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Partners in Innovation

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Partners in Innovation

 

By
Denise Amat
President and CEO
Colleges and Institutes Canada

Canada’s colleges and institutes are generally regarded as some of the best post-secondary institutions in the world when it comes to equipping students with the skills, knowledge and experiences they’ll need to quickly and successfully start a career. Not quite as well known is the fact that they are also actively engaged in research projects and occupy a key, yet often misunderstood, place in Canada’s innovation ecosystem.

In 2014-15 alone, members of Colleges and Institutes Canada (CICan), worked with over 6,000 companies and community organizations to conduct applied research projects in a wide variety of fields, from healthcare to renewable energies and many more. These partnerships, that involve faculty and students working alongside industry, which provides at least 50% of funding, generated overwhelmingly positive results, including many new or improved products, processes and services.

For example, a partnership between Red River College, Manitoba Hydro and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries was created to test electric buses and develop a charging system adapted to Manitoba’s cold winter climate. Other projects were launched to test new construction materials, improve health care, develop sustainable farming practices and much more.

Our members have long understood that innovation is based on collaboration. This way of thinking is at the heart of their teaching model, but also their approach to applied research, which has been on an upward trend in institutions across Canada. It has allowed them to evolve into true innovation hubs, where the innovators of today, as well as those of tomorrow, can access essential resources they will need to realize their vision through what we like to call partnered innovation.

In fact, applied research at colleges and institutes is always partner driven, which means that the projects are conceived from the get-go to tackle real life challenges encountered by Canadian companies. Another clear advantage for them, is that the partner always keeps the intellectual property for new products generated through these research partnerships.

This model is particularly important for small and medium-sized enterprises who make up over 97% of all Canadian businesses and play an essential role in the country’s innovation ecosystem. However, they often have very limited access to the resources necessary, including laboratories, equipment, and dedicated researchers. This is why working with colleges, which can provide expertise, facilities as well as the contribution and energy of student researchers is so valuable. It’s no surprise then that SMEs represent over 75% of our members’ private sector partners, with another 8% falling in the micro-enterprise category. With over 760 research centers and labs, Canadian colleges and institutes can provide access to expertise and specialized equipment that smaller companies would not be able to afford otherwise. This makes their contribution all the more important as they support incremental innovation based on the every-day needs of small business and employers.

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