Industry associations are applauding the formation of a panel dedicated to the commercialization of research-stage technology, but suggest that the federal government’s overall approach may be putting the cart before the horse.
The panel, the creation of which was announced by Industry Canada
last week, will comprise Mike Lazaridis, president of Research in Motion; Cindy Lum, CEO of the B.C. Innovation Council; and Germaine Gibara, president of Avvio Management Inc., a change management consulting company.
The goal of the panel, according to an Industry Canada spokesperson, will be to review relevant reports and proposals, hold roundtables, seek opinions from business leaders, and act in advisory capacity for the government.
According to Industry Canada, the government has provided about $13 billion in funding for university-based research over the last eight years. Canada has earned a reputation as an idea generator, said John Reid, president of the Ottawa-based Canadian Advanced Technology Alliance (CATA), but has sometimes stumbled when it comes to turning those ideas into marketable products.
“The mandate that (Industry) Minister Emerson has set up with the panel is long overdue. Hands down, Canada has one of the best R&D incentive programs,” said Reid. “But the other component of that is, once you create the ideas and you have the emerging companies, how do you maximize the benefits to the economy?”
A fresh perspective may be necessary, said Reid, noting that in the U.S., companies spend an average of 20 per cent of their budgets on sales and marketing versus seven per cent in Canada.
“I hope (the panel) avoids the usual solutions that come out of this, like we need more venture capital or we need more tax credits,” said James Milway, executive director of the Institute for Competitiveness and Prosperity, based in Toronto.
Milway said the government needs to pressure businesses to innovate, or just listen to what sort of innovation they’re looking for, rather than waiting for universities and research labs to develop technologies then try to find a market for them.
Where the government can help innovation efforts is by removing some of the bureaucracy that complicates the funding process, said Darren Lawless, chairman of the Guelph, Ont.-based Innovation Management Association of Canada (IMAC), which merged with CATA earlier with this year.
“To get some of the funding available, you spend a lot of time filling out paperwork. That’s not what you want to do; you want to unleash your creative and innovative people,” he said. “It’s hard to do a five-year plan when you don’t know what the rules are today and suspect tomorrow they might be different.
He noted, however, that the formation of the panel is a good idea, “providing it’s not just a great networking opportunity and no action. To quote Nike, we have to ‘just do it.’”
The fact that a panel was created by government is helping to politicize the commercialization process in Canada and drawing attention to the issue, added Reid.
“It’s changing the direction of the Canadian ship a bit, and you have to start from political direction. The fact that we’ve recognized where the weakness is and the fact that we’ve made a political commitment and a governmental commitment — that’s positive,” he said.
The panel is expected to deliver a report to the government this fall based on its review of the commercialization process in Canada.