The new Canada Innovation Corporation: A chance to accelerate an innovation-powered economy?


John Hepburn



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Disclaimer: The French version of this editorial has been auto-translated and has not been approved by the author.

A new institution is being established to address Canada’s lagging record of corporate investment in R&D. Announced in February 2023 and supported by a $2.6 billion budget over four years, the Canadian Innovation Corporation (CIC) has tremendous potential to help build the innovation-driven economy Canada needs. But realizing that potential will require all parties in Canada’s research ecosystem to get on board and do their part. And in most cases, that means doing things differently – and collaborating more. 

The CIC is designed to solve a very real problem: Canadian businesses do not invest in R&D at the same level as their global peers. Our enterprises excel, however, in generating new ideas and inventions. Unfortunately, the lack of investment in R&D limits their ability to commercialize those promising ideas and inventions – with that profitable phase often happening beyond our borders. This is a longstanding problem that holds Canada’s economy back while driving growth elsewhere. 

Canada already has high-performing actors in the innovation ecosystem, and they will have a major role to play in CIC achieving its goals. That, however, will mean reimagining how we approach innovation in Canada.

We have many innovation organizations doing very good work at fulfilling specific mandates, which tend to be focused and well justified. They are accountable for delivering specific services and supports, often for particular groups or sectors. But there are no strong incentives to operate outside those mandates – for example directing clients to other services, helping partners form their own networks and, most importantly, identifying opportunities to strengthen innovation in areas outside our traditional lanes — moving beyond STEM and technology arenas to uncover and support innovation from different fields of study, research, and unexpected origins. 

Too often, the status quo means confusion for businesses. It’s not always clear what agency they should approach for support. That needs to change, and with the CIC coming on board, now is the right time for it to happen. 

CIC’s mandate includes specific provisions around coordination. The corporation is directed to help clients access other services and sources of funding, mirroring the kind of concierge service currently being offered by Innovation Canada. 

We’re pleased that the federal government is taking a bold approach to solving the problem by creating the CIC. Their mandate, design and resources are on target. Importantly, the CIC will be led by private sector experts. It will deliver funding and advisory services to encourage Canadian firms to start and scale R&D activities – better positioning them to produce globally competitive products and services. 

Broadly speaking, the goals of the CIC align with Mitacs’s goals. The corporation is designed to be an outcome-driven organization with a clear mandate to help Canadian businesses become more innovative and productive. It will help enterprises develop and protect intellectual property. And it will support economic growth and job creation.

Other institutions and networks of the innovation ecosystem need to be on board for these coordination efforts to work. For example, we could increasingly tackle specific societal or environmental challenges through formal collaborations, involving clear roles and responsibilities and dedicated resourcing – all coordinated across the innovation support ecosystem. 

Each organization can focus where its strengths are while also stepping out into new territory to build successful collaborations. Mitacs, for example, could provide a leadership role to the broader sector on issues related to its core activity: talent development and academic-industry collaboration. On other issues, we might play a support role. For instance, we could be tasked to work on the talent pipeline for a regional innovation strategy, perhaps under the leadership of a regional economic development agency. Attracting and retaining the best talent from Canada and internationally – and creating pathways to innovation that are more inclusive – is a core pillar of our work.

Moving in this collaborative direction aligns with our strategic plan, which includes a commitment to optimize our business intelligence, data analytics and trend-forecasting capacity to expand our role as trusted advisor to clients and stakeholders across the innovation ecosystem.

Our deep knowledge of the nexus of relationships, expertise, market insights and data capture positions us well to support increasingly sophisticated collaborations in Canada and internationally. An unwavering commitment to covering the full spectrum of innovation, from supporting fundamental research to helping start-ups grow and commercialize, is essential and other institutions and networks within the innovation ecosystem, including CIC, play a crucial role in ensuring the success of these coordination efforts. 

Shared accountabilities are part of the solution. The more that organizations are beholden to individual accountabilities alone, the less incentive they will have to work together. We should experiment with shared, sector-wide accountabilities based primarily on the impacts we achieve. That means players need to become intimately familiar with the specializations of their peers, and work to refer clients to the part of the support system that can best meet their needs. 

The bottom line is that the establishment of the CIC is an opportunity to start experimenting with the structure of our research and innovation support systems. There appears to be strong consensus across the community that we must commit to action towards this goal. 

Let’s seize this opportunity to unlock Canada’s potential for an economy fueled by innovation.