of our Innovation Advisory Board. The IAB has been providing strategic input and advice to the Research Office since 2008, ensuring our applied research and innovation services can meet the needs of our private and public sector partners. Our IAB members also received a digital badge - see this below.
Digital Bade for our Innovation Advisory Board members
Digital Badge for our Innovation Advisory Board members

Check out the conversation and photos on the Twitter feed from the day via the #gbcgalaxy and the story on the GBC News page.

This is what applied research looks like.

02 June 2015

CICan Annual Conference features Applied Research

The Colleges and Institutes Canada Annual Conference was convened last week in Winnipeg. Applied Research was featured this year at the conference in lieu of a stand alone Applied Research symposium, as has been past practice. This was a great way to showcase how much applied research is core to Canada's colleges, polytechnics and institutes. CICan released a document entitled  Partnerships for Industry Innovation that showcases the scope of applied research now being conducted across Canada. There is much to be celebrated here in terms of how colleges foster industry innovation while teaching key innovation literacy skills to our students.

And speaking of students, GBC Research convened two panels - one on the student experience and another on applied research metrics. I was to moderate these but unfortunately was not able to make the trip. Dawn Davidson, Director of Research and GBC, moderated the first panel; Bert van den Berg of NSERC took over the second.  

The panel on the student experience in applied research was called "This is what applied research looks like: From the student experience to skills" and featured the following:
  • Jean Niravong, a graduate of the Chef School who worked on many projects with an emphasis on healthy food, and an instructor at the College;
  • Miyoko Oikawa, is a current student in the Bachelor of Technology – Construction Management and a key member of the ARGILE research team, conducting research on building envelopes; and 
  • Lisa Govia, a graduate of the Business Analyst program, and recent key member of the project management team in the research office, now at Royal Bank.

The focus of the discussion was on the two key outputs of College applied research : we help our partners to innovate, while giving students key skills and innovation literacy. These skills help students apply knowledge learned in programs leading to greater innovation capacity in their careers. The three graduates/students spoke eloquently about what they gained from this experience and what it has meant to their careers.

The second panel was on "Applied Research Metrics, Measurement and Evaluation" and featured Dawn Davidson, George Brown College, Mark Hoddenbagh, Algonquin College, and Sherrill McCall, Cambrian College. The purpose of the panel was to address Strategic Mandate Agreements recently mandated by the Ontario Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities. These SMAs include metrics for evaluating applied research. It is recognized that it would be useful to have common metrics for the college system. This panel discussed how best to measure outcomes at the provincial level, and what these measures mean to our stakeholders.
Here is the longer abstract created for the discussion:
The refinement and continued development of applied research at Canadian Colleges, Institutes and Polytechnics has been further reinforced with the latest federal STI strategy which acknowledges applied research as a key component of the country’s innovation ecosystem. The college approach to applied research fosters industry and social innovation while equipping graduates with innovation skills.

In Ontario the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities (MTCU) recently mandated post-secondary institutions to create Strategic Mandate Agreements (SMAs) in order to enhance the cohesiveness of the Ontario post-secondary institutions, with the goal of creating a system based approach. Included in the SMAs for colleges are metrics for evaluating applied research; universities have metrics for both basic and applied research.  These outcome measures are important to ensuring effective return on investment for public funding into activities either core or ancillary to institutions’ academic mandates.

It is less clear at this juncture that there is a common approach to outcomes measurement for college applied research. Where some institutions feel that cost recovery is imperative, others feel that this detracts from the core academic mission of colleges. Regardless of where one sits on this spectrum, it is important to identify effective college applied research metrics, measurement and evaluation frameworks such that there is agreement in the Ontario system as to how institutions can work together to ensure consistency of experience, be this for students, faculty and staff, and our research partners.
These are important issues of high relevance to the college applied research community. Many of us have been working on these issues for some time, specifically looking at ways to measure both capacity to deliver applied research services and the contributions to the economy these produce. More on this in the days and weeks to come, including exciting developments among the Technology Access Centres, who are cohering around a national network designed to support applied research standards across the country.

The CICan conference as a whole, and the inclusion of applied research, marks a significant milestone in the evolution of the discourse around innovation policy as enacted in our colleges, institutes and polytechnics. I am looking forward to next year's conference in Quebec City.

25 May 2015

Celebrating the launch of the Canadian Centre for Aging and Brain Health Innovation

Friday marked the formal launch of the Canadian Centre for Aging and Brain Health Innovation (CC-ABHI), an exciting initiative led by Baycrest and funded directly through the federal government's latest budget, the provincial government budget, the Baycrest Foundation, and CC-ABHI partners like George Brown College. We are excited to be among a very auspicious list of partners who have committed resources to this worthwhile initiative that together has received $123.5M to support the first five years of operations. This includes $42M from the Government of Canada, and $23.5M from the Province of Ontario. CC-ABHI is an ambitious project that "will be a national hub and network of leading seniors care organizations dedicated to the development, validation, commercialization, dissemination and adoption of brain health and seniors care products and services." As a founding academic partner, GBC's contribution includes a commitment to recruit new industry partners and to scope, manage and administer commercialization projects and to support projects through our prototyping and assessment facilities. Our Advanced Prototyping Lab (APL) and our test facilities at our Waterfront Campus are ideal components in the CC-ABHI ecosystem

The CC-ABHI partnership creates a comprehensive platform of world-class resources, including applied research, development, prototyping, simulation, healthcare workforce training, and commercialization capabilities, that will assist CC-ABHI customers in determining key use cases, identifying usability challenges and opportunities, and evaluating technology and workflow issues in clinical, residential and community settings.

Congratulations to all on this exciting announcement; we are looking forward to working with our partners to realize innovation success!

08 May 2015

Polytechnics Know How

Saskatchewan Polytechnic hosted the Polytechnics Canada Annual Conference on 7 May, and featured some great speakers and discussion about highly relevant issues pertaining to education and its relationship to productivity in the economy. On 6 May there were internal group meetings kicked off by a talk by Ken Coates, who engaged the group with questions regarding "the polytechnic moment." Fundamentally this is about our ability to respond to labour market needs with effective balancing of supply and demand with skills training and education. This recurrent theme is of great importance given the lack of growth in education funding and the need to ensure that the labour market has effective inputs (i.e. graduates) for social and economic outputs.

The agenda featured good speakers and an industry panel that discussed the political context of education and differentiation and how to articulate the value of polytechnic education. This includes our focus on applied research and the conjoint outcome of helping industry increase innovation and productivity while giving our students valuable innovation skills. These intangible skills were a strong focus of the discussions, in that these are often overlooked and add value to any social or economic enterprise.  That is, with demographics being what they are, with the work force essentially shrinking and the expenses of those retiring increasing, we have a very real need to increase productivity across the economy.  The kinds of skills and education that polytechnic education provides offer an excellent avenue for realizing this goal. This include the transferable skills and training people to assume managerial responsibilities as areas in need of development.

Adaptive thinking is required in our graduates - a core competency of innovation literacy - as well as in our approach to education. This is not an either or argument - it is clear form our discussions that situating one form of education against others is not a winning proposition. Rather, our focus on complementarity, in education and applied research, acknowledges a perspectival multiplicity that is also a multiplier effect on the economy. This kind of thought leadership is important in the post-secondary education landscape.

28 April 2015

From Discovery to Business Innovation

The Metro Toronto Convention Centre is abuzz this week with two conferences that nicely represent the continuum of research, from basic to applied through to experimental development and business innovation.  OCE Discovery is the annual conference sponsored by the Ontario Centres of Excellence, which funds R&D in the province. It represents the scale and scope of the R&D and Innovation ecosystem - most if not all public sector R&D performers are there showing the strengths of the system that supports research from the lab to the marketplace. The Conference Board of Canada convenes today and tomorrow for their Business Innovation Summit 2015, offering a range of speakers on topics as diverse as fostering innovation and R&D for market outputs through to the skills required for an innovative workforce.  In short, within one venue we have the opportunity to see and hear from many leaders from the spectrum of R&D and innovation.

22 April 2015

Budget 2015 support Business Innovation

Yesterday's federal budget contains some significant advances for the R&D capacity of the country. More specifically, Budget 2015 is one that promotes business innovation, something that has long been lacking in Canada. By business innovation we can include a host of measures, from promoting industry-academic partnerships for R&D right through to skills development and labour market information.

Budget 2015 R&D funding will further support research in our universities, colleges and polytechnics. The granting councils have been given modest increases focused on enhancing R&D from basic to applied research right through to experimental development. This includes $1.33B over six years for the CFI, $15M to NSERC - $5M of which will increase the College and Community Innovation Program (CCIP) starting in 2016-17, and $7M to SSHRC to increase partnerships between the public and private sector. As the budget notes Canada is at the top of the G7 in Higher Education R&D (HERD) spending (see page 93). Promoting greater capacity to engage in public-private R&D partnerships (P3RD) will help Canada leverage our world-leading basic research capacity and our polytechnic and college applied research strengths in support of experimental development and business innovation.

Most significant is the introduction of a key recommendation of the Jenkins Panel - a consolidation of industry facing R&D programs. This is a very positive move that will enable the full exercising of the public R&D system (universities, colleges and polytechnics) and orient these to industry partnerships when and where applicable. As I noted in my last post this was raised by industry participants in the NSERC Strategy Town Hall George Brown College hosted last week. The effort by NSERC is to align with the NRC's Concierge service, a nascent effort by the NRC to provide a portal into the secondary R&D supports. The Concierge service is right-headed, but adding NSERC to the mix will enable it to better serve the needs of industry by matching need to specific innovation support offered by universities, polytechnics and colleges. NSERC is well positioned to access the public R&D system.

The real value here is in the sector-agnostic approach to linking industry to innovation ecosystem supports:"While maintaining existing support for research activities at colleges and universities, this integration of similar programming will offer companies a single window through which they can undertake research collaborations with a university, a college, or both depending on project needs" (111). I would submit that this is one of the more forward-thinking initiatives to come to the R&D sector, in that we are finally moving forward on providing a seamless bridge for public-private R&D support, free of the angst of funding direction (as in: who gets the money - universities or colleges). This is positive evolution.

There are other elements of the budget that are of significance - new labour market information (much needed in Canada) through to programs that will focus on "'soft' skills, such as the ability to communicate clearly, think strategically and work in teams" (149). This is the essence of innovation literacy, and promoting Blue Seal certification for example (a key recommendation from Polytechnics Canada), as well as youth employment, aboriginal employment and entrepreneurship and support for persons with disabilities will help ensure Canada has the right skills - including STEM skills - that a modern innovation economy requires. We can add to this experiential learning - a core facet of George Brown College's Strategy 2020 - as key to ensuring graduates of post secondary education have the skills employers need. Here we have another very positive development that acknowledges the specific strengths of the college and polytechnic sector.
Economic Action Plan 2015 proposes to provide a one-time investment of $65 million over four years, starting in 2016–17, to business and industry associations to support partnerships between employers and willing educational institutions. Through these partnerships, groups of employers and industry organizations will work with willing post-secondary institutions to develop curricula and programs that are aligned with the specific skills needs of the labour market.
It is worth noting that the Ontario Colleges of Applied Arts and Technology Act, 2002, compels Colleges in Ontario "to offer a comprehensive program of career-oriented, post-secondary education and training to assist individuals in finding and keeping employment, to meet the needs of employers and the changing work environment and to support the economic and social development of their local and diverse communities." Colleges are specifically set up to serve the labour market needs with our educational programming, and this applies to our focus on applied research. Budget 2015 supports the further refinement and development of how best our educational systems can respond to labour market needs for skills development and the orientation of R&D capacity - for technology transfer out of our leading basic research institutions and firm-friendly conduits into the applied research capacity. Canada is on the cusp of becoming world class in our orientation to the innovation economy.

One highlight is the funding of the Canadian Centre for Aging and Brain Health Innovation (CC-ABHI), which is led by Baycrest Hospital, and includes a host of private and public sector partners working together to create "a national hub and network dedicated to the development, validation, commercialization, dissemination and adoption of brain health and seniors care products and services." George Brown College is very pleased to be a founding academic partner in CC-ABHI. Our Advanced Prototyping Lab will be supporting product development, in addition to clinical simulation and testing.

Read the Colleges and Institutes Canada press release and the Polytechnics Canada press release on Budget 2015.

19 April 2015

Notes on the NSERC Strategy Consultation

As most in the research community will know the new NSERC President Dr Mario Pinto has launched a consultation process for their new 2020 Strategy. George Brown College hosted a consultation Town Hall for Dr Pinto last week as part of the 20290 Strategy. Dr Pinto was called away at the last moment to attend an event with the Prime Minister, so Bert van den Berg, Director, Colleges, Commercialization & Portfolio Planning at NSERC stepped in to lead the discussion. About 40 attendees convened at our waterfront campus to learn about the NSERC vision and to provide input and comments on shaping this direction. It was a productive discussion from a diverse audience comprised of college, polytechnic and university researches and administrators, as well as many industry partners.

The NSERC 2020 Strategy has this as its goal:

The result is a well-positioned vision for NSERC in 2020 “to be a global leader in strengthening the discovery-innovation continuum for the societal and economic benefit of Canada.”
Our vision is founded on people, the lifeblood of discovery and innovation, and on achieving four strategic goals:
  1. Fostering a science culture in Canada.
  2. Building a diversified and competitive research base through discovery research.
  3. Strengthening the discovery-innovation continuum.
  4. Going global.
Discussion at the Town Hall focused on what this means to firms, as well as college and university researchers who are enablers of this vision. For college and polytechnic applied research, we are focused on the third point of "Strengthening the discovery-innovation continuum," given our focus on innovation. Industry representatives at the Town Hall spoke about the need for NSERC to provide an easy and accessible route for firms to tap into the basic and applied research capacity in Canada - much like the NRC's Concierge service, which van den Berg noted is a key partnership component for all in the research and innovation space. Another question related to the goal of "Going global" focused on the need to support stronger investment, including aiding discoveries to get into the marketplace internationally, as well as firms selling to international markets.

On the notion of getting discoveries to market, Canada has a real challenge here. With leading G8 per capita R&D spending in the public sector but lagging industry R&D spending (the HERD|BERD imbalance), we need to do more to increase academic R&D productivity. As successive expert panels have determined, our rate of return on academic discoveries is poor. We have world leading basic/discovery research labs, yet the worst record in the world for realizing the value of IP generated here in Canada. Part of this involves changing academic culture - orienting tenure and promotion discussions away from publishing first toward a patenting first commercializing second route, and enabling university professors to count this activity as part of the T&P discussion. This happens to some extent now, but until we staunch the flow of ideas flowing out of our porous borders and start protecting and generating value from Canadian IP we will continue to be an exporter of raw materials (ideas) for the rest of the world to commercialize and sell back to us. The latest federal Science, Technology and Innovation Strategy provides good context for all of us involved in the R&D and innovation chain in Canada. It is worth repeating what I wrote then:

There is much to be celebrated about Canada’s world leading basic research. We need more focus on translating this research into practical application for social and economic good. Our negative balance in IP – one of the worst records in the world – should be alarming to any Canadian. Successive expert panels have all said 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 research.

Well-funded basic research is necessary, but not sufficient for a functioning innovation economy. Countries like Canada, with our economy so dependent on resource extraction industries, need to start adding value to the raw resources we extract so we are less dependent on things like the price of oil. Basic research with little or no focus on application or commercialization becomes just one more example of how Canada exports raw commodities (ideas) without adding value (commercialization of these ideas). We can no longer afford this.  

The new NSERC 2020 Strategy offers all of us - researchers and administrators from both basic and applied research institutions - an opportunity to provide input as to how to achieve a healthy balance between the necessary components of a well functioning R&D system. I would add to this the requisite industry contribution - experimental development - which often gets overlooked in the (at times overly partisan) discussion about research funding in Canada. My challenge to the research community is to use this opportunity to provide input to NSERC, and to promote collaborative efforts, not to swing like simians from one branch of the tree, but rather to understand that the tree is part of a forest. Let's evolve our thinking, on R&D, innovation, and supply and demand for a world leading economy.

And speaking of NSERC, student researchers in our FedDev funded Green Building Centre have been named a runner up in the NSERC Science! Action! video contest. Their video on the Home Retrofit Guide was produced by and stars the students and is a great view into what applied research looks like from the student perspective. Congratulations to Eleanor Martinez and the entire Building Science research team.  Check it out below!

17 April 2015

CICan releases annual report on applied research

Colleges and Institutes Canada (CICan) has released the updated compendium on applied research, offering an in depth look at the state of applied research in colleges, polytechnics and institutes across Canada. Accelerating Business and Community Innovation is the 2013-14 environmental scan, an annual report CICan produces showcasing the strengths of the college applied research collective effort.  This is a great overview of what has been built over the past decade or so since the original CCIP pilot and the formal introduction of college applied research funding in the 2007 Science and Technology Strategy. Of particular note is that the private sector is nearly matching the grant funding colleges receives $78M to $85M per annum respectively, a healthy sign of a robust innovation system working well at enabling the innovation economy. That there is a slight difference is to be expected, since some funding to colleges, for example that from CFI, goes to infrastructure for which no direct industry match is required.

CICan is convening their annual applied research symposium as part of the annual conference this year, another sign of integration that equates to applied research being integral to college, polytechnic and institute operations. At the 2013 symposium, NSERC's Bert van den Berg and I convened a discussion on "Developments for Performance measurement in applied research and technology development," in which we outlined a need for measuring college applied research along two lines:
  • 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.
With the latest report, CICan has shown that there is a strong capacity to deliver applied research and innovation services to industry and community partners that makes significant contribution to social and economic productivity in many parts of Canada.

08 April 2015

Applied Research Funding Announcements Showcase George Brown College's Green Building Capacity

The Honourable Ed Holder, Minister of State for Science and Technology was at Mohawk College today to announce the latest rounds of awards in the Tri-Council College and Community Innovation Program and the CFI College Industry Innovation Fund. George Brown College was awarded three awards, including a joint NSERC/CFI Innovation Enhancement Grant in Building Information Modeling and an Industrial Research Chairs for Colleges Grant in Smart Connected Buildings: Intelligent Building Automation Systems.

These awards build on the history of work we have done supporting industries in the green construction areas, leveraging our FedDev funded Green Building Centre. This is a real success story for the CCI Program, in that we have built a successful applied research capacity in the green construction industries over the past several years. This has supported work with many industry partners who have gotten new products and services to market while teaching our students innovation literacy.

The CCI Program and the CFI funding is building college and polytechnic applied research capacity across the country in many important sectors of the economy. As outlined in the federal government's Science, Technology and Innovation Strategy these are important components of the innovation ecosystem in Canada.