The Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) is a federal government agency that fosters innovation by encouraging companies to collaborate in post-secondary research projects. After recently changing the way NSERC administers funding, businesses can now choose between two new/updated funding programs, including NSERC Engage Grants and NSERC Alliance Grants.
NSERC Engage supports research projects with a college, while the recently created NSERC Alliance program focuses on research projects undertaken with a university.
For university applicants, if your collaborative research projects were awarded with NSERC Engage or Engage Plus before June 1, 2019, grants will be honoured under the original terms and conditions of the grant, but no new applications will be accepted. The new NSERC Alliance program has started accepting applications on a continuous basis as of May 21, 2019.
New Structure for NSERC Engage and Alliance Research Funding
Earlier in 2019, NSERC announced that it would review its funding programs to re-align their focuses and improve the grant process. In late April, it announced how the programs would change, noting the development of a new funding stream, NSERC Alliance. Instead of applying to NSERC based on the length of project and level of funding requested, funding is now aligned to the type of research institution a business chooses to partner with.
The new NSERC Alliance funding stream is ideal for university-based research projects, while NSERC Engage remains the viable option for college-based collaborations.
Like how NSERC funding was awarded in the past, the new Engage and Alliance funding programs offset research project costs with contributions paid directly to the post-secondary institution. To participate in collaborative research projects, businesses must develop an application in coordination with the college or university partner and submit it for NSERC approval. If approved, the industry partner is required to pay a portion of research costs to NSERC, who then adds additional funding and sends it to the research institution to offset project costs.
About NSERC Engage Grants for Canadian Colleges
NSERC Engage Grants are one of nine grants under the College and Community Innovation Program, managed by NSERC. It is ideal for short-term (typically up to six-month) collaborative research projects performed by a college and industry partner. During the project, the industry partner works with a researcher or research team on applied technology development and testing projects focused on progressing the innovation towards commercial readiness.
Businesses can offset research costs by up to $25,000 per project. Remaining costs charged by a college must be paid by the participating business.
If an Engage-supported project is nearing the end of its original research term and requires additional research and innovation work from the college, the collaboration can apply for Engage Plus funding, which can extend projects by up to six months. For these extensions, NSERC will match funding added by the business partner to a maximum $12,500.
About NSERC Alliance Grants for Canadian Universities
The newly created NSERC Alliance Grants are ideal for longer-term (usually one to five years) collaborative research projects performed by a university and industry partner. During the project, the industry partner works with a research team on academic research and development of innovative products/processes, usually to establish a proof-of-concept or working prototype.
Businesses can offset research costs by up to 50-66% to a maximum $1 million per year. Remaining costs charged by a university must be paid by the participating business.
Because of its scalability, Alliance-supported projects can receive funding for one to five years. While complex research and development projects may expand as they’re being worked on, Alliance funding can easily grow with the project without additional applications or a change in funding contribution rates.
How to Apply for NSERC Research Funding Canada
Applications for NSERC Engage Grants or Alliance Grants must be initiated by a college or university in coordination with an industry partner. To establish a research partnership, businesses are encouraged to contact local post-secondary institutions and propose their project. Once an industry partner and interested college/university researcher have agreed on the objectives of the project, the post-secondary partner completes the application and sends it to NSERC for review.
Funding decisions are typically made by NSERC within six weeks of submission for Engage projects or 4-16 weeks for Alliance projects, depending on project size and complexity. Once projects are complete, NSERC requires a project report to confirm that the objectives and deliverables proposed have been met.
Learn More About the Collaborative Research Process
Many businesses assume that collaborating with Canadian colleges and universities is a difficult process. While there are several important steps required, there are fewer barriers to completing these types of projects than most businesses realize. 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 NSERC funding.