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.