What are Technology Readiness Levels (TRLs)?

Businesses conducting product development and commercialization activities often refer to the stage of development on a nine-point scale called Technical Readiness Levels (TRL). This scale helps to categorize product development stages across industries, which is helpful to define project scope, progress, and resource requirements.

In fact, Canadian small business funding programs use TRLs as a determining factor in what projects are eligible for certain research grants. Some of these programs offer hundreds of thousands, or even millions of dollars to fuel R&D projects; but to access this government funding, it’s critical to understand which TRLs are eligible for funding from a particular subsidy.

That’s where technology readiness levels become helpful. The TRL system measures a technology’s maturity, from level 1 (pre-invention research) to level 9 (successful application of a technology). Each of the nine levels demonstrate a clear point in the technology development project where significant activities are performed.

Some Canadian government funding programs will only accept innovations that fall within a range of TRL levels. Because of this, it’s important to understand how your innovation is classified. Learning where your project fits on the TRL scale will help to determine the types of government funding and commercialization programs available.

What is Your Project’s Technology Readiness Level?

Technology development is not a linear process, so it can become difficult to identify clear stages. The TRL system recognizes this, suggesting that projects may address some levels more quickly than others, or may skip some levels entirely.

Technology Readiness Levels are a sound methodology that can be easily applied to most projects. Each of the categories provide a broad explanation of the types of activities commonly performed. This makes it a good model to use when evaluating how your project fits for certain government grants and loans.

So – what’s your technology readiness level? Use the guide below to match your research and development project to the most appropriate TRL:

  1. Concept Evaluation: The translation of scientific research into applied research. This is mostly exploration of a technology’s basic properties.
  2. Technology Evaluation: The study of how technologies could be applied in the market. This is the point where the project’s direction takes form.
  3. Proof-of-Concept Research: At this phase, active R&D begins and a technological solution is developed. This stage looks at the critical function of the technology and asks, “what is required for this technology to meet the application’s requirements?”.
  4. Early-Stage Prototype Development: The integration and testing of basic components in a laboratory environment. This can be done multiple times during technology development to ensure that the technology is progressing toward its desired purpose.
  5. Late-Stage Prototype Development: The integration and testing of basic components in a simulated environment. This is done following lab testing and usually involves accessing better testing equipment to identify potential issues.
  6. Simulated Environment Pilot: Upon completion of the technology’s design, final testing can commence. This will provide data critical to the commercialization phase where the technology is applied.
  7. Operational Environment Demonstration: Using the prototype in an operational environment to understand how it performs in non-simulated testing. Further development may be required to address performance issues.
  8. Final Testing and Evaluation: Upon further testing, the technology has proven itself to be successful under normal operating conditions.
  9. Successful Deployment: The application of a technology, in its final form, in real-life conditions.

Access Canadian Government Funding for Research and Development

Most Canadian government funding programs are reserved for technology developers who already have a tangible innovation that is in the early stages of development.

To help you understand how Technology Readiness Levels can help you identify your funding opportunities, please compare your TRL from above with the categories below:

TRL 1-3 Early-Stage Development Funding

Projects with a TRL of 1-3 typically represent projects that are in consideration or early stage development. Some funding programs that are useful at this part of the process include:

  • Canadian International Innovation Program (CIIP): Collaborating with international technology developers can significantly enhance end products. By leveraging R&D partnerships, companies can accelerate projects and access new ideas, talents, and capabilities. Canadian government grants can even reduce project expenses by up to 50% to a maximum $600,000.
  • Going Global Innovation (GGI): Seeks to reduce communication barriers with international commercialization partners who may eventually sell the technology in foreign markets. Exporters can recover up to 75% of project expenses to a maximum $75,000 for travel and meetings required to solidify the collaboration.

Research grants are quite limited for projects with Technology Readiness Levels less than 4; this is because the majority of R&D costs are experienced through phases 4-9.

TRL 4-7 Research and Development Funding

Projects with a TRL of 4-7 typically represent projects that are in early to mid-stage development. Some funding programs that are useful at this part of the process include:

  • IRAP Grants: The Industrial Research Assistance Program (IRAP) helps manufacturers to overcome technical challenges by reducing the payroll cost of employees and contractors. Canadian research grants support commercially-viable innovations that lead to new manufacturing products and capabilities.There are two streams for technical IRAP projects, including the Accelerated Review Process (ARP)providing up to $50,000, and the Mid-Size Projects stream, which provides up to $500,000 in manufacturing funding.
  • NSERC Engage: Supports the collaboration of small and mid-sized businesses and academic institutions. Engage grants support research partnerships, lasting up to 6 months, where a research professor and their team of post-secondary researchers can contribute to project deliverables. Each 4-6 month project may receive up to $25,000 in research grants and project length can be extended if necessary.
  • NSERC Collaborative Research and Development (CRD): Likewise, NSERC CRD grants provide the capacity to support long-term collaborative research and development projects with a Canadian academic institution. Through the program, businesses may perform R&D projects for a period of 1-5 years. This research can be compensated with government grants worth up to 50% of eligible expenses to a maximum $200,000 per year.

TRL 7-9 Technology Commercialization Funding

Projects with a TRL of 7-9 typically represent projects that are in late-stage development or early-stage commercialization. Some funding programs that are useful at this part of the process include:

  • Sustainable Development Technology Fund (SD Tech): Supports collaborations that identify technical weaknesses, or elements that must be changed before disruptive clean technologies can be integrated. Manufacturers can use the funding to accelerate the final development and testing of a technology, ultimately bringing it to market faster.SD Tech provides grants of up to 33% of project expenses to a maximum $15 million.
  • Build in Canada Innovation Program (BCIP): BCIP is an opportunity for Canadian innovators to test and sell their pre-commercial technologies to Government of Canada. Its purpose is to reduce the commercialization gap commonly faced by technology developers, and support future sales to both government and non-government customers. Up to $500,000 can be awarded for most innovations, while up to $1 million can be awarded for technologies with a military application.

Access Canadian Government Funding for R&D Projects

Advanced technology has the potential to transform Canada’s industries to become more productive and profitable. If you’re developing technologies that could have an impact within your organization or across the country, please contact Mentor Works.

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Written by

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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