February 27, 2023

Innovation starts with a challenge (SDG 9)

What do you get when you combine a college or institute, a small business, and a challenge? We’ll give you a hint – it’s one of Canada’s strongest motors for innovation and a fundamental part of Canada’s largest postsecondary network. The answer is applied research.

It’s more important than ever that we think creatively about economic, social, and environmental challenges and applied research is key to this. Unfortunately, innovation is often underfunded. In fact, while (in 2020) OECD countries invested an average of 2.67% of GDP on research, Canada spent just 1.84%. Imagine what we could achieve if we invested more strategically.

In communities all across the country, businesses (especially SMEs and entrepreneurs) and community organizations come to their local college or institute with a problem. Think: how can I make my product more efficient, with less waste? Or: how can I make the services my organization provides more inclusive?

Across nearly 700 campuses, colleges and institutes provide would-be innovators with access to state-of-the-art facilities, specialized equipment, and technical experts to help them advance their businesses. In real numbers, that expertise led to 8,000 total research partnerships, over 6,400 applied research projects, 5,500 new processes, products, prototypes, and services in every year (based on most recent data, 2019-2020).

Here are just a few of the many examples of applied research boosting innovation in our communities:

  • At the Engineered Technology Applied Research Lab (Nova Scotia Community College), applied research has led to the development of a cost-effective water-filtration solution for the predominantly black community in Shelburne, Nova Scotia. The student project focused on creating a versatile remote sensor system (VRSS) used to collect data in wells or on land to better understand environmental conditions.
  • At Lion Electric (working with the Innovative Vehicle Institute at Cégep de Saint-Jérôme) applied research means the developing of a new school bus with electric motorization. Once complete, this project became a turning point for Lion Electric as they converted their offerings to 100% electric buses and trucks.
  • At Contextere (working with Algonquin College), applied research means the developing of the Advanced Virtual Assistant (AVA) application, now named Madison. This Microsoft Teams-integrated application makes it faster to retrieve information about machinery operation and technical issues encountered by workers in the field. The platform facilitates a 50% reduction in non-productive time and a 40% reduction in safety incidents for companies who use it.

Each year, more and more Canadian businesses and community organizations of all sizes benefit from real solutions to business challenges led by colleges and institutes. Each year, more students gain valuable work experience and skills by participating in cutting-edge research projects. Forty-two thousand students to be exact, in just one year (2019-2020). And each year, more Canadians benefit from innovation that contributes to the long-term sustainability of Canadian industry.

The college and institute innovation landscape across Canada is a best kept secret, but we need the proper resources to get the word out, and help it grow. To build stronger, more resilient communities, it is essential that we give college and institute leaders the resources they need to maximize the impact of Canada’s largest network of innovators.