Turning tech dreams to reality

So, you’ve got this brilliant idea for a new product or technology simmering in your mind, waiting to metamorphose into a big business opportunity.

What’s next?

While many believe they’re on their own when it comes to bringing great ideas to fruition, there are, in fact, numerous government agencies and not-for-profit organizations in Canada that provide a wide range of assistance for small companies with big ideas.

One such entity is the Industrial Research Assistance Program (IRAP) of the National Research Council of Canada. IRAP offers R&D funding and technical assistance to small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) “committed to innovation, with a vision to [transform] a concept into a product, process, or service that can be brought to the marketplace,” said Angelo Del Duca, director, Ontario, National Research Council Canada.

IRAP can take partial credit for the success of some of today’s well-known technology companies, he said. “We probably have touched, in some fashion, some of the very large firms you are familiar with. IRAP [helped] them overcome the hurdles they were facing.” And that, said Del Duca, is the main thrust of the program: assisting companies overcome technical challenges and helping them implement their business plan.

IRAP’s funding assistance is based on a “shared” funding model where companies applying for a grant for a specific R&D project must be able to shell out their own financial resources to partially fund that project.

Typically, IRAP contributes around 50 per cent of the cost, said Del Duca.

In addition to providing funding assistance, IRAP also helps companies overcome business-related challenges, such as financing and management, by linking them with other organizations that can share knowledge and expertise on business issues.

To qualify for assistance under the IRAP, a company must identify a business strategy and key areas where support is needed, according to Del Duca. An assessment is then made from the beginning to determine the eligibility of an application.

An important aspect of the whole process is developing the relationship between the company and IRAP advisor, enabling both sides to “talk freely and openly about plans and directions.”

Del Duca was part of a forum for SMBs held yesterday in Markham, Ont. dubbed, ‘Cracking the R&D Egg: Making Your Innovation Sizzle’, jointly hosted by IRAP, the Ontario Centres of Excellence, and the Innovation Synergy Centre in Markham.

The event was aimed at making SMB’s aware of R&D assistance programs available to them, as well as opportunities to commercialize their innovations.

Bryan Kanarens, business development manager, Kingston, Ont.-based Ontario Centres of Excellence (OCE), said a big challenge for his organization is promoting awareness among SMBs that there is support available to help them pursue innovative technologies and subsequently grow their business.

“There’s lots of funding available. The question is: do people even know these programs exist? The more we build awareness in the business and research communities about what it is we do and the value proposition we offer, [the more] we will continue to do better things,” said Kanarens.

As a not-for-profit organization, the OCE’s mandate is to create opportunities for economic growth by promoting collaboration between companies and research institutes, to develop new technologies that enable or enhance existing business applications or services.

According to Kanarens, the challenge is not only promoting awareness that such support networks exist for Canadian SMBs, but also allaying some common qualms of SMBs, specifically in dealing with third party organizations.

Issues surrounding intellectual property (IP) protection and external collaboration would normally make some SMBs hesitate and think twice before approaching support entities such as the OCE.

Kanarens said some concerns about IP protection stem from ignorance. He said whenever OCE invests in a company’s research project the agreement is that “background IP is protected, publication is protected, IP arising from the project is protected.”

He said these are pieces of information companies need to be aware of to take advantage of resources being offered by organizations such as the OCE.

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