24 August 2016

"And the end of our exploring..."

"...is to arrive from where we started. And know the place for the first time."

This line from TS Eliot is a fitting epigraph for my final week at George Brown College. Over the past 9 years I have led the development of applied research at GBC, in Ontario and across Canada, working in concert with many outstanding people inside the college and out. College applied research has grown exponentially over the years into a viable and complementary component of a healthy innovation ecosystem in Canada.

The history - in metrics - of GBC Research since 2007: 781 partnerships; 7592 Student research experiences; $96M in research funding from public and private partners; 724 Applied research collaborations; 180 Research-active faculty members; 7 Academic partners. 
I am very proud of these accomplishments, but I am most proud of the 7592 students who now have innovation literacy. They are the future of our country, flexible innovators who will be integral members of teams no matter their careers or profession.

Two students have been members of our Innovation Advisory Board. Comments from each are below, which speak volumes for the work that the college system does in fostering industry innovation while ensuring that students like these gain innovation skills so essential to the future of our society and economy.
James Henderson: "As one of the 7,500 students who have participated in applied research during your tenure, I can attest to the profound impact such opportunities have on us. The skills we acquire, the network we form and the experience we gain makes our transition into the workforce so much easier. For so many of us, applied research has allowed us to explore interests and discover passions we might not otherwise have known were there."   
John-Allan Ellingson: "I'm glad to have been a part of the 'Luke Generation' of researchers, and the experiences I had with the group have been extremely valuable in the time since. I am confident that they secured me my current internship, certainly I drew from them heavily during interviewing. It could be the solution to the 'Entry level position: 3 years experience required' problem - possible marketing opportunity." Beyond helping students through the difficult post-graduation period, exposure to the wide spectrum of industries involved with the R&I office will remain career-long assets for the cohort of student researchers. With one foot now in the working world, I'm starting to better understand this - how a problem tackled in the Food Service or Assistive Device realm provides solutions for Construction and elsewhere, with the right perspective - and appreciate how rare the experience was. I'm sure that fostering this ecosystem, and its added value for students, ranks highly among your successes at GBC.
If anything exemplifies why I have been so committed to this work it is contained in these statements.

As of next week I take up the role of Vice President, Research and Innovation at OCAD University. You can find periodic updates here, connect with me on LinkedIn, and follow me on Twitter @LukeRobert.

30 June 2016

Social Finance and Impact Investing

On the day that Food and Beverage Ontario convened their annual meeting for the food cluster, the
Institute for Competitiveness & Prosperity launched their latest paper on Clusters in Ontario: Creating an Ecosystem for Prosperity. The paper provides a good overview of the importance of clusters; these will figure prominently in the new innovation agenda, and rightly so. We have been supporting cluster development for several years through the Toronto Region Board of Trade. And the recently launched Tech-Access Canada featured discussion on how Technology Access Centers are important portals into local clusters, supporting resilient regional economies. 

Yesterday also saw Research Money convene the Future Finance and Social Innovation conference. This was an excellent discussion focused on social impact investing and social innovation. It was sponsored in part by SSHRC, who featured the College and Community Social Innovation Program, including GBC's professor Jaswant Bajwa's project, funded in the first round. We hosted the Honourable Kirsty Duncan's announcement of the second round announcement two weeks ago. It occurred to me as I listened to the many presenters, including CICan's Christine Trauttmansdorff (who provided a great overview of college applied research into social innovation) that college applied research is a great example of impact investing. When governments and our partners invest in applied research we engage students, and these students gain innovation literacy, all while while derisking social change and future-proofing economy. R$is commended for convening thought leaders on an important topic - clearly at the forefront of social innovation. 

28 June 2016

Canadian Chamber of Commerce convenes roundtable on Talent for Innovation

Yesterday the Honourable Perrin Beatty convened the Toronto roundtable in this series, examining the important topic of what talent Canada needs for the innovation economy. Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship the Honourable John McCallum opened the session with remarks on the importance of immigration to the supply-side of talent for Canada - this is particularly important for a country where we need people to fill the growing demographic gap due to retirements. I made the point that international students - important to the national economy - are prevented from participating in entrepreneurship programs - let's hope this can be changed.

I joined Cisco's Rick Huijbregts, VP Innovation and Digital Transformation Lead, Cisco, Americas, Wendy Cukier, Vice President, Research and Innovation, Ryerson University, and Alex Parizeau, Managing Director, Ubisoft Toronto in providing remarks for the roundtable discussion.

The Chamber set the stage thus:
Talent for Innovation is our topic. Through this project, our central question is: How can Canada cultivate talent for innovation? We are preoccupied with business innovation (i.e. innovation within companies) and innovation that comes to market (and not on pure “science and technology”). During our project, we will explore three key sub-questions:
  • What are the skills that foster innovation?
  • Where and how do we cultivate innovation skills and talent?
  • What can the federal government do?
We discussed many important topics, from the importance of generational change, to digital literacy, and main street entrepreneurship - fostering growth companies in all sectors of the economy, not just new technology. Diversity was an important theme - building on the initial discussion about the importance of immigration, but also encouraging women in STEM and other fields.

My remarks used Technology Readiness Levels as an example of the need for diversity and complementarity in skills, competencies and credentials. That is, if you are going from TRL 1 - where I have an idea to build a rocket - to TRL 9 - where I am actually launching that rocket - you require a team of multidisciplinary people who are educated at different level - from PhDs, to engineers, to technicians, marketers and beyond. When people from varied competencies/credentials work together there is a multiplier effect. This is the principle of ensuring that everyone - from across the credential spectrum - has innovation literacy. 

We need to focus on the skills Canada needs, but also the skills Canada wants - both transactional and transformative skills for the economy and civil society. A focus on Work Integrated Learning is essential here - both as a component of all undergraduate programming, but also as a model for integrating and socializing youth into careers. This latter point fits well into the federal government's initiative to reboot a Katimavik 2.0 - a kind of youth internship for a gap year between secondary and tertiary education. The government could offer tax incentives to businesses who participate, pay a stipend to youth to participate in social and economic nation building while trying out a potential career. This could be a way to avoid the $500-600M in student loan defaults per year, by enabling students to find a career, and so educational path, that suits their interests and aptitudes well.

Above all an integrated approach to fostering education for innovation is required. The Chamber should be applauded for adding its voice to this Canadian imperative.

20 June 2016

SSHRC Social Innovation announcement

Last Friday George Brown College was very pleased to host the Honourable Kirsty Duncan, Minister of Science, and the announcement of the results of the second round of the SSHRC Social Innovation awards. GBC received 7 awards in this round, bringing to 11 our total of these new funds. Our researchers are engaged in a wide variety of innovative projects with community partners, from literacy to nutrition. See below for the list of our recipients. Congratulations to all, and to everyone across Canada who have received funding from this new and necessary program that supports college faculty.

Round 2:

Community Guide to Cancer Nutrition
Faculty: Amy Symington

Generating Success for Farm to School Programs
Faculty: Gary Hoyer

Job Talks: Innovative Study and Website for Recruitment in the Skilled Trades
Faculty: Jonathan Callegher

Adaptive Clothing for persons living with hemi-paresis
Faculty: Milan Shahani

The Early Childhood Cognitive Sensitivity Training Study
Faculty: Zeenat Janmohamed

Improving Health Numeracy in Health Science Students and Professionals Through an Online Instrument
Faculty: Taras Gula

Literacy Uplift
Faculty: Przemyslaw Pawluk

Round 1:

Partnership for Applied Research to Support the Development and Evaluation of the Post-Secondary Students with Disabilities Network (PSDNet) faculty: Charles Anyinam

Co-designing On-line Tools for Engagement and Holistic Crisis Planning with Diverse Youth Groups in the Region of Peel
faculty: Elise Hodson

From Margins to Center through Education: Integrating Victims of Torture and Political Oppression
Faculty :
 Jaswant Kaur Bajwa

Toys or Tools? Using Tablet Computers for Open-Ended Literacy Learning faculty: Monica McGlynn-Stewart

15 June 2016

Federal government launches Innovation Agenda, Science Review

The last couple of days have been a busy one on the Canadian innovation policy front. The new Innovation Agenda consultation process has been launched by Minister Bains, and prior to that Minister Duncan launched the Science Review. The latter looks at basic research, and the former applied research and experimental development. Amidst this the Institute for Research on Public Policy convened a discussion and published a review of the Jenkins Panel report. All of this is good for Canada - if it leads to substantive changes in how we invest in the continuum of research and innovation.

The Innovation Agenda is most relevant to colleges and polytechnics, and we are well represented in the language - our focus on industry-partnered research is a key platform for innovation, for both the private and public sectors. Specifically the background on the Innovation Agenda asks: "How can colleges play a larger role in the innovation ecosystem?" This is a positive step forward for the country and our urgent need to refocus efforts on research and innovation for Canadian productivity gains.

In addition, the Technology Access Centres, represented by Tech-Access Canada, are well suited to being the portal into local and regional innovation ecosystems (a point expertly made by NSERC president Dr Mario Pinto at the recent launch of Tech-Access Canada). TACs are at the forefront of college applied research, enabling the innovation economy in several important sectors and clusters. The colleges, cegeps and polytechnics that form Tech-Access Canada are already functioning as important portals into regional ecosystems, supporting private firms to get new products to market swiftly.

As the Canadian college and polytechnic applied research system matures, the Innovation Agenda offers an important avenue for enhancing the strategic value we represent to the country. Earlier in May GBC submitted advice to Minister Bains on the Innovation Agenda. In preparing this input we gained advice from our Innovation Advisory Board, industry partners, and the Practical Policy Exchange (PPX), an ad hoc collaboration of public and private sector participants we convene for input on important policy matters relevant to the College. Our input was organized according to the following themes:
  • Canada has a two-fold productivity problem
  • Start-ups need to Scale-up, and Stay up
  • Work-Integrated Learning drives industry innovation
  • Supporting homegrown talent
  • Place matters to innovation
  • De-Risk personal innovation investments
  • Engaging First Nations communities 
  • Enhancing Academic Productivity 
  • IP Pooling from public R&D creates public value
  • Bridging the Academic-Industry divide
  • Innovate the machinery of government
Watch this space in the days to come for our input.

14 June 2016

City of Toronto Launches Digital Main Street

Yesterday marked the launch of Digital Main Street a new program from the City of Toronto and the Toronto Association of Business Improvement Areas focused on helping main street businesses connect to digital tools to help them manage and grow their businesses. This is an exciting initiative that will help Toronto businesses get online where their customers are. GBS students have been involved in the Digital Main Street Project through startGBC, our Gateway to Entrepreneurship.
As outlined on the site:

By joining Digital Main Street, main street businesses receive a free digital assessment and a recommended to-do list that identifies technologies and service providers that can help businesses meet their digital goals.

Graphic of Digital Main Street project

07 June 2016

Happy Birthday NRC!

Yesterday was the 100th anniversary or birthday of the National Research Council (NRC). This is a storied institution with a fantastic history of invention and innovation - from basic to applied research right through to experimental development. There is much to be proud of in the NRC - check out the excellent story in the Globe on its ongoing evolution. Much has been made of the transformation the NRC engaged in a few years ago in a more business-focused innovation organization. I am consistently puzzled why this is seen in opposition to basic research. Why pundits see these as mutually exclusive reflects an inherent bias in the country over the role of publicly funded research and our ability to take inventions to market. We need both basic research and applied research. We need to invoke innovation where relevant and applicable. So let's celebrate the NRC, and work on insuring that the great work that they do sees the light of day.

02 June 2016

Tech-Access Canada: Portals into Innovation Ecosystems

Today saw the formal launch of Tech-Access Canada - the network of Canada's Technology Access Centres. Today's press event was held at Cegep Levi-Lauzon, which hosts TransBioTech, a member of Tech-Access Canada. NSERC President Dr Mario Pinto gave remarks to herald the formal launch of Tech-Access Canada, calling the TACs important portals into local innovation ecosystems. Dr Pinto spoke about college and polytechnic applied research as important parts of the diversity of the research landscape. TACs, and Tech-Access Canada, are key components of NSERC's 2020 Strategy, providing an integral link to local companies and universities to realize commercialization and innovation potential.

Tech-Access Canada supports the economy and student skill acquisition. TACs conduct applied research with private sector partners, helping to create new products and services and get these to market swiftly. These firms create jobs and wealth in the economy. Our students work with these firms on applied research, and thereby gain innovation literacy skills. The students graduate and become our future innovators and entrepreneurs.

Tech-Access Canada has been launched with the support of NSERC, CICan, and member TACs. Today marks an important moment in the formation of a national network of Technology Access Centres dedicated to business innovation in their local economies.

01 June 2016

CICan annual conference inspires

Colleges and Institutes Canada convened their annual conference in Quebec City this week under the banner of Inspiration. The conference provided excellent discussion on important topics on applied education and research, and featured many tracks on leadership, entrepreneurship, indigenous education and more. Sessions on innovative teaching and learning and the future of applied research were of particular interest, providing good insight into the value proposition of colleges and our impact on social and economic development.

I moderated a panel discussion on "Supporting Industry Innovation Through a Network of Technology Access Centres," which featured the following speakers:
  • David Berthiaume, OLEOTEK
  • Maike Luiken, Lambton College
  • Christine Trauttmansdorff, CICan
  • Bert van den Berg, NSERC
  • Ken Doyle, TechAccess Canada
Of the many interesting points raised by the panel, the idea of Technology Access Centres being a form of public good that contributes to a shared public infrastructure underscores the important role that colleges engaged in applied research play in local innovation ecosystems. I've written before about the importance of fostering resilient regional economies, and the importance of TACs in playing an integral role in leading local clusters cannot be overstated. This is particularly important as Canada looks to pivot and transition the economy to embrace new technologies and business practices. 

A shout out to GBC's Dawn Davidson, Diana Facchini, and Jamie McIntyre for an excellent presentation on working with industry partners, and Marc Nantel of Niagara College on what college applied research will look like in 20 years. Inspiration indeed. 

20 May 2016

Innovation in the Humanities and Social Sciences

On the day that the Governor General issued the first Innovation Awards, I had the great fortune to attend a workshop yesterday put on by the Social Sciences And Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) as part of the Imagining Canada’s Future focus. The symposium was specifically about "Leveraging Emerging Technologies For The Benefit Of Canadians" and featured the grant winners of the Knowledge Synthesis Grants. As an aside it was held at the very excellent Canada Aviation And Space Museum - everyone should visit this place.

The stated Workshop Objectives were as follows:
  • Convene academic, government, industry, and not-for-profit organization leaders to share insights on the critical societal impacts and opportunities related to emerging and game-changing technologies in Canada. 
  • Discuss emerging trends and knowledge gaps as well as practical and policy alignment and implications of knowledge synthesis projects. 
  • Lay groundwork for knowledge mobilization activities. 
Led by Ursual Gobel, AVP of Future Challenges at SSHRC, the workshop was an excellent discussion of the essential contributions that Humanities and Social Sciences (HaSS) disciplines make to innovation and emerging technologies. The morning got off to a great start with an introduction by Alex Benay, President and CEO, Canadian Science and Technology Museum Corporation, who talked about cultural sustainability and museums as content and knowledge organizations. It was great context setting for the keynote from IBM's Pat Horgan, who provided an overview of IBM's Data, Cloud and Engagement strategy and business led innovation model. Pat showed how IBM is helping Canadian businesses outthink our innovation problems. 

A highlight was a presentation by Cisco Canada's Willa Black, who talked about Cisco's Connected North program, which uses HiDef video to bring shared education experiences to Canada's remote and northern communities. This is really engaging work that is showing excellent returns on investment and interest in terms of educational outcomes. Another highlight was an overview of innovation as a team sport by the NRC's Duncan Stewart. He talked about the need to adopt an ARPA model - something I've written about some time ago - in addressing Canada's grand challenges. It was one of the better talks I’ve heard in quite some time regarding innovation. Stand out quote: The government shouldn’t pick winners, but we should pick the races. 

I gave a short presentation on partnerships as enablers of the innovation economy, using Technology Readiness Levels as a way to show how technology is fundamentally a human activity that requires input from across the disciplinary and credential spectrum. More on this to come in the days ahead.

Throughout the day the audience heard from the many award holders of the Knowledge Synthesis program who are engaged in studying technology's impact of society. 

The day ended with SSHRC president Ted Hewitt telling the audience of the experience at the GG Innovation Award, and how human activity underwrites technology. 

All in all an excellent event and discussion. 

16 May 2016

Polytechnics Canada and Conspicuous Contribution to Public Policy

The Annual Polytechnics Canada conference convened at Humber College last week, once again offering excellent discussion and contributions to Canadian public policy. "Learning that works" was the theme that saw very good keynote presentations ranging from insight from the Swiss education model to the changes being undertaken in Ontario. On the latter, MTCU Deputy Minister Sheldon Levy provided insights on innovating education, drawing on his work leading the Digital Media Zone Ryerson University.

Michael Horn, Co-Founder and Distinguished Fellow from Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation provided excellent insights into the disruption of education, showing how personalization of education and micro-credentials are setting up a sea change in the way education is proffered and taken. The rise of micro-credentials is something I've been interested in for some time, something I've outlined in a Globe and Mail op-ed in 2012 called Education should take a lesson from the open-source movement.

Another keynote by Jeff Selingo, Columnist for the Washington Post gave the crowd some additional insights into the employer context, specifically around the skills needed to thrive in the innovation economy. Career navigation is important to the current and ensuing generations, and providing skills such as curiosity, grit, creativity and contextual thinking are hallmarks of innovation literacy. GBC Research supports skills development with validation in micro-credentials via our innovation skills badges.

Navigation requires skills, which become the sextant for the innovation economy, enabling students to measure the angles between where they are and where they wish to go. Once again, Polytechnics Canada convenes a conference that demonstrates thought leadership through conspicuous contribution to public policy. 

04 May 2016

GBC Applied Research Day a Success

The annual George Brown College Applied Research Day was held this past Monday and was a great success, convening 200 faculty, students and research partners for an afternoon of dialogue, discussion and a tour through the Galaxy of Research. A highlight this year was the student start-up pitch competition that saw five student entrepreneurs vie for a spot at the GBC Research OCE Discovery booth and $500 in applied research services to support their venture. Congratulations to mywinecanada.com - I encourage everyone to check out this exciting business that enables wineries in Canad to sell wines direct to consumers.

The annual Applied Research Day demonstrates the strength of applied research at the College. Our faculty, industry and community partners spoke about curricular innovation, social innovation and industrial innovation – three facets of innovation that give our students key innovation skills while creating social and economic value in our community.

One of the things that struck me was how applied research offers an "unstructured structure" to curricula at the College. That is, we have the structure of engaging with partners on applied research and giving these experiences to our students as part of the educational environment. But we do not know how these projects will turn out, Some will success, others will fail, some will get taken in new and unplanned directions. This is the beauty of why applied research works so well to instill innovation skills in our students. It requires extemporaneous thinking and perseverance. It promotes outside the box thinking and the acquisition of innovation literacy, skills that foster resilience, problem solving and entrepreneurial thinking. 

A highlight for me was speaking to the many students who attended, and who attested to how working with our partners on the many projects helped them gain innovation literacy. These students have the skills needed for the economy of today and tomorrow, proving our strategic imperative of Enabling the Innovation Economy.

GBC Applied Research Day 2016 Logo

02 May 2016

Innovation, consultation

The Conference Board's Daniel Munro has a good editorial in today's Globe and Mail pertaining to the consultations the federal government is engaging in as it crafts a new innovation agenda.
Four things for Ottawa to keep in mind as consultation on innovation unfolds offers solid advice on the need to think of this from a business perspective, and not from a basic science perspective. Both are necessary - Canada has an excellent basic and applied research capacity. We lack on industrial receptivity to public sector R&D. Our private sector firms also fare poorly on what I call the three legged stool of productivity: business expenditures on R&D (BERD), investment in new technology, and investment in further education and training. Munro rightfully pulls in Alex Usher to the discussion, who has offered some excellent insights on this conundrum.

28 April 2016

SSHRC launches new Strategic Plan

The Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) has recently launched an updated Strategic Plan: Advancing Knowledge for Canada’s Future. Three objectives are outlined:

  • To enable excellence in a changing research landscape
  • To create opportunities for research and training through collaborative initiatives
  • To connect social sciences and humanities research with Canadians 

The document is well worth a read - the social and human sciences are increasingly important to realizing the value of innovation and the Strategic Plan shows why. I am a proud supporter of SSHRC and a member  of their Programs and Quality Committee.  This has given me a front row seat to the excellent work SSHRC sponsors across universities and colleges.

While the important of science, technology engineering and math (STEM) are well touted in the media, perhaps less understood is the role of design, business, and social innovation in the overall innovation discussion. SSHRC President Ted Hewitt, states in the document that "The humanities and social sciences have contributed much to our understanding and appreciation of Canada’s rich history, ethnic and cultural diversity and dynamic rural and urban economies." Here at GBC to prove this we need look no further than four recently awarded social innovation research awards from SSHRC - read about our four research teams here.

As the government works on a new Innovation Agenda, SSHRC's updated Strategic Plan offers a key road map for investment and increasing social and economic productivity and prosperity in Canada. A participatory, people-centred innovation agenda will maximize input from the humanities and social sciences and ensure that Canada continues to lead in research excellence and its application into areas of national importance.

22 April 2016

Numeracy and Essential Employability Skills

GBC President Anne Sado was on TVO's the Agenda this past week, participating in a panel on the numeracy gap. It was a good discussion about the need for better math and numeracy, building on a recent study "Closing the Numeracy Gap." This report is worth reading, as it relates well to our ongoing discussion about skills for the innovation economy. George Brown College is focused on providing rounded skills to our students via work integrated learning in all of our programs. This enables a balanced approach to what are called hard and soft skills. College programs it is worth noting articulate clear outcomes and integrate Essential Employability Skills across curricula. This renders explicit the tacit assumptions around the what and the why of education. This is good for students and social and economic development and productivity.

06 April 2016

Federal government launches the Post-Secondary Institutions Strategic Investment Fund

Centennial College was the host for today's announcement by the Honourable Kirsty Duncan, Minister of Science, of the new Post-Secondary Institutions Strategic Investment Fund. This is a $2B investment in public infrastructure at colleges and universities across the country. Ann Buller, president of Centennial College, kicked off the event with a positive message about the nature of colleges and universities as preparing the country for future innovation and productivity, from PhDs inventing to entrepreneurs starting companies, and immigrants and refugees starting a new life. Denise Amyot, CEO of CICan and Paul Davidson, CEO of Universities Canada, both underscored the importance of this funding to the future of education and innovation capacity across the country. Everyone spoke of the necessity to have colleges and universities well funded to support education and innovation, of the complementary nature of the education system. CICan has made a strong case for infrastructure funding in their Budget 2016 submission. This is clearly reflected in today's announcement. Overall it was a good announcement for the PSE sector, who collectively will now set to work to apply for what promises to be a very competitive fund.

05 April 2016

Re$earch Money conference kicks off today

The 15th Annual Re$earch Money Conference kicks off today in Ottawa. This year's theme is Reversing the Trend: Taking Canada's Innovation Game to the Next Level, and the agenda features industry perspectives on innovation - sorely needed in the innovation policy space. Also of note is discussion on innovation talent and open innovation.

A highlight this year is a panel on the Technology Access Centre Network, as I outlined back in November. Ken Doyle, Executive Director of the TACCAT Network, has convened an excellent panel of industry clients from a handful of the TACs. The panel, to be moderated by Bettina Hamelin, VP Partnerships at NSERC, features the following:
  • John Zimmerman, General Manager Ocean Rodeo (Victoria, BC) 
  • H. Chaim Birnboim, MD, MSc , Founder and Chief Scientific Officer deltaDNA (Ottawa, ON) 
  • Brian Robertson, Executive Consultant/Board Member Legend3D (Toronto, ON) 
  • John Helliker, Director, Strategic Partnerships & Screen Industries Research and Training Centre, Sheridan College (Oakville, ON)
Re$earch Money is one of the better conveners of discussion on R&D and innovation policy. For those unable to attend in person the Conference is being live streamed - check this link for details.

23 March 2016

Budget 2016 and the incipient Innovation Agenda

Yesterday's federal budget offered the new government's prescription for the economy. Many pundits are offering cogent analyses - see Alex Usher's here, and the Polytechnics Canada reaction here, and that of Colleges and Institutes Canada here.

Above all this budget shows strong investment in education, research, and the clean/green economy. Directionally this is good for the country. On the clean economy side, the government is her not picking winners, but showing leadership for any and all of Canadian industry to find a place in this global reality. This is right thinking, and an essential element in Generation Renew.

Increased funding to the granting councils is also excellent. Even better is the language outlining the new Innovation Agenda that will be crafted over the coming months.

The language in Budget 2016 regarding investments in research supports colleges, polytechnics and universities as all being key component of the R&D and innovation ecosystem. 
STRENGTHENING SCIENCE AND RESEARCH The Government understands the central role of science in a thriving, clean economy and in providing evidence for sound policy decisions. Canada’s universities, colleges and other research institutions play a fundamental role in Canadian society by developing highly skilled and creative workers. They are also the engines of discovery, and collaborate on innovations that help companies compete and grow. Budget 2016 takes action to reinvigorate Canada’s research and science base by investing in infrastructure at postsecondary institutions and federal laboratories, fostering research excellence, and accelerating the diffusion and commercialization of knowledge into applications that benefit industry and society as a whole.
This language is intentionally inclusive. While Usher points out that no specific earmark for college research is indicated, this is a positive step forward in that the country recognizes there are many complementary actors in the R&D scene. It is unclear if the granting councils will be left to allocate funds to either basic or applied research (read: university or college); the granting councils have an opportunity to continue to grow the entire ecosystem and I am hopeful that they will continue on the complementary path rather than regress to the politics of the past. The budget makes clear that this kind of divisive thinking is not the target audience.

The infrastructure spending in the $2B Post-Secondary Institutions Strategic Investment Fund (PSISIF) is good for all post-secondary and there are examples in the budget of what it can mean for colleges in terms of training and applied research:
• A college could modernize or create sector-specific training facilities, including capacity for advanced areas such as Red Seal trades;• College and university facilities that support prototype development or proof-of-principle assessment could receive investments in order to better serve the needs of industry partners;
Our role as a demand driven innovation enabler is central to locating our place within the education and R&D ecosystem in the country. 

The really good news is with the Innovation Agenda that Minister Bains will be crafting in the coming months, as he outlined in a recent Toronto Region Board of Trade speechThere is mention of supporting clusters and incubators in colleges and universities. The focus on clean tech and sustainability is significant in that the government is clearly signally that this is an opportunity for Canada to step onto the world stage and craft a role for multiple industries to play in this important global imperative. This is in addition to key investments in skills training and apprenticeships, aboriginal education and skills, and arts and culture. I look forward to learning more in the days and months to come.

14 March 2016

At its core innovation is a mind set

"At its core innovation is a mind set" said the Honourable Navdeep Bains, Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development during a lunch time speech at the Toronto Region Board of Trade. And he is right. Minister Bains made the point repeatedly that Canada should be telling the world about our business strength, our leading position as tertiary educated population (including college and university graduate), our leading basic research capacity. Where we need to do more is in translating this into innovation for Canada. His speech was followed by a panel of discussants and a follow on response by the Minister. All in all, a good discussion on the importance of innovation, and importantly, what the federal government will do about our poor record in innovation.

Minister Bains called for Canada to leverage Canada's diversity for competitiveness and prosperity. To focus on the range of industries in the country, old, new and emergent. Innovation is the ability to find solutions to big problems, and this includes social innovation, he said.

And while the focus is on many industries, clean tech is a priority and not just to our country; it represents 3 trillion to the world economy. "A clean environment means a strong economy" and this will be a focus in the upcoming budget and the Innovation Agenda he has been mandated to create. Collaboration will be a hall mark of this Innovation Agenda - not just in how it will be created via the consultations such as that today, but also in how innovation is supported. This includes the development of clusters: the Government is committed to creating a national network of clusters to replicate the success of DMZ and MaRS. This is a good ting. We have a well defined ecosystem wherein colleges, polytechnics and universities work in concert to support innovation in the public and private sectors. "Innovation is a team effort" the Minister said, and this complementary approach ensures that the right people, with the right skills and the right context are applied to innovation needs as they arise. 

Fundamentally Innovation is about investing in people the Minister told the crowd. This includes STTEM skills and coding - ensuring that our youth can be both producers and consumers in the technologically mediated world. This world will be defined by a focus on climate change and clean tech; Clean Tech companies and technology are important to government because they are important to the society of today and tomorrow. Innovation must be done in a global context, the Minster reminded the audience, and this is Canada's time to lead.

10 March 2016

CICan Applied Research Symposium a success

Representatives of Canada's college applied research leaders met in Winnipeg this past few days at the annual CICan Applied Research Symposium. The Honourable Kirsty Duncan, Minister of Science, delivered the opening keynote to the event, which featured a range of college applied research success: from social innovation through to the support of business innovation. The theme of productivity and innovation was amply demonstrated through panels on social innovation (which featured GBC's Dr. Jaswant Kaur Bajwa, Research Coordinator & Professor, Centre for Preparatory and Liberal Studies, recipient of a SSHRC social innovation grant), Industrial Research Chairs, and the Technology Access Centre Network.

The college applied research system in Canada has evolved well into a highly functioning essential element in the innovation ecosystem. A real highlight was a series of presentations by students from across the country, who collectively showed the value of innovation literacy gained through working on applied research.

Colleges are innovation intermediaries, performing a crucial function as a nexus between private and public sector research and development. The annual CICan convening of college applied research shows how this network has been supported - via individual colleges, the granting agencies, private and public sector partners and CICan. The result is a high performing and necessary component in the innovation system in the Country. Each year the symposium gets better because the system is dedicated to continuous improvement and evolution, a strong testament to the applied research community and the convening power of CICan.

01 March 2016

Industry 4.0 and the Factory of the Future

In The future of manufacturing, revealed in an Ontario budget line item we have a good overview of the "Advanced Manufacturing Consortium being formed between McMaster University in Hamilton, Western University in London and the University of Waterloo... a $35-million, five-year commitment" announced in last week's Ontario budget. The piece is interesting in that it talks about the Internet of Things (IoT or Internet of Everything as Cisco puts it) and the so-called fourth industrial revolution. But what is distinctly lacking here is a more complete picture of the inputs into what the factory of the future entails. By this I mean the inclusion of colleges and polytechnics and industry. 

Canada's manufacturing capacity is in need of a boost - to modernize and to realize a place in the economy of the future that the IoT entails. Our launch over a year ago of the Design Centre for the Smart Economy is one way in which we are active in this area. And while it is great that the Ontario government is seeding investment at this trio of leading universities, let's hope that as the centre gets put into action that it provides a conduit for the complementary expertise needed from across the skills and research continuum.

26 February 2016

Ontario Budget funds education, applied research

Yesterday's budget by the Ontario government included good news on the education front for college and university students (Alex Usher has a very good analysis here). It also includes new funding for college applied research, in addition to investments in Ontario's innovation economy more broadly. The government announced new $20M applied research funding to support colleges and industry:
  • Establishing a three-year, $20 million fund that connects colleges and private-sector employers on applied innovation projects that result in breakthrough products and services for sale at home and abroad.
This is important news and a validation of the outcomes that college applied research achieves. In addition to this there is a host of other research funding for the innovation system, from auto and aerospace to clean and green technologies, all designed to aid firms in starting up and scaling up to be globally competitive. This is a very forward thinking budget that will enable colleges, polytechnics and universities to better link with private sector partners in support of innovation across a range of important industrial sectors.

17 February 2016

Some lessons for R&D (and Innovation) Policy

Jeffrey Simpson has a good article in today's Globe that looks at R&D spending and its relationship to Canada's (lacklustre) international R&D performance. He specifically calls out the pharmaceutical sector for a lack of R&D spending. Mentioned but almost lost in the piece is the fact that Canada's public sector R&D spending (HERD) is high by OECD standards. It is private sector R&D where we are doing poorly. This is useful to remember as the government crafts an Innovation Agenda. We need to do more to fix the dual R&D productivity problem: a lack of commercialization of publicly funded R&D and the lack of private sector R&D spending.  

11 February 2016

Mayor John Tory launches #startuphereTO

Toronto Mayor John Tory today launched StartUp HERE Toronto - a new initiative to encourage and enhance innovation and entrepreneurship in the GTA and with the Kitchener-Waterloo corridor. Hosted at the Toronto Shopify offices, this morning's event featured four breakout discussion groups to bring fresh thinking to the City's efforts at (re)imagining the future of the city and its role in supporting a vibrant ecosystem for entrepreneurs, including those innovating in the sharing economy and digital space. It was a fantastic event attended by many leading entrepreneurs and established technology companies, and the discussions engaging and thought-provoking.

I was in the future of the city group and there was great discussion on leveraging the city's convening power to create a runway for startups to disrupt and innovate the economy. One idea was to leverage the local BIAs (Business Improvement areas - of which there are purportedly 81 in Toronto) as ways to try out ideas and new technologies prior to scaling more widely. Great thinking, led by a great and dynamic team from the City of Toronto and the Mayor himself.

As I mentioned on Twitter, Mayor Tory coined a nice phrase in describing the current gold rush:

People are the gold of the 21st century - mayor Tory on and the talent pool in TO - enabling the Innovation economy

Kudos to everyone at the City for showing exceptional leadership. Read the press release here.

10 February 2016

GBC Research launches new website

It's official - the new website for GBC Research is live. Check us out at http://gbcresearch.ca/ and learn why George Brown College is the #1 research college in Canada, as rated by Research Infosource.

22 January 2016

GBC researchers awarded SSHRC Social Innovation grants

The results of the first round of the SSHRC Social Innovation program for college researchers were announced yesterday. GBC has been awarded four awards - including the #1 ranked proposal in the country for GBC professor Jaswant Kaur Bajwa.

Congratulations to our winners, and to all college and polytechnic researchers across the country. 

This pilot program has been inundated with applicants - GBC had three additional awards recommended for funding that were not awarded due to lack of funding in the pilot program.

Here is our press release:

Four research teams at George Brown College have been named as first round recipients of the pilot program of the Community and College Social Innovation Fund (CCSIF), through the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC). The results were announced today by Minister of Science Kirsty Duncan at Humber College in Toronto, Ontario. Total funding received by George Brown faculty for their research is $931,900.

"Social innovation has long been a vital component of George Brown's applied education and research mandate. For our faculty and researchers, the community is an extension of the classroom," said Robert Luke, Vice-President of Research and Innovation at the college. "This SSHRC pilot program represents a significant opportunity for our researchers to sustain meaningful social innovation initiatives, all designed to build a lasting bridge between thought leaders at the college and polytechnic level and the communities that surround them."

SSHRC-CCSIF funding will provide $15 million over three years in support of social innovation research projects at colleges and polytechnics. This pilot initiative will connect the talent, facilities and capabilities of Canada's colleges and polytechnics with the research needs of local community organizations. The fund aims to enable colleges to increase their capacity to work with communities, with the goal of developing partnerships that foster social innovation in areas such as education, integration of vulnerable populations, health and community development.

The George Brown researchers— Monica McGlynn-Stewart (Centre for Community Services and Early Childhood); Elise Hodson(Centre for Arts and Design); Charles Anyinam (Centre for Health Sciences); Jaswant Kaur Bajwa (Centre for Preparatory and Liberal Studies)—are tackling a diverse set of research topics designed to leave an impact on the community, including: the use of digital technologies in children's literacy development; promoting empowerment of postsecondary students with disabilities using online and mobile social media technology; using technology to help in holistic crisis planning for at-risk youth in Ontario; and education strategies for victims of torture and political oppression.

The researchers have paired with leading community partners to put the research into action, including the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), National Educational Association of Disabled Students, the Peel District School Board and the Canadian Centre for Victims of Torture (CCVT). For full project partners and descriptions, visit our website.

About George Brown College
Toronto's George Brown College has established a reputation for equipping students with the skills, industry experience and credentials to pursue the careers of their choice. From its three main campuses located across the downtown core, George Brown offers 148 full-time and 1,600 continuing education programs across a wide variety of professions to a student body of approximately 64,000 (including those enrolled in full-time, part-time and continuing education programs). Students can earn diplomas, post-graduate certificates, industry accreditations, apprenticeships and four-year bachelor degrees.

For further information: Lisa Marchitto, Corporate Communications Manager, George Brown College, Office: 416-415-5000 ext. 3767, Lisa.Marchitto@georgebrown.ca