By Elizabeth Howell
Carleton’s top-notch scientific research labs are about to see a lot more action. To help local businesses meet their research goals, the university plans to open up lab time to local firms. Trained Carleton employees will operate the machinery and equipment and report back on results.
The best part? Businesses have control over the intellectual property and see results in money-generating time frames. The project has great potential for industrial companies across eastern Ontario looking to kick-start their research.
Carleton is calling it the Front Door Initiative and it begins in earnest this month. But some businesses are already taking advantage of the opportunity. A local microbrewery, for example, is running experiments using Carleton’s Mass Spectrometry Centre – a location that uses devices designed to identify compounds in a given sample. Other local companies from various sectors are interested, says Jeffrey Smirle, business manager at Carleton’s Faculty of Science.
“My main goal is to let the community know that Carleton is open for business,” says Smirle. “We want to be the go-to university for solving industrial problems and helping companies achieve their research and development objectives.”
Carleton’s target audience includes small and medium enterprises (SMEs) that would prefer to do their projects in Ottawa to save on cost. In many cases, SMEs may not qualify for government infrastructure grants – or may have difficulty getting them given the poor funding climate.
Bringing the projects to Carleton not only provides access to expensive research infrastructure, but it also allows companies to work with expert researchers in a variety of fields. In some cases, these researchers are students or postdoctoral researchers who could then be hired on by the company the next time the firm is looking to expand. The research can be further enhanced by tax credits and project grants, allowing businesses to generate more research than what dollars spent might reflect.
“One benefit for industry of working with an academic partner is the ability to leverage their R&D budget with government funding,” says Smirle. Companies could then have access to several granting agencies supporting academic-industrial partnerships, such as the Ontario Centres for Excellence, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC), or the National Research Council (NRC) Industrial Research Assistance Program.
“We also have a business-friendly policy on intellectual property. The university does not take ownership over the intellectual property (IP) generated,” Smirle adds. “It belongs to the researchers and their collaborators. This makes IP negotiations much easier with industrial partners as they come to an agreement directly with the researcher.”
For Carleton, the benefit is getting near maximum use of each facility. Usage was examined this year and a reasonable capacity for collaboration was generated from those statistics. Basic research will still be prioritized for faculty and students. Industrial partners will then take advantage of the “downtime,” which could be any time before or after prime business hours. Businesses will see results in a reasonable time frame, competitive to other institutions who may be offering the same service.
“This is a large initiative where we hope to hire a lot of good people and fund some really exciting research and development projects with local companies,” says Smirle. Judging from the success of Carleton’s Mass Spectrometry Centre, the initiative has quite a lot of potential for business benefits.
Carleton used the centre as a sort of test case. Smirle was brought on in February 2015 to generate a business plan for the centre, examine its usage and reach out to potential partners in the Ottawa region. Collaborations began in the summer and Smirle anticipates that with time, each of the participating centres will be able to operate on a cost-recovery basis. Companies will be recruited first from the Ottawa area and then nationally.
Smirle’s background includes a postdoctoral appointment at the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute, as well as experience with scientific commercialization and intellectual property. He was brought on initially to manage the Mass Spectrometry Centre, which is close to his background, but over time Smirle’s role evolved to cover all Faculty of Science facilities. He’s been studying similar initiatives at other universities in Canada and believes Carleton’s connections to the business community leave the university poised to do well – and poised to help SMEs with university expertise.
“While the outreach concept of the Front Door Initiative is relatively novel, academic-industrial partnerships happen pretty regularly at universities across the country,” Smirle says. “We are trying to increase our collaborations by actively reaching out to the business community. Usually, it is a company that approaches a researcher about a collaboration.”
The initiative now includes thirteen centres but the goal is to spread the idea to other faculties, including Engineering and Design. Besides the Mass Spectrometry Centre, businesses can take advantage of expertise at these facilities:
- Nano Imaging Facility
- Science Technology Centre
- Centre for Quantitative Analysis and Decision Support
- Facility for Nanoscience, Surfaces and Sensor Interfaces
- Isotope Geochemistry and Geochronology Research Centre
- X-Ray Diffraction Facility
- Flow Cytometry Facility
- Carleton Biotechnology
- Carleton Climate and Environmental Research Group
The Front Door Initiative will officially kick off with an open house on campus on Thursday, Jan. 21, 2016 at 1:00 p.m. in the Atrium of the River Building. Representatives from each of the centres will be available to answer questions from the community and provide information about research capabilities.