Finding Help on the Road to Commercialization
Entrepreneurship is hard. You can have the next million-dollar idea and face a mountain to get it anywhere. Or your business is chugging along well, but you have a new idea and no time or resources to take care of it in-house. However, there are places and people that can help. Saskatchewan’s post-secondary institutions are more than halls of higher learning. They are industry partners that can help take an idea out of the clouds and into reality.
University of Saskatchewan, Research Excellence and Innovation
The University of Saskatchewan’s (USask) Research Excellence and Innovation (REI) division, part of the Office of the VP Research, supports commercialization efforts by creating partnerships for university researchers and industry—just one of its many, many roles.
At the university level, there are two lanes on the road to commercialization and they both share the same issues. One lane has the graduate student or faculty member with research that shows potential for the marketplace and no business experience. The other lane has the entrepreneur with an idea perfect for the market and no research capability to test it. Luckily, both lanes can lead to Usask’s REI and find help on the road.
“The road to commercialization has many obstacles, among them are the lack of time, lack of funding, lack of entrepreneurial experience, lack of regulatory knowledge and lack of industry connections,” says Dion Martens, director, Research Excellence and Innovation at Usask. “There are many steps between the lab and the market and we’re the team that can help researchers and entrepreneurs navigate their path.”
REI fits between researchers and industry, managing traffic in both directions. Martens’ team can help researchers find funding and business partners to take a developed idea into the market, and the reverse—helping industry take an idea, source funding and prove it with research. There are many options to explore on how businesses can benefit from working with REI, whether they are in the startup phase or well-established. Industry can take faculty or students in-house to solve business challenges or explore ideas through research at the university and retain the intellectual property (IP) that comes from the work. Startups can prove their ideas and set themselves up for market launch, acquisition, or licensing. “Through all of this, we’re the connection point to bring the right people together at the right time,” says Martens.
Saskatchewan Polytechnic, Office of Applied Research and Innovation
Dr. Susan Blum leads the Office of Applied Research and Innovation at Saskatchewan Polytechnic (Sask Polytech) that oversees all research activities across four campuses, five research centres and 11 schools.
Sask Polytech’s applied research and innovation is geared to business and industry, designed to help organizations test ideas and develop solutions while providing students and faculty the opportunity to learn by doing. “We work with businesses at every stage—from startup to multinational—when it comes to commercialization,” says Blum. “Our office can bring together a multidisciplinary team from across faculties to work on projects, and source funding dollars too.” Sask Polytech provides access to experts and specialized equipment that are often otherwise out of reach for business, especially for startups and SMEs.
Industry partners retain all IP generated from the work, and the benefit to Sask Polytech is the connections which these projects create between industry, faculty and students—in addition to the experiences and expertise generated. “For us, we gain value from the partnerships created, and insights from the research completed,” says Dr. Larry Rosia, Sask Polytech’s president and CEO. “Our students acquire the benefit of working directly with our industry partners, and the ‘value-added’ education of learning real-world skills, while Sask Polytech does its important part in Saskatchewan’s innovation economy, directly empowering the research that leads to
commercialization and economic growth.”
Parkland College, Applied Research Centre
Parkland College is the only regional college in the province in the research space. With a current focus on agriculture, it has big plans to expand into areas relevant to its region. Like Sask Polytech, Parkland sees its role in building connections that provide real-world learning for its faculty and learners, while supporting businesses seeking to innovate and take ideas to market.
Dr. Mark Hoddenbagh leads Parkland College as president and CEO, and he can readily identify the issues he sees on the road to commercialization. “In Canada we have researchers trying to be businesspeople, and businesspeople trying to be researchers. It’s the wrong people doing the wrong jobs,” he says. “That’s where we come in, we can provide business or technical support for innovation.”
The Parkland Applied Research Centre (PARC) is designed for applied research that benefits businesses and organizations while providing students work experience and building knowledge within faculty. “We’re designed to support industry develop the products, processes or services they need to market,” he says. “Plus, we know how fraught the road can be with things like the ‘valley of death’ where early-stage business gets stuck, unable to move due to financial challenges.” PARC works with businesses to source funding and handle the research needed to take an idea from paper to reality.
“Post-secondary institutions are underutilized as sources of help for industry,” says Hoddenbagh. “We can offer so much when it comes to commercialization, and we’re not looking for anything beyond the experience of doing the work. We want businesses to work with us, help us skill our students and succeed with their ideas. We’re not interested in anything beyond that.”
While each institution offers its own unique set of skills and services on the road to commercialization, they all say the same thing about how to get started. The journey begins with a phone call and a conversation about what USask, Sask Polytech and Parkland College can bring to the table because they are ready to listen, explore and partner. “The sky is the limit when it comes to the economic potential of innovation,” says Martens. “Don’t miss the chance to see what we can do for you.”