MRO Magazine

Newly-created college network bridges innovation gap

Toronto, ON -- Small-to mid-sized businesses across Ontario are solving technical problems faster, and moving produ...


Human Resources

December 31, 2007
By MRO Magazine

Toronto, ON — Small-to mid-sized businesses across Ontario are solving technical problems faster, and moving products and services to market more quickly, with the launch of a new industry innovation network — the first of its kind to focus on applied versus pure research, incremental technology and innovative solutions of a commercial nature.

The Ontario College Network for Industry Innovation (CONII) links 10 of the province’s top colleges located along the technology corridor between Ottawa and Windsor: Algonquin, Centennial, Conestoga, Fanshawe, George Brown, Humber, Niagara, St. Clair, Seneca and Sheridan. Working together, they are making it easier for small business owners to access expertise in a variety of areas to sustain business and remain competitive in today’s global marketplace.

“This is a completely new way of reaching out to our small business community,” says Katharine Janzen, chair of the CONII Steering Committee and vice-president, research and innovation at Toronto’s Seneca College.

“Colleges have always maintained close contact with business and industry in order to provide highly-skilled, work-ready graduates,” she says. “With CONII, we’re expanding that relationship to include applied research, development and commercialization services.”

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Funded by a three-year $3.5-million grant through the Ontario Ministry of Research and Innovation’s Ontario Research Commercialization Program (ORCP), CONII has been launched to develop research projects with businesses that make effective use of faculty expertise, provide students with real-world learning oppportunities, and ultimately have a positive economic impact on the province’s small business sector.

Rather than pushing “pure” research out into industry for development, CONII members work to solve problems or meet goals driven by community partners, an approach referred to as “market pull,” says Janzen.

As part of the CONII mandate, each member college has created an industry innovation centre to serve as a primary point of contact for business owners looking for assistance. Each college has also agreed to participate in a central database of resources so that anyone who approaches a college can be directed to the most appropriate subject matter expert, regardless of location. In addition to the ORCP funding, which includes $609,000 for proof of principle research projects, CONII also taps into other government programs, such as the Ontario Centres of Excellence (OCE).

Research projects supported by CONII in its first year of operation include:

* At Conestoga College in Kitchener, researchers are working with manufacturers to bring process improvements to the assembly of electronic devices and to solve product quality issues encountered in injection molding, the process of infusing molten plastic into a mold at high pressure.

* A major study at Fanshawe College in London is breaking new scientific ground by demonstrating how traditional air quality monitoring standards might actually be missing high pollution levels when variations in air quality occur in short time intervals. Working with local hospitals, the research is being used to investigate the link between rapid air quality changes and the health impact on people with breathing problems, and gives manufacturers the valuable information they need to provide state-of-the-air environmental monitoring equipment.

“The idea behind CONII is to turn a competitive college culture into a collaborative one,” notes Janzen, adding that the target is to complete 50 applied research projects by the end of 2009. The economic sectors targeted by the college network include alternative energy, environmental technologies and construction, digital media, health and life sciences, hospitality and tourism, information and communication technologies, manufacturing and materials, and viticulture, and agri-business. However, all businesses are welcome and encouraged to contact their local college industry innovation centre for help with research, innovation and commercialization.

For more information, visit www.conii.ca.