Online lab listing sparks new business-research partnerships, marks first anniversary

December 1, 2014

OTTAWA — It’s been just one year since the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI) launched its Research Facilities Navigator, an online directory of research facilities across the country that are open to working with business, and already it’s sparking new partnerships.

Take, for example, the relationship that recently came about between David Plant, an electrical engineering professor at McGill University and a multinational company seeking research equipment and expertise to develop a new high-performance capacitor, an electrical component that could potentially transform the inner workings of everything from medical tools to cars.

The company’s Montreal office found the instruments they needed to test their capacitor on Plant’s Laboratory for Broadband Optical and Wireless Systems profile on the Navigator. They made contact, and an ongoing, mutually beneficial collaboration now exists: the company doesn’t just tap into the tools in Plant’s lab, but it also benefits from the significant brain power of Plant and his grad students. The McGill team, in turn, accesses the insights and investments from their industry partner, along with the training and publishing opportunities that come from researching the theoretical models and helping to develop a unique capacitor.

“The CFI has always been a great supporter of our research,” says Plant. “With this search tool, the CFI continues to foster opportunities on campuses across Canada. We’ve been an early beneficiary of the Navigator.” 

“Collaborations like the one being forged between Dr. Plant’s group and their private-sector collaborator is exactly what the Navigator was created to facilitate,” says Gilles Patry, President and CEO of the CFI, the national organization that funds labs, facilities and equipment in Canadian universities, colleges and research hospitals. Although it always takes time to create research-industry partnerships, he says early indications suggest the Navigator is helping to make connections. The Additive Manufacturing Resource Centre at Hamilton’s Mohawk College, for example, has received about a dozen inquiries from companies seeking their 3-D prototyping infrastructure and expertise.

Patry explains that supporting innovation of all kinds is part of the CFI’s mandate — to enhance the capacity of its funded institutions to use their research infrastructure to support Canadian innovation and commercialization. “The Navigator is a powerful tool to help promote this.”

Collaborating with researchers in state-of-the-art research facilities can help businesses grow, stay competitive, design new or better products, access the latest equipment and foster relationships with some of Canada’s brightest minds, says Patry.

“It can be challenging for companies to tap into the research resources at post-secondary institutions,” he says. “Companies are sometimes not aware of the kinds of labs or expertise that are available, or they don’t know how to access what’s out there.” For research facilities, he says, the Navigator is a way to tell the private and public sectors about some of the world-class expertise and infrastructure available to them; for companies, it is a venue to find the research facilities that can help their business.

Since its launch in November 2013, the Navigator has grown to include listings from more than 425 labs from every province and across virtually every discipline, from engineering, agricultural, social and health sciences, and much more. And the interest continues to grow.

“We are constantly receiving new entries and finding ways to improve the Navigator’s capabilities,” says Pierre Normand, CFI’s Vice-President of External Relations and Communications. “The more comprehensive the content, and the better it functions, the more useful the Navigator will be in helping businesses find the research facilities they need.”

This article first appeared in The Globe and Mail’s Innovation supplement, published on November 28, 2014.