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Innovation challenges

Canada is the birthplace of insulin, the electric cooking range, Pablum, machine gun tracer bullets, the electronic pacemaker, Bovril, kerosene, ginger ale and the Blackberry to name just a few notable inventions, and despite these impressive...


November 1, 2010  


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Canada is the birthplace of insulin, the electric cooking range, Pablum, machine gun tracer bullets, the electronic pacemaker, Bovril, kerosene, ginger ale and the Blackberry to name just a few notable inventions, and despite these impressive achievements, this country is in a serious innovation funk.

That is not to say technical advances do not and are not happening. They are just not being delivered expeditiously and a report from the Conference Board of Canada released earlier this year backs up that claim.

There appears to be a disconnect between government, universities and the private sector. It’s almost as if the neurons are bouncing all over the place at will instead of traveling in a straight defined line.

The board gave this country a damaging “D” grade for innovation and pointed out that it currently ranks 14th out of 17 peer countries.

The report also noted that Canada is “well supplied” with good universities, engineering schools, teaching hospitals, but “with some exceptions,” does not take the steps that other countries do to make sure that science advances can be properly commercialized.

“Canada has been slow to adopt leading-edge technologies,” the board states. “This is problematic since innovative products have increasingly short cycles. Often within a couple of years of introduction, products are upgraded or must be replaced. In these circumstances, slow adopters never catch up; they are always at least one generation behind the advancing frontier of possibilities that new technology represents. That is not a winning formula, and Canada seems to be playing catch-up on too many technologies.”

There has been some movement to correct the situation. In September, a group called One Million Acts of Innovation was formed, lead by Ted Maulucci , chief information officer with the Tridel Group and Taimour Zaman, Director at the Canadian Advanced Technology Alliance (CATA).

The group plans to forge new partnerships between companies and educational institution and CIOs and post-secondary students.

And in October, the federal government formed a six member panel that will conduct a review of its existing support for business research and development and provide recommendations on what it needs to do to bring new ideas into the marketplace.

Jean-Pierre Blackburn, a minister in the Harper cabinet, said that Canadian business spends less per capita on research and development, innovation and commercialization than most other industrialized countries, despite the fact the “government invests more than $7 billion annually to encourage business R&D.”

Among the panelists is Dr. Arvind Gupta, the CEO and scientific director of the Mathematics Of Information Technology and Complex System, who spoke at a healthcare research and innovation summit organized by IBM Canada Ltd. (see p. 8).

Industry, he said has to be part of the training agenda in this country because the old model of universities pumping out students is broken.

Still, not all is bleak. On the broadband front, all you need to do is look at an organization like CANARIE (see p. 8) and in the area of wireless a three year firm called WireIE (see p. 6) to know that good things are happening.

CANARIE’s high-speed fiber-optic network allows 39,000 researchers to share analyze data instantly, while WireE’s sweet spots revolve around wireless technology and the impact it will have on hydro services.

However, in order for innovation to flourish business leaders must change their ways. They need to communicate more with educators, implement advances, be more forward-thinking and eliminate the infuriating habit of being late adopters.