Program Updates: NSERC Engage and NSERC Alliance

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. Previously, businesses had two options when it came to accessing NSERC funding, including NSERC Engage and NSERC CRD Funding. After recently changing the way NSERC administers funding, businesses can now choose between two new/updated funding programs, including NSERC Engage and NSERC Alliance.

NSERC Engage supports research projects with a college, while the newly created NSERC Alliance program focuses on research projects undertaken with a university.

Collaborative research projects previously awarded with NSERC Engage or CRD funding remain unaffected by these changes to the program and can proceed as planned. Applicants can still submit in-progress NSERC Engage and Engage Plus funding applications until May 31, 2019. The new NSERC Alliance program will begin accepting applications on a continuous basis starting on May 21, 2019.

NSERC Engage & NSERC Alliance: New Structure for NSERC 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 partner a business chooses to partner with.

The new NSERC Alliance funding stream is most ideal for university-based research projects, while NSERC Engage remains a 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 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

NSERC Engage 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

The newly created NSERC Alliance is 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 or Alliance 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, a 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 researchers and access NSERC funding.

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Jeff Shepherd holds an Honours Bachelor of Business Administration at the University of Guelph. He is passionate about Canadian business, economics, and politics. As Marketing Coordinator for Mentor Works, Jeff educates business leaders about proactive funding strategies.

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