Massive funding package to aid IT research

The Canadian Foundation for Innovation (CFI) dished out over $588 million Wednesday for 208 new projects at universities, colleges, hospitals and other not-for-profit organizations.

The Government of Canada established the Ottawa-based CFI in 1997 as an independent corporation in an attempt to bolster research funding and to stimulate the development of technology across the country.

In total, $779 million will be shared among the CFI and two other organizations: the New Opportunities Fund, which will oversee 72 projects worth $11.1 million and the Infrastructure Operating Fund, which will receive $179.7 million for projects yet to be determined.

As far the IT sector is concerned, CFI president David Strangway said three main areas have been targeted: high-performance computing, digital media and bioinformatics. CFI has money available to fund projects until 2010, and relies solely on the federal government for its existence.

“(Finance minister) Paul Martin, when he has a surplus, has been putting large amounts of money into CFI … and leaves it with us to run,” he said. Under the funding structure, CFI gives the institutions 40 per cent of the total amount, which are in turn responsible for coming up with the remaining 60 per cent. Most often, the provinces pick up about 40 per cent with the remainder coming from private corporations.

CFI’s reach stretches all across Canada, and it fields funding proposals from colleges, universities and other not-for-profit groups. He said the size of the institution or location plays no part in how projects are selected. “We support the very best projects, wherever they come from.”

Margaret Phillips, co-ordinator research programs at Ryerson University in Toronto said the playing field is determined by experience. “For universities that are relatively new to enterprise research, it’s been harder for those universities to get going.” Ryerson received approval for three new projects totalling over $300,000.

But the emphasis, according to one former professor, is in making certain progress is made beyond the research phase. “The whole idea behind these innovations funds are to see research move from the research phase into the production phase and eventually into a large market,” said Calvin Gotlieb, professor emeritus in the computer science department at the University of Toronto (where over $179 million was awarded for 12 projects).

He added that finding the necessary funding to get technology products into production remains a major problem in Canada remain. Gotlieb said the University is dedicated to “making sure that research ideas do end up with funding in Canadian companies.”

But Strangway admitted that there is no tangible way to measure the success of these projects, or if they create jobs in the IT sector. While discussions have taken place regarding possible future case studies that would address the link between jobs created and research, for now, it is only speculation. Yet one dean is certain that government-funded research creates jobs.

“The minute you are capable of graduating good students, at the end of the day they will all end up in good jobs in the (IT) industry. It’s definitely a stimulus to the economy,” said Jacob Slonim, dean of computer science at the University of Dalhousie in Halifax. While shut out in terms of grants this time around, he said the university received $7 million two years ago to help build its faculty of computer science infrastructure. A complete list of grant recipients can be found on CFI’s Web site.

The Canadian Foundation for Innovation in Ottawa can be reached at

Dalhousie University in Halifax is at

The University of Toronto is at

Ryerson University in Toronto is at

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