Increasing Innovation And Commercialization
October 25th, 2016
As President and CEO of Springboard Atlantic, his regional commercialization network helps to create partnerships between institutions and industry — whether it’s research that needs to be commercialized or a company that needs a problem solved by the know-how of an educational institution.
“We have great local companies like Spring Loaded Technology — which is advancing leg braces that generate more power to your legs — who are benefiting people all over the world,” says Mathis. “Dalhousie University also just licensed a cancer research algorithm that should have a positive impact on many lives.”
Mathis says many companies have relied on the connections made through Springboard Atlantic to create new products and improve their manufacturing processes.
He believes fostering innovation requires a creative society and a supportive culture with capacity to support innovators even if they fail.
“Our education institutions have much to offer and are doing great things to support this fostering, but wealthy people need to invest, professionals need to support and mentor, and businesses need the courage to continuously improve and reach for growth opportunities,” says Mathis. “If you offer products without improvements, you aren’t innovating.”
Local institutions can offer know-how to existing technologies looking for applications and facilities for prototyping and testing. There’s not a significant financial risk — either — thanks to various programs that can offset the investment.
“It really all comes down to matching up needs and creating relationships,” says Mathis. “It truly is a network. If something comes to Acadia University and they can’t help, they’ll send it out to the rest of the network because another institution may have the experience.”
As for how we increase private sector investment in R&D, Mathis says it’s up to the companies to decide, but there are ways to
encourage the investment activity.
“Plant managers need the time to look at improvements and seek external support in order that we could find ways to help increase production or reduce their energy or wastes,” says Mathis. “These are all ways to impact the bottom line — increasing competitiveness through process and product innovation, adoption and adaptation.”
Mathis says leadership from Halifax is also spreading throughout the region and “that just makes everything even better.” He points to the Canada First Research Excellence Fund awarding more than $200M in funding that draws in UPEI and Memorial with Dalhousie — creating an ocean tech focus in the form of the Ocean Frontier Institute. There’s also the Centre for Ocean Ventures and Entrepreneurship (COVE) being developed on the Dartmouth waterfront.
Ian Munro, chief economist with Halifax Partnership, says Halifax is seeing positive growth that’s resulting in more innovative projects and success stories, particularly as more young professionals stick around after graduating.
“We have lots of skilled, eager young people and we’re running programs to make employers aware of the rich resources we have and the importance of keeping them here,” says Munro.
While provincial and federal taxes are out of our control, Munro says we can still make the case that Halifax is a great place for people to live, work and invest.
“People don’t tend to go and have a 30-year career with one company anymore,” says Munro. “The more business we can keep here and grow, the more we’re providing a network of potential collaborators and mentors.”
Part of keeping businesses here — and happy — means figuring out what they need in order to thrive. The Partnership’s SmartBusiness program reaches out to local business owners to explore the challenges they’re facing and what can be done.
“They discuss how things are going, how they see their future, what kinds of problems they’re facing,” says Munro. “We can connect them to different resources that can help them grow.”
Mathis says we can increase collaboration between our post-secondary institutions and the private sector by getting the two groups together to engage face-to-face. “I can’t tell you how often I hear ‘I didn’t know we had that kind of research going on here’ from a company, or ‘I didn’t know such amazing products were being made here’ by a faculty person,” says Mathis. “We have world-class research here and world-class companies. It’s all about communicating, connecting and collaborating.”