What was your background prior to joining Synapse?
When I was getting ready to pursue my masters degree in genetics, I received a directive from NSERC that said if I could find a company to partner with they would share the cost of a scholarship. I spent that summer knocking on a lot of doors and spent a lot of time figuring out how to sell my research plan to a company.
Because of that I was partnered with a company for my masters and into my PhD. So, I kind of started on a road working with applied research program before I even knew there were other programs that could help support and encourage this. That experience came up a lot in my interviews with my future employer, Mitacs. Having successfully done this for myself went over well considering that was exactly what I was being asked to do for others with that organization. I started at Mitacs in 2010 and spent seven years as a member of the business development team eventually expanding my role into both business development and strategic account management.
What led you to UPEI?
My wife and I are both from the East Coast and we were looking for an opportunity to move back to the Atlantic Region from Ottawa. When we started looking at opportunities here, I knew I wanted to be involved in the region’s innovation ecosystem. Synapse gave me the opportunity to use my interest and experience in technology transfer, commercialization and industry partnerships.
What about commercialization interests you?
There are too many great ideas that fail to get applied in our institutions so I’m very passionate about moving ideas forward. It doesn’t matter what the endpoint is in my opinion, I just want to see it move forward and get to a point where you either say that this is a great academic exercise and we should continue it that way, or we see that it can help solve a challenge outside of the university. Whether that’s through a start-up, helping an existing company, or something we don’t even know about yet. It’s the fact that you’re taking an idea and turning it into a real-world solution.
Did you see a lot of good ideas being stuck in the institutions before joining Synapse/Springboard?
Oh, constantly. In my background, we focused on drug development and understanding how diseases work so often we’d see the biggest labs in the nation and the world find the next greatest innovation, like a new potential treatment for a particular cancer, and it would get published in the biggest journals and make a big splash in the media but months and years later it has never moved any nearer to helping patients. Unfortunately, It’s still pretty common. It takes a very different skill set to turn an idea into a product or service then it does to find the idea itself.
How does Atlantic Canada stack up to Ontario in this sphere, in your opinion?
The abilities that we have here in the network, specifically the Springboard network, is exceptional. A lot of other groups talk about collaboration, but frankly, it’s lip-service. I was a part of other networks and they don’t exist anymore.
Springboard is looked at as a model. As a functional network. And a lot of that comes down to the advantage of our smaller size. Since we’re all able to coordinate so well, we can put people in touch with the right folks across the region.
What are some of the hurdles of doing this work in PEI?
Multinational companies are global. You need to give them a darn good reason to come to Atlantic Canada for partnerships because they can pick and choose- and they do. So we have to go head to head with places like Montreal, Toronto or London. The provincial boundaries in the Atlantic region are sometimes a hinderance to this, but I think we’re all realizing that there’s no point competing with each other. It can’t be Nova Scotia versus Newfoundland versus PEI versus New Brunswick because we need to act as Atlantic Canada. All the provinces, from a political point of view, will always have their split- that’s just politics. But from an innovation point of view, we must act as Atlantic Canada.