Supporting colleges' applied research will keep Ontario competitive

Supporting colleges' applied research will keep Ontario competitive
© Thomas Barwick via Getty Images

Originally appeared on the Huffington Post in August 2015.

As the world economy becomes more challenging, there is a growing need to encourage more businesses to innovate. For many small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs), partnerships with colleges often provide the best opportunity to conduct research that helps businesses become more effective and create new jobs. There are more than 750 companies working with Ontario's colleges each year to pursue market-driven applied research activities. 

The Conference Board of Canada has reported that college-based applied research is a catalyst for driving innovation and productivity, particularly for these small and medium-sized businesses that may not have the resources to conduct research on their own. 

Applied research that Ontario's colleges conduct in partnership with business and industry will be central to our success when competing with international markets. 

This kind of research is different from 'pure' research. It is key for a business's growth strategy as it directly responds to information about markets, competitors, and customers. In applied research, the researcher works to solve a known problem and find answers to specific questions. In other words, the emphasis of applied research is on practical problem solving. 

Colleges in Ontario and throughout the country have been working with SMEs on applied research projects to help businesses grow and innovate, as well as create new jobs. 

These partnerships lead to numerous innovations in a wide range of areas, from biotechnology to the creation of new computer software and innovations in 3D technology. 

SMEs make up more than 90 per cent of Ontario's businesses, therefore it is vital that we do everything we can in this province to support them and help them grow. Our colleges are at the heart of this growth; applied research partnerships also create opportunities for students to get real-world experience, working on innovative projects that have a measurable impact on a business' productivity and helping train them for future careers involving innovation. 

Some examples: 

  • Humber College worked with Ooyavah Inc. to develop the Pryzma, an iPad case that integrates 3D lens technology. Humber industrial design professor Odin Cappello and a team of students from the college's School of Media Studies and Information Technology designed and prototyped the case, developed the interface, conducted market research and prepared materials for launch. The technology allows architects and others to benefit from seeing images on their iPad in 3D. The team now has a patent pending for their innovative design. 
  • Lambton College student researchers have recently made breakthroughs in their work as partners with a Quebec-based sanitization technology company. Sani Sport makes bacteria-zapping cleaning cabinets found in NFL and NHL locker rooms. According to research the cleaning cabinet they manufacture can eliminate 92 per cent of bacteria and 95 per cent of fungi from sports gear. The students have been working with Sani Sport over the last year to adapt the technology for use on firefighting gear. Their work could now lead to regulatory changes in the firefighting industry.
  • Canadore College's Innovation Centre for Advanced Manufacturing and Production (ICAMP) is a hub for applied research, providing industry with access to technology for product design; rapid prototype development; reverse engineering; 3D printing; material and product testing; advanced manufacturing; process design, automation and simulation, and more. With more than 150 projects completed since September 2013, students from a number of different programs are helping drive the regional economy. 

Similar innovations are taking place throughout the province and are crucial to Ontario's long-term competitive advantage. In the years ahead, Ontario will need to place an even-greater emphasis on the research collaborations between small companies and Ontario's colleges. 

Linda Franklin

Linda Franklin is the past president and CEO of Colleges Ontario, the advocacy association for Ontario’s 24 colleges.