Applied research: Leveraging innovation know-how to drive business performance

In a recent report jointly written by former advisers from both the Liberal and Conservative parties, two people who might have traditionally disagreed found common ground on the action necessary to Canada’s future prosperity.  In A New North Star, Sean Speer and Robert Asselin recognize that, among other things, global competitiveness will be essential to the long-term health of the country’s economy.

In the Conference Board of Canada’s latest innovation report card, Canada ranked 12th among 16 peer countries, dropping three positions from the previous year.  Despite launching the Innovation and Skills Plan in Budget 2017, a strategy that included a series of policies and programs intended to boost our innovation performance, Canada’s isn’t keeping up with global competitiveness measures.

Innovation performance is an issue that has long frustrated governments regardless of political stripe.  As a country made up of small businesses, it is rare to see a small business transform into a major international player despite employing the vast majority of Canadians. Yet, these companies are often open to experimentation and new approaches.

Our social sector – including non-profits, non-governmental organizations and public sector agencies – play an important role in our economy and are looking for new ways to deliver services and add value to the Canadian economy.  That willingness to try new things is at the heart of “innovation” – a word too often ascribed to technology giants over main street players.  Innovation policy in Canada must, therefore, respond to the unique realities of our economy.

Canada’s polytechnics are responding to this reality, serving as innovation intermediaries for organizations of all sizes and from all industrial and social sectors.  They provide support in diverse areas, contributing to growth, allowing for experimentation with new technology and processes, solving on-the-ground challenges and nurturing new ideas.  The applied research services polytechnics offer deliver innovation-boosting potential to their partners by giving them access to state-of-the-art facilities, future-forward technology and equipment, and industry-relevant expertise.

Here are just two examples of how Canada’s polytechnics are improving business performance through innovation, helping to drive Canada’s global competitiveness:

As an increasing number of homes use renewable energy to move off-grid, utilities like London Hydro are grappling with the reversal of the traditional energy sale.  At once customer and service provider, London Hydro wanted to help off-grid power producers decide when to store their energy and when to sell it back to the grid.  Working with Fanshawe College, the utility was able to develop a system that married fluctuating energy costs and load-predictions with climate-prediction data.  The system maximizes system efficiency and supports educated decisions about power consumption among their customers.

Further west, researchers at the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology in Edmonton were key players in the development and testing of a remote water treatment system in partnership with BioLargo Water Inc and Sunworks Farms.  The system stands to help rural farmers save on operating costs with more efficient water use.  This is another great example of improving productivity and competitiveness with a pragmatic, on-the-ground solution developed with support from a polytechnic.  That the system also provides a means to contribute to the country’s environmental sustainability is a bonus.

Improving Canada’s global competitiveness means ensuring that all Canadian firms can tap into the innovation ecosystem.  Canada’s polytechnics are using their facilities, equipment and expertise to throw open the doors to greater innovation performance.  For more great examples, check out Polytechnic Applied Research:  Building a Stronger Canada.

About the Author

Cody McKay, Policy Analyst at Polytechnics Canada.

Cody focuses on policies and programs relating to innovation and research. He supports the work of member Applied Research offices, bringing together leaders to ensure their initiatives in support of industry innovation and economic development are recognized at the federal level. Cody holds a Postgraduate Certificate in Project Management with a focus on international development from Humber, and a Bachelor Degree in International Relations from St. Thomas University in Fredericton. Prior to joining Polytechnics Canada, Cody worked with the Government of New Brunswick and the Canadian Red Cross.