Collaborative Innovation: What it is and Why it Matters to your Business
7 min read
7 min read
When it comes to product development, innovative companies are often faced with technical uncertainty. Companies increasingly recognize that to successfully innovate they cannot exclusively rely on internal know-how.
Thankfully, Canada is home to world-class universities that can help private industry commercialize their research.
Collaborative innovation refers to joint R&D between private industry and post-secondary institutions, such as colleges and universities.
Both parties benefit from the partnership – universities and colleges share important skills with industry that would otherwise be underutilized, while innovative companies that need access to talent and infrastructure (labs, materials, equipment, etc.) can accelerate their time-to-market.
“We are supporting collaborative R&D projects that deliver on industry-driven priorities, de-risk R&D, and help launch the next generation of research talent. Access to cutting-edge expertise and resources ensures that Canadian businesses can innovate, grow and create high-value jobs.”
—B. Mario Pinto, President, NSERC
Canadian companies can take full advantage of academic resources for only a fraction of the cost. Government grants are available to offset costs related to research and development fees.
In this article, we will explain everything there is to know about collaborative innovation. More specifically, we will look at available funding, concrete examples of collaboration, and challenges companies may face when pursuing joint R&D.
The government funding landscape can be fragmented, competitive, and hidden to newcomers. To make things easier, we’ve compiled our favorite programs that provide funding for collaborative innovation.
The grants described below are applied toward the university, college, or researcher’s wage, and are meant to offset the cost of engaging highly skilled talent.
NSERC is a federal granting agency that invested $967.1M in funding from 2016 to 2017. Their investment history shows a preference for sectors like Environmental Science, Life Sciences, and IT, which respectively represent 24%, 21%, and 21% of their 2016-2017 spend.
Below is a list of their funding programs:
Six-month R&D project with a university or college expert to find a solution to a short-term problem. Resulting IP is owned by the company.
Up to a three-year R&D project with a college research team to address a short-term challenge. Resulting IP can be jointly owned by the company and the college.
On-site sixteen-week internship with an undergraduate student to work on R&D projects.
Up to a five-year project with a university researcher, who will work on developing new products, improving processes or enhance competitiveness. If your company works with the National Defence Department (DND), any resulting IP will be used, and perhaps partly owned, by the DND.
Mitacs provides funding for research internships and training programs for college, polytechnic and university students or postdoctoral fellows in partnership with industry and government. To date, Mitacs has funded over 21,000 projects, including from engineering, life sciences, and natural sciences sectors.
Below is a list of their programs:
Four to six-month internship for a college, polytechnic, or university student to work on an industry research project. Companies contribute $7,500 for a total award of $15,000 per four to six-month unit of the internship.
It is worth noting that projects are scalable and can involve multiple interns and multiple universities to suit the industry partner’s R&D needs. Additionally, there is a category under this program that allows companies to attract international talent. It is formally referred to as “Accelerate International”.
Work with senior research fellows to understand and address specific R&D needs over the course of a two-year project. 50% of the fellowship must be spent onsite with the industry partner. To note, this program does not have a continuous intake and there is an application deadline for this program. Companies contribute $30,000 for a total research award of $60,000.
A full-time, six-month internship for post-secondary graduates in STEM to support a project that addresses sustainability or environmental challenges. The salary paid to the intern for the term must total$20,000 to $25,000.
Download our beginner’s guide to getting funded
It is important to make a distinction between two forms of partnerships:
Innovation Canada published a case study of collaborative R&D in small firms, which includes further details on partnerships.
The main differentiation between both partnerships is the depth of collaboration. On one hand, technology transfer is a transactional relationship – academia develops the IP, private industry pays to use it. On the other hand, collaborative innovation forces academia and private industry to work closely together toward mutually agreed upon research and commercial objectives.
Here are a few concrete examples of collaboration between industry and academia in Canada:
For more examples of collaborative R&D, NSERC frequently publishes case studies on past projects. Mitacs also has a publicly available database of current and past research.
Two fundamental issues afflict collaboration:
The open nature of academia is, at times, in conflict with companies’ need to protect technologies they use. The lifeblood of academics is the frequency of published work, while companies do not want their trade secrets to be available in the public domain.
Moreover, academia focuses on long-term challenges and thus may move more slowly. Industrial R&D is driven by time-sensitive product development. As a result, companies can sometimes find universities too slow to be the best partners.
Our solution: Incorporate short-term, confidential R&D mandates within a broader, long-term collaborative agreement. For example, if your budget allows for it, you can start a company-wide university collaboration program. This keeps researchers interested in the body of work you engage them for, while your company simultaneously benefits from small industrial R&D wins along the way.
To control for the confidentiality and timeliness of the project, here are some common items that need to be addressed before signing an agreement with universities:
By collaborating with university researchers, innovative companies can increase the likelihood of commercial success. With an abundance of funding programs available, you can also rest assured that you get access to Canada’s top talent at only a fraction of the cost.
If you have questions or comments about collaborative innovation funding, please do not hesitate to contact Sahar Ansary at 1-800-500-7733 for more information.
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