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Panel 301 - Commercializing Innovation in Canada

Conference Day: 
Day 2 - November 8th 2018
Takeaways and recommendations: 

Commercializing innovation in Canada: Retaining human and financial capital north of the border

Organized by: Ontario Centres of Excellence, Dr. Claudia Krywiak and Geraldine Chen

Speakers: Kathryn Hayashi, President and CEO, TRIUMF Innovations; Audrey Mascarenhas, President and CEO, Questor; Dr. Zhou Wang, Co-founder and Chief Science Officer, SSIMWAVE; Professor and University Research Chair, University of Waterloo; Rodney Wilson, Chief Technologist, Research Networks, Ciena Corporation; Dr. Alan Winter, Innovation Commissioner, Government of BC.

Moderator: Dr. Tom Corr, President and Chief Executive Officer, Ontario Centres of Excellence

Takeaways and recommendations

The challenges

The opportunities

  • Canada’s economic system has several strengths, including:

    • A diverse and multicultural population that opens trade and investment opportunities through global connections; diverse voices also contribute to better decision-making

    • Canada’s openness to immigration, relative to other countries, positions us well in the global fight for talent

    • Canada is home to the second largest ICT cluster outside of Silicon Valley, especially the Toronto-Waterloo corridor

    • An excellence education system that produces globally competitive talent (i.e., why Ciena’s largest R&D centre is located in Ottawa)

  • SSIMWAVE attributes much of its success to a supportive ecosystem (e.g., University of Waterloo commercialization office, incubators, funding from NSERC, OCE and local angel investors, mentoring from local entrepreneurs)

  • Ciena’s located the corporation’s largest R&D centre in west Ottawa (Kanata) because of close proximity to top engineering schools and graduates. But increasing competition for talent is making it more difficult to attract the skilled people they need.

Potential solutions

  • There is a need for an ambitious and comprehensive innovation policy to help promote economic growth. This will require a whole-of-government and systems approach and recognition that business is the primary vector of innovation in the economy. (Also highlighted in Nicholson report)

  • Canada needs innovation policies that help a handful of homegrown firms grow to become $1 billion+ anchor companies; current policies are too heavily focused on supporting thousands of start-ups. Don’t be afraid to pick winners and celebrate winners.

  • As Nicholson noted in his report, the federal government has several levers beyond funding to encourage business investment in R&D – one of its strongest levers is procurement.

  • Don’t be afraid to set targets that everyone is aware of and will rally around.

  • The recent report from Canada’s Clean Technology Strategy Table Clean Tech Energy Table brought together 156 CEOs to discuss what Canada needs to do differently. Its six proposals are:

    • Develop an agile, high performing regulatory system (i.e., Questor has been able to expand its operations in Colorado because Regulation 7 mandates enclosed combustion for oilfield operations to deal effectively with emissions. It has resulted in producers more readily gaining approval for projects from state and local authorities.)

    • Accelerate the growth of Canada’s leading clean tech firms by addressing gaps in scale-up finance, and implementing the “Own the Podium” signature initiative

    • Drive clean tech adoption by having government be the lead buyer and incentivizing industry procurement

    • Grow jobs by expanding skills development, and enable meaningful diversity and inclusiveness target-setting through increased access to data

    • Seize domestic and international clean tech opportunities where Canada has strengths, and enable access to global climate finance

    • Engage with Indigenous communities to create opportunities for partnership and co-development of clean tech initiatives

  • British Columbia appointed an Innovation Commissioner to be a champion for technology in all sectors. The position primarily focuses on what can be done to increase business R&D in Canada.

  • BC has also established the has the Emerging Economy Task Force to provide analysis and advice on emerging trends, including transformative technologies

  • To accelerate drug discovery and attract R&D to Canada, implement a compassionate use regulatory framework to explore innovative new drug treatments. Such a framework would allow Canada to leverage its expertise in nuclear medicine, for example, to treat patients with metastasized tumors using targeted alpha therapy, as has been done in Germany.

  • An inventor-owned policy at the University of Waterloo has contributed to its success in commercializing academic research and attracting talent from around the world.

  • Change the Scientific Research and Experimental Development (SRED) program so that it rewards scale up, instead of “grinding down” the funding eligibility of companies that grow or become profitable (i.e., by selling products and services outside of Canada)

  • Canada needs more funding programs that support short-term (less than two years) research projects between industry and academia (i.e., similar to NSERC’s Partnership Engage Grants and Mitacs internships, Ontario Centres of Excellence programs, ENCQOR for 5G technologies, and Prompt and CEFRIO in Quebec).

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