An Academic Partnership Working Together On A Research Project

The Canadian government has increasingly emphasized the need for innovation in all kinds of industries. In order for Canada to compete with low-cost labour markets in other countries, Canadians need to demonstrate and leverage their expertise in technological advancements and efficiencies in automotive manufacturing, cleantech, information and communications, healthcare, and other sectors.

In its 2019 report, Building a Nation of Innovators, the Canadian federal government insisted on this need for innovation in Canada so that the country can remain economically strong and globally competitive:

“Other countries recognize the importance of innovation in driving long-term growth and in creating a resilient workforce for the future. To keep up and thrive in this global innovation race, Canada must build a culture of innovation.”

To help generate this culture, the Government of Canada has established and updated numerous Canadian government funding programs that support research, job creation, entrepreneurs, and small businesses.

For companies that want to gain a competitive edge in this culture of innovation, partnership with a postsecondary institution can be essential in driving the development and adoption of new technologies, the diversification of products and services, and entrance into new global markets. Below are three reasons why your business should consider partnering with a postsecondary institution.

1.  Leverage Research and Development Resources

Canadian industry has plenty of stories about companies that have been able to develop new processes or products through a research partnership with a university or college. Maybe you’re a food processor who needs to prolong your products’ shelf life without resorting to conventional preservatives, or an automotive manufacturer who needs to find new ways to reduce vehicle weight. Partnering with a postsecondary research team can help.

An academic partnership provides access to research equipment that individual companies may not be able to invest in on their own, as well as access to the highest levels of expertise.

Below are two case studies of companies who have successfully leveraged a university partnership.

Case Study: Automotive

Twenty years ago, FCA Canada began partnering with the University of Windsor to operate an Automotive Research & Development Centre. The centre now has a direct role in design and engineering for almost every FCA Canada product, and it has an R&D spend that exceeds $1B.

The facility is equipped with six road-test simulators, proprietary software development, and a range of support facilities. Most recently, FCA Canada invested in a new Vehicle Dynamics Simulator featuring the most advanced driving simulation technology in North America. FCA’s partnership with the University of Windsor is allowing the company to explore new possibilities for vehicle performance and road safety.

Case Study: Food and Beverage

Province Brands of Canada, a company that develops beers brewed from the cannabis plant, recently formed a partnership with a Chemical and Biochemical Engineering professor at the University of Western Ontario to research innovative brewing yeasts. These yeasts will help significantly reduce processing time for the formulation of cannabis and hemp beers, and remove the sweet taste that regular yeast brewing leaves behind.

The project is receiving $45K in funding from the Ontario Centres of Excellence’s Voucher for Innovation & Productivity and the Natural Sciences & Engineering Research Council of Canada’s Alliance program.

2.  Expand Your Labour Pool

Creating strong partnerships with postsecondary institutions can help businesses access highly skilled employees. Graduate internships and undergraduate co-op student programs can help fill gaps in project expertise or provide additional skills for targeted, short-term tasks.

Four out of five small business owners say co-op and internship students add value to their company as a source of new talent and innovative ideas, and provide a pool of future employees.

Businesses can also turn to colleges and universities to recruit new hires from each cohort of recent graduates, which can be essential for high-demand roles.

While companies may first think of hiring students or grads in business or STEM roles, humanities graduates should not be overlooked. Their skills in communication, problem-solving, collaboration, and critical thinking are essential to most sectors, and the world’s most competitive companies in finance and tech, including Microsoft, deliberately seek out humanities grads.

3.  Access NSERC, Mitacs, and Other Canadian Government Funding

An additional advantage of having a postsecondary partner is that it can provide access to direct or indirect funding. For example, there are numerous Canadian government hiring grants that help firms hire students and recent grads. Companies may also wish to explore programs such as Mitacs Accelerate, which funds graduate internships.

As well, there are several programs that help businesses augment their research and development budget. The Natural Sciences & Engineering Research Council’s Alliance Program and Ontario Centres of Excellence’s Voucher for Innovation & Productivity both fund university-industry research projects. While in these cases funds go the university rather than directly to the business, the business’s R&D costs are much lower than they would be if it had to cover all costs alone. The College & Community Innovation Program offers similar opportunities for businesses collaborating with colleges.

Developing a standardized process for finding a research partner and accessing funding is essential, but not overly complicated. To help you better understand the steps required, Mentor Works has developed the Collaborative Research Project Guide.

Download the Collaborative Research Project Guide to discover how to get started with post-secondary research partners and access funding.

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Sunnie holds a PhD in English from Dalhousie University, and has published her writing in several academic journals, as well as in magazines, newspapers, and blogs. She combines years of experience as a professor in English with practical experience in the private sector as a trainer in writing and analytical thinking.

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