This op-ed was originally published in Research Money’s 2019 issue of Applied Research Comes of Age.
In our country of small businesses, where over 99% of companies are considered small or medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), collaboration is often the key to growth and innovation. It’s what spurs ingenuity, helping a business to punch above its weight. But Canada needs more and that requires sustained support for innovative partnerships.
Fostering collaboration in all sectors of the economy is a major strength of colleges, polytechnics and institutes. All across the country, they are sought-after partners for SMEs and community stakeholders looking to find innovative solutions to their everyday challenges. Over the past decade, they have become key drivers of Canada’s innovation ecosystem.
Last year alone, Canadian colleges and institutes were involved in over 7,300 research partnerships that generated over 4,400 innovations, including new processes, products, prototypes and services, approximately 87% of which were completed in less than one year.
Most amazing is that they have done all this with access to only 2.5% of federal research funding. It’s time that support from government matches the sector’s full potential. The most critical need is to enable post-secondary institutions to maintain permanent services to facilitate linkages with industry and community partners who lack the capacity, resources and networks needed to invest in research and development on their own.
Applied research partnerships can take time to build and need support to sustain, but the payoff is worth it – students involved become the next generation of innovators, having worked hand in hand with employers to drive innovation, and businesses get solutions to their challenges and develop new products. Whether it’s testing out new, more energy efficient technology, or developing brand new machinery to improve manufacturing processes, students gain valuable experience, while helping businesses grow and innovate.
This is why Colleges and Institutes Canada, along with six other national and regional associations, recently called on the Government of Canada to help expand SME participation in the innovation ecosystem by investing $40 million per year in business innovation engagement services based in colleges, institutes and polytechnics. We believe this will double the number of SMEs engaging with colleges and institutes in applied research and business innovation, increasing their willingness and capacity to invest their own resources in research and development.
As we look to Canada’s future in the global economy, this might just be the game-changer SMEs across the country need to keep us competitive and productive.
President and CEO of Colleges and Institutes Canada