Let’s start with your professional background.
My first permanent job was working in science education and outreach for youth. I did that for a number of years at Acadia, my alma mater, and then I had the opportunity to go to Dalhousie, managing a non-profit associated with the School for Resource and Environmental Studies. We worked with small and medium-sized businesses on environmental and energy improvements. We did audits and made recommendations on what they could do. I was there for nine years before joining the Union of Nova Scotia Municipalities as their first Municipal Sustainability Coordinator. I worked with municipal governments throughout the province on energy and greenhouse gas reduction issues.
That all segued to an opportunity that arose at Acadia in 2008. I was hired as the Research and Innovation Coordinator with the Research and Graduate Studies Office where I managed our major institutional research portfolio, including Acadia’s CFI and Canada Research Chairs programs. I also had a foot in the door in the Office of Technology Transfer and Innovation (since re-named Office of Industry & Community Engagement), and I quickly got pulled into the Springboard network (that was Phase 2!) and got familiar with that. For the last three years, I’ve been seconded as a full-time ILO.
Yes, you’re one of our long-serving members. What’s your perspective of the organization? How has it grown over the years?
It’s certainly flourished over the 11 years I’ve been involved. From my history and being through so many of the phases and iterations of the network itself, I would say there is considerably more collaboration and collegiality between the institutions than in the earliest rounds. I mean, your natural instinct is first and foremost to seek opportunities for your own academic institution and researchers. It’s a challenge to get out of that “rivalry” mindset and to be thinking about advocating for and reaching out to your pan-Atlantic colleagues. We’ve all gotten much better at that.
Why has it gotten easier?
I think there are more incentives and opportunities to work across institutions than there were 10 years ago. But, I think it’s more likely that over time the institutions have come to appreciate the power of the network. I think as we “mature”, we know each other’s institutions better - where complementary expertise lies, who your researchers best pair with, and who you know you can call for a quick answer. I see that the new ILOs now quickly realize the great resource of the broader network and the network “memory” that’s available to them.
What are the ways that you rely on your Springboard colleagues, and vice versa, in your day to day?
To tell you the truth, it’s probably not much different than how the “newbies” access the network. Reaching out to find a match or a better fit for a company. Leaning on colleagues for help on metrics or with program questions. Offering help if you see someone who is reaching out for advice that you can help with. Our regular get-togethers are so important for sharing of information, celebrating successes, commiserating on the challenges, and simply enjoying lots of laughs! We also count on Central Office and our sister institutions on event support – small things like travelling together to cut down on costs, to co-sponsoring of events to logistics support. Our office at Acadia would not have all of these opportunities without this network.
How does Springboard benefit Atlantic Canada?
Just look at our metrics! (wink, wink). Seriously, we know that our network is unique across the country - we hear that from outside the region a lot. We are a key part of the innovation agenda in this region. Our depth and breadth as a whole is impressive, when we harness the power of the many. It’s the network that can deliver the full range of research expertise for any sector, and with knowledge to provide our external and internal clients on commercialization, programming, funding opportunities, potential partners, and innovative ideas.
Do you have any examples you can talk about?
We love to talk about Atlantick from Mahone Bay! We were able to help that company’s founder, Lisa Ali, take an idea that she was passionate about – finding a natural tick repellent because her children were diagnosed with Lyme disease – and assist her through many business, technical and regulatory challenges, to grow her company and achieve success, which she is now realizing nationally. It is very satisfying to be part of her story.
But, there are a lot of inspiring stories that come out of Acadia and our network through our collaborations with industry. Our journeys as ILOs, of helping businesses of all sizes to navigate academic and government resources to become more innovative and profitable and successful, is motivating and very exciting. It makes every day a little bit different.