NSERC Alliance Scientific Research Funding for Innovative Technology Projects

Update: As of May 2019, NSERC Alliance Grants have replaced Engage Grants for Universities. However, Engage Grants for Colleges will continue to be offered.

Administered by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, NSERC Alliance is a Canadian government funding program designed to support collaborative research projects performed at universities. Projects generally span 1-5 years in duration and multiply the efforts of a business and university to generate novel, breakthrough innovations that deliver a positive economic impact once complete.

NSERC Alliance funding can support up to $1 million of eligible research project costs per year. Funding directly offsets the research fees charged to a business by the university, reducing the fees a company must pay.

To get started with NSERC Alliance, businesses need to start the matchmaking process of finding an applicable research partner. While NSERC can help with the matchmaking process, it expedites the process if a business can find a university professor independently. To find a university professor who has interest in your project, you may need to develop a short proposal. Once a businesses and university professor have agreed to the project, the academic partner applies for funding. Businesses cannot apply independently without a university researcher.

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Knowledge Directory: Learn More About NSERC Alliance Funding

NSERC Alliance: Government Funding Snapshot

The NSERC Alliance program supports 1-5 year research projects performed collaboratively between a Canadian university and innovation partner. Administered by Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), Alliance grants are not awarded directly to the partner, and instead directly offset a portion of university research fees to reduce the contributions required from a participating organization.

  • Amount: Option 1 – Up to 66% (SMEs) or up to 50% (large businesses) to a maximum $1 million/project/year. Option 2 – Up to 90% – 100% of eligible project costs to a maximum of $100,000/year.
  • Timeline: Continuous intake of applications; research partnerships are required to apply together with the university researcher acting as the primary applicant.
  • Eligibility: Public, private, and non-profit organizations that can collaborate on research activities, use the project’s research results and achieve its desired outcomes, and mobilize the research findings upon project completion.

What is the NSERC Alliance Research Funding Program?

NSERC Alliance is uniquely designed to help Canadian companies perform innovative research projects with a professor and team of university researchers. Businesses start the process by connecting with a university professor to design the project. Then, for the next 1-5 years, both parties are actively involved in the collaboration and work together to progress the project to completion. Once the project has finished, the partnership dissolves with intellectual property (IP) shared between parties as outlined in the partnership agreement.

Companies have two options to access funding. Option 1: Up to 50-66% of eligible project costs to a maximum $1 million/project/year. Option 2: Up to 90% – 100% of eligible project costs to a maximum of $100,000/year.

Unlike many other types of Canadian government funding programs, NSERC Alliance funds are paid directly to the university. No funds are directly paid to a business; instead, a business and NSERC provide cash and in-kind contributions directly to the university to offset research costs. The amount of contributions a business must send to the university research team depends on the size of business, and length/complexity of research project.

Want to partner with a Canadian college instead? Discover NSERC Engage research grants.

NSERC Alliance Eligibility for Research Partners

To participate in NSERC Alliance-funded research projects, industry collaborators must:

  • Operate independently from a Canadian base and produce goods or services, or perform research and development activities;
  • Be in operation for at least two years or be poised for exceptional growth;
  • Have at least two full-time employees;
  • Have participating staff with relevant expertise to collaborate effectively in the project;
  • Generate revenue from sales or secure significant private sector investment; and
  • Have a plan and capacity for exploiting the research results within Canada.

Eligible University Partners

Canadian universities provide the knowledge and facilities to support innovative research projects. To meet the program’s eligibility requirements, Canadian universities must:

  • Demonstrate the expertise and necessary resources to support the project;
  • Meet expectations defined by the industry partner; and
  • Not partner with a business that they have collaborated with in the past.

NSERC Alliance Eligibility for Research Projects

NSERC Alliance projects are expected to solve natural sciences or engineering challenges that are difficult to overcome with internal company resources alone. Projects should generate new knowledge in an innovative manner to identify or help tap into revolutionary uses of technology. Project objectives must be completed within one to five years, with the industry partner ready to pursue a new innovative opportunity once the project is complete.

Research Supported by Alliance Grants must:

  • Generate new knowledge and/or technology to address complex challenges;
  • Create economic, social and/or environmental benefits;
  • Contribute to Canada’s long-term competitiveness;
  • Support public policy;
  • Train new researched in areas that are important to Canada and to the partner organizations; and
  • Draw on diverse perspectives and skill sets to accelerate the translation and application of research results.

Additionally, projects supported under Option 2 must also:

  • Address a societal challenge that will result in new natural sciences and engineering knowledge and societal impact;
  • Bring together academic, partner organization and societal perspectives and skill sets throughout collaboration; and
  • Demonstrate how all interested individuals will learn about and use the products, services or policies that stem from this research.

Projects Ineligible for NSERC Alliance Research Grants

Some project themes will not be considered for the NSERC Alliance program. These include:

  • Commercialization of a university invention;
  • Routine analysis or use of equipment at the university;
  • Data collection without interpreting underlying mechanisms;
  • Certification, endorsement, validation, or testing the performance of an existing product, process, or material (unless accompanied by significant efforts to investigate the underlying scientific or engineering question);
  • Development of an industry standard (unless the partner is an industry association);
  • Excessive literature review and/or patent searches; and
  • Professional practice or consulting services.

Expense Eligibility for NSERC Alliance Funding

The NSERC Alliance program reimburses project costs including:

  • Research labour;
  • Office supplies;
  • Equipment;
  • Consulting fees; and
  • Publication and conference expenses.

Expenses Ineligible for NSERC Alliance

Any expenses not directly attributable to the collaborative research project are not considered for NSERC Alliance grants.

Additional NSERC Alliance Resources

How to Apply for NSERC Alliance Academic Research Grants

To get started with the NSERC Alliance program, industry partners need to find a Canadian university to perform the project with. This process is typically done independently, with a business developing a short proposal of the project and contacting universities to find an interested professor. NSERC may also be able to help businesses find a research partner, but this could potentially delay the application process. Once an industry partner and university researcher have developed the research project plan, they can apply for funding together. Applications are usually developed collaboratively with the university partner responsible for submission.

Applications are continuously accepted and reviewed by NSERC. It may take up to 4-16 weeks to review the application depending on its overall funding request. Smaller projects that request less funding are reviewed more quickly.

If the funding application is approved, the university researcher and industry collaborator may kickoff the project. Expenses incurred prior to funding approval may not be supported, so it’s best to apply well in advance of research activities being performed. Regular progress reports and a final project report are required to communicate details to NSERC.

NSERC Alliance grants are open for both Option 1 and Option 2. Universities must apply for funding on behalf of the project team. There is an ongoing application intake. 

If your business is interested in researching with Canadian universities and wants to learn how NSERC Alliance fits into your Government Funding Plan, please contact Mentor Works.

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Posted: May 7, 2019. Updated: February 20, 2020.