Many Canadian colleges have expanded their missions—which are, on the one hand, employment-oriented education and, on the other, regional economic development—in order to integrate industrial services and research capabilities focused on innovation and the needs of business. In recent years, the federal government has provided increased financial support to those colleges taking more active roles in applied research.
Over the past decade, the Collège communautaire du Nouveau-Brunswick (CCNB) has greatly increased its efforts to support and promote technological integration and innovation initiatives from the province’s industrial and manufacturing sectors.
Today more than ever, the college is committed to fostering innovation-focused entrepreneurship both in and outside the province of New Brunswick. Opportunities NB (ONB) recently spoke with Dr. Sylvain Poirier, Executive Director – Entrepreneurship & Innovation at CCNB, to learn more.
ONB: To support its mission, CCNB is eligible for a variety of federal and provincial support programs; tell us a bit about that.
Poirier: We have been eligible for federal programs created by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) since 2009. We also recently became eligible for another set of programs created by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC). There is also support available from the Industrial Research Assistance Program (IRAP) via the National Research Council. Offerings like these have greatly helped colleges like us across the country get more actively involved in applied research and industrial services.
Here in New Brunswick one of our key strategic partners has been the New Brunswick Innovation Foundation (NBIF), particularly through their Innovation Voucher program.
ONB: What can you tell us about CCNB’s involvement in trade missions?
Poirier: We were approached by the province and ACOA to help organize trade missions or—as we call them—technological missions. We use that term because in our case the focus has been on recruiting New Brunswick companies, bringing them abroad to places in Europe, and accompanying them to large technology fairs. Our industry experts bring a lot of experience with them there, and help entrepreneurs and business owners from our region make both technical and commercial decisions during these missions. We also do plenty of follow-up with these companies after they return. Since our first in 2012, we’ve conducted four of these big trade missions so far, with perhaps more on the horizon.
ONB: Can you expand on ONB’s role with CCNB?
Poirier: There’s plenty of collaboration between our teams. To give one recent example, two years ago ONB and ACOA partnered with us to launch the New Brunswick Wood Products Industry Innovation and Commercialization program. Value-added wood is an important sector in New Brunswick, so the idea was to stimulate innovation and increase both technical and marketing efficiency in that sector. It ran until summer 2015. This was a collaboration with FPInnovations, a non-profit specializing in solutions for the forestry sector. Through this collaboration, FPInnovations provided the services of two top industry advisors specializing in productivity and marketing.
CCNB hasn’t always been so heavily involved in these types of things, but we’re now an active part of several initiatives along those lines, really doing what we can at multiple levels of economic development for our province.
ONB: How do you get the message out about the great things you’re doing?
Poirier: When I first joined CCNB I was in charge of things like international development, contract training, e-learning, and applied research. I was even working on our marketing at one point. I should note that the funding we receive from the province is for training; there’s very little financing available for things like applied research and the marketing of such services.
Shortly before we became eligible for NSERC funding, we joined Springboard Atlantic, a consortium of colleges and universities. Through that we have $120,000 worth of eligible expenses. I was able to hire an industry liaison officer and also put some money into our marketing. This Springboard membership is ultimately how I was able to put together our brochures, fact sheets, and other marketing materials. We created that collateral to give to industry, to really show them what we do here.
We’re also trying to build our own fully bilingual website separate from the main CCNB site, with a focus on entrepreneurship and innovation. That is in the works as we speak today.
ONB: Has there been any industry input on actual CCNB curriculum?
Poirier: With every program we have focus groups where we invite industry to sit at the table, examine the curriculum, and make comments and suggestions. Changes can absolutely be made based on that feedback. What changes get made depends on who comes to the meetings, and how many changes have been implemented previously. Because if you have industry offering input and telling us what they need, and not enough of that gets embedded in the curriculum, industry reps stop coming to the table. So letting industry know their suggestions are heard is important to us.
Our President and CEO, Liane Roy, also sees a role for our hands on staff like those in the Metal Innovation and Technology Transfer Centre (MITTC) to get involved in curriculum, given that we’re working on real industry projects. Rather than simply leaving all curriculum choices to academic deciders, we want everyone involved. This is something that is still evolving.
We see employees going from work in the industry to becoming instructors here. Having our applied research staff also teaching courses whenever possible should help us become even more self-sufficient than we are already.
ONB: As Executive Director of Entrepreneurship and Innovation, what’s your take on the state of both in New Brunswick?
Poirier: A few years back, I think innovation was the big word, and now I also find entrepreneurship to be a frequently used term around the province. They complement each other, and I’m really trying to focus our efforts on getting the most out of those two worlds.
There have been some great entrepreneurship initiatives launched in the southern part of the province. The problem we have up north is hooking on to those existing programs, and creating our own up north. We’re not sure all programs down south are as readily applicable up here for our SMEs. Fredericton for example has a terrific IT sector, and there’s a lot of support there for tech startups. We want to be a catalyst for bringing things together up north, so we’re trying to really push the great things we’ve been doing with things like the MITTC.
ONB: Safe to say that you’re optimistic about the future for New Brunswick and its economic development?
Poirier: Absolutely. We are doing a great job of building research and development capacity in this province, and CCNB is now among the top 20 research colleges in all of Canada. What the provincial government and ACOA want to see, however, is real products and services coming out of that R&D. So the next step is to build capacity in commercialization of these products and services. We need to be able to look at a product/service and say “There’s something here that we can definitely bring to market”, or to just zap it because there is no associated commercial potential. We have to focus on building that type of expertise.
There are programs that colleges now have access to through the federal government, Technology Access Centres (TAC) grants that can help build such expertise; we intend to leverage these more moving forward. We’ve gotten financing for our biotechnology work in Grand Falls for example, but it’s non-renewable. The TAC is renewable; every five years you can reapply and have it renewed. The people we need to hire to complement our biotech work are not laboratory people; it’s those people that can make things happen in terms of commercialization. We’re going to apply and become a serious centre for this type of work. It’s an exciting thing, and I think New Brunswick’s future is bright.
We’re not done with our look at CCNB. Join us on Friday for part two where we speak to Alain Doucet of the college’s Metal Innovation and Technology Transfer Centre (MITTC).
Cover image via CCNB Bathurst.