SMBs, universities attempt to bridge commercialization gap

A Canadian not-for-profit is hoping to bridge the gap between small and medium-sized businesses that face R&D challenges and academic institutions that need to commercialize their research.

The Innovation Synergy Centre in Markham (ISCM) on Wednesday launched a partnering program whereby it will seek out eligible firms that employ between 25 to 200 employees and provide them with access to publicly funded research institutions. These include colleges, universities and hospitals across Ontario, as well as government programs such as the National Research Council of Canada’s Industrial Research Assistance Program (IRAP).

“You always hear that professors aren’t interested in commercializing their technology, or that businesses aren’t interested in looking for third parties to collaborate with,” said Bob Glandfield, ISCM’s CEO. “We need to convince them of the business benefits of doing collaboration. Once they identify that, we build up a description of what the need is and circulate that to most of the college and university tech transfer offices.”

There is no fee attached to the program, and the ISCM proactively seeks out candidates rather than asking them to apply. This involves cold calls and marketing campaigns to specific firms, said Paul Rivett, project manager on the commercialization partnership.

“It is harder than you would imagine to give people something for nothing,” he said. “We are working on this as aggressively as if we were selling a piece of software.”

Glandfield said ISCM is looking for incremental pieces of technology to develop, such as an add-on to a piece of software or an algorithm that can process data faster.

“People talk about R&D but they’re really doing product development to solve the next client problems,” he said. “We’re not trying to create whole new companies out of this initiative.”

ISCM has already brokered a relationshp between Empress Software, a relational database specialist based in Markham, Ont., and the Centre for Vision Research at York University. Empress’s database will be applied to projects around the development of robotic aids for people with disabilities.

“Usually what (research institutions) are looking for is someone from business that they can stick on the grant application that can give them some additional cash,” said John Kornatowski, Empress’s president. “There’s not that much interest in, ‘Well, can this (research) really go out there?’”

Although Empress had looked at IRAP and other government programs prior to its relationship with ISCM, Kornatowski said few of them apply specifically to databases or the unique needs of other SME technology firms.

“There’s a lot of very good work being done in universities and colleges across Canada, but not all of it is moving out into the private sector where there are opportunities,” Glandfield added. “It’s not targeted to something that can be a commercial product.”

More than 60 Ontario companies and 44 researchers at 18 research institutions across Ontario are already taking part in the program, Glandfield said.

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