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Applied research part of economic recovery - In the News

(first published in Perspective magazine, June 2021)

Reshaping your company post-COVID: How applied research can help

Innovate or fold?

The question sounds dramatic but with Canada just past the one-year anniversary of the COVID-19 pandemic, many business owners have started to ask themselves if it’s time to increase their focus on R & D.

Every year, thousands of Canadian business owners turn to a Canadian college or cégep for access to expertise, equipment, and talent. That’s because the research happening at your local college is very different from the academic research that takes place at a university. Colleges focus on applied research, providing practical, customized solutions that can help you develop new products and services and support your adoption of new-to-the-industry or new-to-the-company technologies.

Crucial expertise and equipment

Canadian colleges are equipped with specialized labs, researchers and technical staff dedicated to supporting industry R & D projects.

At Hamilton’s Mohawk College, which is ranked fourth in Canada for applied research by Research Infosource, areas of expertise have been selected to support the main industries contributing to the local economy. Over the past 12 years, Mohawk has built innovation centres in Additive Manufacturing, Climate Action, Energy & Power, mHealth and eHealth Development and Medical Technologies. These centres are supported by Mohawk Research Chairs in Sustainable Building Technologies and the Industrial Internet of Things.

When you select a college partner consider more than just geographic location - the expertise and equipment makes a difference. Take for example, H20 Paddles, a sister company of Toronto-based Dynaplas. The company manufactures white water kayak paddles and wanted to explore how 3D printed conformal cooling channels could be integrated into the design of their moulds and what impact the process would have on their overall cooling cycle time. Leveraging Mohawk’s Additive Manufacturing Innovation Centre’s industrial 3D printers and expertise in mechanical engineering, the applied research project created a new mold that reduced the cycle time by over 60% from a conventional cooling channel design.

The ROI from Applied Research

Canadian colleges often act as an extension to, or in some cases are the entirety of, your R & D team. Many applied research projects have spent time sitting on the corner of your desk waiting for you to get around to them or have sat there because you need some expertise in a field that you don’t have in-house. With applied research, teams of full-time researchers, faculty, recent graduates and students, colleges are ready to provide the time or expertise you just don’t have.

Those projects that were nice-to-have pre-COVID might be the need-to-have for your business to survive now. And with the financial support of government agencies such as the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council, MITACS and the Ontario Centre for Innovation, it’s possible to stretch your R & D budget with matched or leveraged funds.

With applied research, you should see returns on your investment within 12-24 months of the project being completed. When Mohawk College worked with Hamilton-based Niko Apparel Systems to adopt a web-based order management system that would help them compete internationally, the IT modernization project helped the company secure a six-figure multinational contract within months.

The IP Advantage

When we think about Intellectual Property (IP), many of us think of patents. That’s just one form of IP - copyright, trademarks, confidential information and trade secrets are also IP.

The value of your company typically increases if you own intellectual property. Everything from an established brand name to a protected or confidential means of producing a product to source code for a software application can have value to a purchaser or investor. 

Retaining control of your IP is one of the key advantages of applied research. Most Applied Research projects result in new IP but instead of retaining control over the IP like many other R & D partners, colleges typically sign over IP rights to you, the industrial partner, with no restrictions on use.  

Your ownership of the IP speeds up commercialization. When Mohawk College’s Sensor Systems and Internet of Things (IoT) Lab worked with Truck Sail Inc. to develop a prototype for an innovative safety sensor system for transport trailers, the company was able to immediately bring their new product to market.

If you are asking yourself “Innovate or fold,” have a chat with the applied research department at your local college or cégep, discover if they can help you see a path to innovation.

Neil Wilkinson is the Director of Business Development at Mohawk College’s IDEAWORKS, where he helps SME companies with a growth imperative who are looking to generate innovative solutions in partnership with academia. Learn more about IDEAWORKS at www.mohawkcollege.ca/IDEAWORKS/