by Wendy Cukier, Vice-President, Research & Innovation
During his stop in Toronto for pre-budget consultations with stakeholders, Finance Minister Bill Morneau heard from numerous experts on the topic of innovation, infrastructure and the environment at the Canadian Public Policy Forum. I participated as a panelist focusing on innovation along with Eme Onuoha, CIO Xerox Services and John Ruffolo, CEO OMERS Ventures. We, along with Minister Morneau, agreed that investing in a strong innovation ecosystem in Canada is necessary to create a foundation for economic prosperity.
Here are some of the highlights I discussed:
In the 21st century, there is no place for ivory towers. Gone are the days where we think of universities as separate from business and separate from communities. They have to be part of the economic ecosystem, they have to be city builders and drive both social and economic growth.
We have to invest in basic research because we cannot always pick winners or anticipate the pathways to success. At the same time, ‘relevance’ is not a dirty word.
Universities must respond to solve real world problems of industry, government and community organizations. We have to erode that dichotomy between research and excellence and relevance.
Beyond STEM: Adoption and innovation
What is so critically important to me is to really understand that creating new products and services does not give you innovation. It is the adoption of new products, services and techniques to change how we do things — that is when innovation is found.
If we only focus on the creation of new technologies without also thinking about how you create markets for those technologies and what the drivers and impediments are to adoption, we don’t get innovation.
The issues are not technological; they are political; they are organizational.
We need to tap into the expertise of social sciences and humanities researchers as well as those in science, technology, engineering and math.
Diversity drives innovation
We need to leverage diversity to drive innovation. Research shows clearly that diversity drives new approaches and solutions. We need to build on the global connections of our immigrant diaspora.
We need to level the playing field for women. We also need to provide opportunities for youth, not just to become entrepreneurs but to drive the adoption of technology in small to medium enterprises and to create innovative solutions to social problems – like the Syrian refugee crisis. Because it is 2016.
Using government capital spending to further innovation
Innovation should be a lens that we are applying to government expenditures.
How are we going to use the investments in infrastructure to drive innovation in construction and globalization of an incredibly powerful set of sectors.
It’s so important that we think beyond ICT as a sector when we think about driving innovation at a national level. ICT is important as an enabler of innovation in virtually every sector from health, to manufacturing to retail. While Canada consumers lead in the adoption of technology Canadian businesses are lagging. Forty per cent of Canadian SMES do not even have internet presence. We have the technologies needed to transform health care. The challenge is that they are not being used.
We can’t forget about the need to drive innovation in existing organizations, and there are very few government programs to do that.
Here’s what some of my fellow panelists had to say:
Eme Onuoha, CIO of Xerox was bullish on Canada’s prospects
- Canada can do this, Canada has done this, is doing it and will continue to do so.
It’s that dialogue between business and science that has to take place on an ongoing basis.”
- When we’re looking to make a foreign direct investment, we look at what does the ecosystem yield, what does the supplier pool look like. When we decided to come to Canada, we actually did an assessment of the presence of research intensive universities within the GTA core. That’s the reason why we assigned our research centre to where it’s located now.
John Ruffolo CEO of OMERS Ventures, said that capital investment in the post-startup phase is crucial
- Canada does not have a ‘starting up’ problem. A study suggests that from an entrepreneurship perspective, in the G7, Canada is only second to the U.S.
- Access to customers is the ability to scale at multiple levels. That doesn’t increase the size of these companies by small increments, it will move companies by hundreds of millions of dollars.”
Finance Minister Bill Morneau saw the value in investing in Canada as a strategy to support the economy and was anxious to hear how the government could help.
- “Fostering innovation is critical to growing small and medium sized enterprises in this country. We want our businesses to be able to compete in the global marketplace. Helping them in trade initiatives or initiatives to do more research and development will be critically important.”
- The hard part about this is we are among the best in the OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) and yet we are not seeing the results. We want to see how we can better support firms of all sizes, but in particular small and medium enterprises.
- Having access to bigger markets will be a critical success factor for all Canadian enterprises.
To learn more, you can view the video of the Public Policy Forum.
Photo: Hon. Bill Morneau, federal Finance Minister addresses the crowd during pre-budget consultations in Toronto. He was speaking at an event hosted by Canada’s Public Policy Forum, in January 2016 where Ryerson’s vice-president of Research and Innovation Wendy Cukier participated in a panel on the subject of innovation. Photo by Johnny Guatto/University of Toronto.