From Labs to Lives: Supporting Canada’s Science and Innovation Landscape

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Guest post by Robyn Dugas

Mitacs Communications Coordinator

Innovation affects us in personal, immediate ways, from medical breakthroughs that provide treatment, to smartphone apps that help us manage our schedules.

lightbulbAt Mitacs we believe that supporting Canadian science, technology, and innovation not only sets the stage for long-term economic benefits, it also brings transformative solutions and ideas from the lab or field to the everyday lives of Canadians. Our goals are certainly ambitious, but we’re confident that the payoff for Canadians is worth the effort.

Investing in the research ecosystem improves lives and saves money

Canada has a strong track record of research excellence, but it invests a significantly smaller percentage of its gross domestic product in R&D than countries like the US and Germany. That said, our investments in research and scientific advancement are paying off, and programs like Mitacs Accelerate are leading the charge.

Accelerate connects grad students and postdocs with partner organizations that benefit from their expertise. In the past 12 years, the program has supported over 10,000 diverse research internships.

Bernice Tsoi’s internship is a great example of Accelerate’s innovation in action. As a Health Research Methodology PhD student at McMaster University, she partnered with Actavis Specialty Pharmaceuticals to help create an economic model of one of their products. Bernice’s research indicated that the new drug was more clinically effective and affordable than existing treatments.

The award-winning research results were published and presented at a medical conference. The drug is now being prescribed to patients in Québec, and Bernice and Actavis are collaborating on a second internship.

Academic-industry research collaborations support skills training

Who is responsible for providing skills training for researchers: universities or the private sector?

A recent report from the Conference Board of Canada argues that employers have successfully downloaded skills training responsibilities to universities, reducing private sector investment in skills training by 40 percent.

Canadian innovation demands an engaged, educated, and well-trained workforce. The Mitacs Elevate postdoctoral fellowship addresses this demand: it offers a competitive, two-year research project with a partner organization, plus a customized professional development curriculum. Since its inception in 2010, Mitacs Elevate has supported over 250 fellowships.

Dr. Haleh Vahedi can testify to the program’s impact: she partnered with Snowbush-Semtech IP on an Elevate research project, in which she designed an electrical circuit for data transmission at 28 GB per second without loss of signal quality or reception. Haleh’s expertise — and the professional skill set she honed during her fellowship — demonstrated her value to Snowbush-Semtech IP, who then hired her.

To further address the need for skills training, we created Mitacs Step, which provides on-campus workshops to grad students and postdocs to develop their professional skills. In just seven years, over 1000 Step workshops have helped more than 21,000 emerging researchers hone their interpersonal, project management, and entrepreneurial skills.

Research collaborations and skills training foster entrepreneurs

In 2014, Mitacs completed a longitudinal survey of former Accelerate interns to better understand the program’s outcomes. We discovered that 14 percent of former interns had started their own companies, prompting us to explore how we could reach out to other entrepreneurially-minded Mitacs alumni.

researchOn May 12, 2015, we held the first Mitacs Entrepreneur Awards, providing cash prizes to recipients to invest in their businesses. From a pool of 50 applicants across all Mitacs programs, the following emerging innovators were honoured:

  • Richard Beal, a former Mitacs Elevate postdoctoral fellow who founded COFOVO Energy Inc., which is working to reduce the cost of generating electricity using large-scale solar energy systems.
  • Guillaume Brault, a former Mitacs Accelerate intern who co-founded Inova Source, which is advancing the processes used to convert algae by-products into high-demand vitamin and food supplements.
  • Neesha Desai and Kit Chen, Mitacs Step participants, who launched Alieo Games, an educational technology company whose first web app motivates students in Grades 3–9 to practice long-form writing.
  • Clayton Hiles, a former Mitacs Accelerate intern who launched Cascadia Coast Research Ltd., a consulting firm that provides expert ocean modelling services to advance the marine renewable energy industry and protect Canadian coastlines.

The recipients’ great ideas have incredible potential. Programs like Accelerate, Elevate, and Step help Canada’s talented researchers help them, and thousands others like them, realize that potential for the betterment of Canadians from coast to coast.

Mitacs is a national, not-for-profit organization that has designed and delivered research and training programs in Canada for 15 years. Working with 60 universities, thousands of companies, and both federal and provincial governments, we build partnerships that support industrial and social innovation in Canada.

To find out more about our history, leadership, and programs, visit www.mitacs.ca. To read about the types of research projects we support, visit https://www.mitacs.ca/en/projects.

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