Is Canada finally getting its innovation house in order? Two recent developments offer encouraging signs that federal (and provincial) policy is beginning to address past shortcomings at both ends of the innovation spectrum, acknowledging the importance of fundamental research and ensuring that rapidly expanding tech firms grow while remaining in Canada.
Immigration: A Canadian imperative in a knowledge economy
Varying opinions abound regarding the immigration policy of Canada – both in favor and against. However, if as a country we want to build a knowledge economy, immigration is a critical piece of the puzzle. Even before the argument is laid out, let’s understand what a knowledge economy is in its simplest form.
Competition heats up for $950 million in superclusters as government selects nine to submit full proposals
And then there were nine. The federal government has shortlisted nine proposals under its $950-million Innovation Superclusters Initiative (ISI) from more than 50 letters of intent with up to five expected to be awarded funding by the end of FY17-18. The proposals invited to submit full applications span the nation and represent some of Canada’s most advanced tech-based sectors including ocean science, advanced manufacturing, artificial intelligence and digital technologies.
CANARIE, Canada’s high-performance computing network, is using $2 million in funding to encourage greater sharing of visualization software and other research platforms in an effort to reduce duplication and accelerate discoveries. Under the pilot Research Software Program, five teams will receive funding to improve software tools they have already developed and adapt them for use by researchers in other disciplines. CANARIE says the pilot program aims to demonstrate the viability of a new approach for making more efficient use of research funds.
A recent survey of public perception about university research is overwhelming positive. So encouraging are the results that Universities Canada, which commissioned the survey, is hoping it can get the public to rally behind them to press the government for more funding for university research.
Regulatory science: Enhancing Canada’s leadership in regulatory science and technology
In the midst of our eternal dilemma of labelling science as either applied or fundamental, we are forgetting an essential component and one of Canada`s strengths on the international stage – regulatory science.
Dr Mona Nemer’s appointment as federal chief science advisor (CSA) is receiving rave reviews in science and policy circles. But it has also reignited the debate over whether the new position will represent a significant improvement over past efforts to advise government on important scientific issues, and how this advice will feed into decision making.
Stakeholders in the wheat sector have collaborated on what they say is the first national research priorities report, establishing clearly set goals and metrics to guide funders and researchers on how to focus R&D efforts to boost their impact in the market.
New bioeconomy framework outlines measures to enhance and expand Canadian expertise, competitiveness
Canada’s forest ministers have produced A Forest Bioeconomy Framework for Canada to leverage the country’s vast biomass reserves and extend their production and deployment far beyond current usage. The report was released in September and unanimously endorsed by the Canadian Council of Forest Ministers (CCFM), which co-authored the document along with Natural Resources Canada (NRCan).
Innovation in Canada will be seriously compromised unless domestic venture capitalists start throwing big bucks into Canadian firms, suggests a new report. Big funding is one of the secrets of success of US firms, whether in Silicon Valley, or in other technology hubs in the rest of the US. In contrast, it is a challenge to get large funding tranches from Canadian VCs.
Quebec’s Kinova, a robotics designer and manufacturer, has raised $25 million in new investments to expand its R&D, sales and marketing, and manufacturing operations. The funds were pooled from four major investors led by Fonds Manufacturier Québecois S.E.C. II. The co-investors include KTB Network Co of South Korea, Foxconn of Taiwan, and BDC Capital. The new investments will bring the company to its next stage of advanced manufacturing, which it calls Factor 4.0, characterized by more digitization and robotization for better efficiency in production and improvement in quality of output. Kinova says it wants to assume a leading role in medical robotics and build partnerships with hospitals, governments and other players in the industry to improve on their products. The new investments will also go to expand exports, which make up more than 90% of the business. The company says it is looking to open offices in Asia and the US. Earlier in 2017, Kinova set up an office in Germany. Investment advisory firm Keira Capital Partners helped Kinova clinch the deal.
Prime minister Justin Trudeau on September 26 named Dr Mona Nemer as Canada’s new Chief Science Advisor (CSA) for a three-year term. Nemer is a medical researcher, professor and VP research at Univ of Ottawa. She held the latter role for 11 years before stepping down last summer. In her new position, Nemer will advise both the prime minister and Science minister Kirsty Duncan on key federal science policies and produce an annual public report on the state of federal government science — a function performed by the sunsetting Science, technology and Innovation Council (STIC). The CSA announcement has long been awaited by the science, technology and innovation community since the search was launched in December 2016. The Liberal Party pledged to create the position of chief science officer during the 2015 election campaign as part of its suite of policies stressing innovation, research and evidence-based decision making. The Liberal government of Paul Martin introduced the position of National Science Advisor in 2004 and appointed Dr Arthur Carty, former president of the National Research Council. But Carty and the office were eliminated in 2008 by the government of Stephen Harper. Nemer, who holds a PhD in chemistry from McGill University, will occupy an office in the Department of Innovation, Science and Economic Development where she will be supported by a secretariat with a modest annual budget of $2 million.
Canada announced it would be highlighting its Innovation and Skills Plan (I&SP) at the G7 and ICT (information and communications technologies) ministers meetings September 25 and 26 in Turin Italy. The I&SP will be touted for its aim to position Canada as an “ideal investment destination” for global firms and foster the scale-up of Canadian companies to compete on the world stage. Innovation, Science and Economic Development (ISED) minister Navdeep Bains also said the government would be advocating for “Canada’s values of diversity and inclusion” and their role in providing Canada with a competitive edge. While in Turin, Bains is meeting with Italian business representatives with a particular emphasis on the automotive sector. Canada will be chairing the G7 in 2018, which is being pitched as an “opportunity to showcase efforts to strengthen the middle class, advance gender equity, fight climate change and promote diversity and inclusion”. On September 26, Bains met with his fellow ICT ministers although the government has not provided any details on what issues were on the agenda.
Toronto innovation hub MaRS Discovery District has named Yung Wu as its new CEO effective Nov 1. Wu is a pioneering entrepreneur, serial investor and chairman of NFQ Ventures, a venture capital firm that invests in seed or early-stage funding. Wu will succeed outgoing CEO Ilse Treurnicht, who has been CEO since in 2005. MaRS board chair Gordon Nixon notes Wu’s extensive experience in, and knowledge of, the innovation cycle. He has a track record for growing companies from seed stage financing to global scaling. At NFQ Ventures, Wu has helped nurture startups from industries such as software, services and biotech, some of which have been sold to large firms. Wu has been recognized as one of Canada’s “Top 40 under 40” leaders and for leading one of the country’s “50 Best Managed Private Companies.”