Canadian College Research & Innovation Support for Community Economic Development

Ray Hoemsen
Red River College

Applied Research is relatively new to the Canadian College system, garnering dedicated federal funding support in the early 2000s. In this system (and at Red River College), applied research and innovation is driven by community need, i.e. market pull and not technology push.

Applied Research & Innovation at the College is now in its 16th year of formal operation. The focus is primarily upon research programs and projects which are heavily practice-oriented; emphasizing technology adoption and adaption, the application of knowledge, design, demonstration, prototype development, etc. (i.e. Technology Readiness Levels 4 to 7).

The emphasis is primarily upon the manufacturing, construction and transportation sectors; as well as health sciences and community services. Research partners are granted royalty-free commercial rights to research results – enabling commercialization of the resultant products, processes and services by business and industry; the College retains rights for further education and research purposes.

Research & Innovation at Red River College
Economic development is a key motivation for applied research – therefore research activities are responsive to community need. Partnerships are a key element in supporting community economic development related to college-based applied research and innovation; and bring together business and industry (including SMEs), governments, community organizations and other post-secondary institutions. This in turn enables development of the College’s capacity to build the skills, technologies and resources necessary to respond to, and support, community-driven needs, including local clusters (such as heavy vehicle manufacturing and aerospace).

The College’s applied research and innovation enterprise been awarded ~$40,000,000 in operating support since the Research Partnerships & Innovation function was established in 2004; and now receives an annual investment of ~$6,000,000 (from all sources, cash and in-kind) to support research collaborations.

The College has received external investments of ~$85,000,000 for specialized research facilities and equipment – including joint “industrial campus” facilities with two industry partners. Research partners (and students) enjoy direct access to state-of-the-art R&D and training facilities and equipment. This enhances their capacity to innovate and develop new products, processes and services; while improving (or at least maintaining) their productivity, competitiveness, employment and exports.

Research partners include from Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises, Multi-National Enterprises, foundations, universities and government science-based agencies and departments.

The College’s faculty and research staff have solid industry experience and work closely with industry to solve problems and develop opportunities; while students have the opportunity to gain hands-on experience while studying. The College Applied Research Development Fund, since its inception in 2005, has awarded ~$1 million in internal research grants to faculty, staff and students to further develop their expertise and capabilities.

There are several key differentiators of Canadian college-based applied research & innovation:
• a group approach to research – utilizing student, faculty and staff;
• with a focus upon a problem or community need, generally responding to a market-pull (versus a technology push);
• often utilizing the application of knowledge, and/or the adaptation/adaption of technology;
• performed over a short- to medium-term time frame; and
• an industry-friendly intellectual property protocol which grants business and industry partners royalty-free commercial rights to the collaborative research results, while the college retains rights for further research and education purposes. Partners also have the right to review publications prior to release, while students have the right to identify their participation on their resumes. As a result, industry find the College to be very “IP friendly”, which encourages greater engagement with industry.

The College has received external recognition of the work done by faculty, staff and students at the local, provincial, national and international levels since the applied research function was formalized in 2004. And, in addition to being regularly being ranked as a Top 10 Canadian Research College, Red River College received the 2018 Silver Award of Excellence for Applied Research and Innovation from the World Federation of Colleges and Polytechnics .

Lessons Learned
Based on over 15 years of experience at the College, it is important to:
• Build from, and connect to, existing applied research expertise and facilities.
• Respond to local/regional need and relevance.
• Understand that the College can’t be everything to everybody – so focus!
• Support and enhance regional clusters to enable knowledge and technology transfer.
• Support Small- and Medium-sized Enterprises – they are vital to the local economy.
• Ensure students and faculty are engaged in a meaningful manner.
• Remember – applied research and innovation support community economic development.
• Build on/leverage existing personal and/or institutional relationships.
• Find a common need.
• Add value – be incremental to existing activities.
• Build relationships – the best partnerships are based on good personal relationships.