Microelectronics firms say they need more partnerships

OTTAWA — Collaborating with small startup companies that, in some cases, don’t even exist yet, is the key to succeeding and growing the microelectronics economy in Canada, industry leaders told the Forum on Microelectronics this week.

According to Industry Canada, microelectronics currently

represents 0.4 per cent of Canada’s GDP. The U.S. semiconductor sector, for example, is forecast to account for over 2 per cent of U.S. GDP by 2005. This would translate into growth of the Canadian sector from $4 billion in 1998 to $22 billion in 2005.

Brian Harling, vice-president of corporate affairs and government relations at Toronto-based MDS Inc., asked the audience to imagine a world where people are able to monitor their own health. He said there will soon be a device to test each person for a specific disease so they don’t have to see a doctor.

Using an example of a “”little strip,”” he said the strip can bind with fluid and the user watches it for a few minutes. Then, the strip turns colour and provides a reading.

“”This is one example. There will be thousands like this,”” he said, admitting that health-care industry is slow in bringing new technology to market. “”This is coming. It’s an evolutionary thing. There are very few drugs suitable for everybody.””

Similar to the transplant devices used in the Manchurian Candidate, were it not for microelectronics and microsystems, the personal computer and telephones would have never left the desktop for the palm of your hand. The technology means that life saving medical devices can live inside a patient, not beside their hospital bed.

Charlie Rothschild, R & D manager for the Automated Test Group at Agilent Technologies, said that unless an organization is based 50 per cent on software, they are not going to succeed in this industry. He said there are lots of opportunities with Micro-Electro-Mechanical Systems (MEMS), Microfluids and DNA Microarrays. There are an estimated 235 firms in the sector, with 1998 annual revenues of $6.97 billion, and a growth rate of 23.5 per cent.

He suggested that small companies find their strength and not try to do it all alone.

“”Anyone who tries to go it alone will not be successful, because it’s just too complicated,”” he said.

“”Your education is almost like a secret here,”” Rothschild told ITBusiness.ca following his speech. He added that Canada’s education system is full of top quality researchers and facilities. Earlier in the day he toured the University of Ottawa and said he was: “”blown away with what he saw.””

Chris Lumb, president and CEO of Micralyne, added that the industry will see growth in a number of fields, including optical, automotive and wireless.

Lumb said his Edmonton based company is happy to stay in Canada, because of lower costs, stable workforce, excellent education and access to capital.

It has been estimated that, on average, that microsystems-intensive corporations generate $500,000 revenue per employee. And, every highly qualified person with a post-graduate degree in Microsystems is estimated to generate $2 million in future revenues annually.

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