Connect The Dots: Building A Centre Of Excellence Requires Networks Of Stakeholders, Regions

This is the third part in a three-part series this week. For the earlier stories, click on the links below:

Centre Of Excellence: Why Calgary Can Be Seen As Canada’s Cleantech And New Energy Core

Champions Wanted: Calgary Needs Leaders To Push For Centre Of Excellence Status


Establishing Calgary as a Canadian Centre of Excellence for clean technology and new energy helps create “tighter linkages” between industry’s innovation requirements and university research agendas, says Monica Gattinger.

“It’s not all academics who want to do work that’ll be directly picked up by companies, but for those who do, it’s a really important and attractive opportunity to be working on real-world problems, having real-world impacts,” said the Positive Energy chair and University of Ottawa’s Institute for Science, Society and Policy director. “One area where Canada tends to not perform really well is the commercialization phase of innovation.”

According to Gattinger, creating a better channel of communication between the corporate sector’s innovation needs and the research source also helps businesses increase awareness of what academia is working on, and the opportunities available for real-world application. “It helps to create that ongoing channel of communication — creating a pipeline of innovation from the lab bench all the way through to scaling up commercially.”

Duane Bratt, political science professor at Mount Royal University, told the Bulletin that a Centre of Excellence must go beyond naming and branding, and it must provide resources and opportunities to bring stakeholders together to work on similar projects. For oil and gas companies, he suggested, there is motivation to support such a cleantech and new-energy research channel, in part as firms already do this, and also as it addresses public and investor pressures.

“If you have pension plans and you have major investors shunning the oilsands, then how do you convince them to come back in? One way is to emphasize technological change to deal with the existing emissions.”

He added: “You can call [a Centre of Excellence] whatever you want, but what does it do? What capacity does it have? That will be the strength. Can they bring all the different stakeholders together? Are they funding research? Are they developing pilot projects? Can they put environmental groups, big and small companies, university professors and government officials all in the same room at the same time, [going] forward?”

Networking matters

Those who support local cleantech and new technology could facilitate development by identifying the city’s particular expertise in this realm, and then connecting with other regions in Canada, capitalizing on their areas of excellence, and mobilizing a national effort, noted Gattinger. She said that it would be valuable if Alberta could duplicate in Calgary the new institute around clean energy recently announced in British Columbia.

“If Calgary were to want to take the lead in some sort of effort to knit together some of the initiatives across the country, then I think that could be a really interesting thing for the city to contemplate.”

She added: “It wouldn’t just be about where’s Calgary’s unique competitive advantage in the energy innovation space, but does the city also want to promote the idea of knitting together different Centres of Excellence across the country, and in so doing helping Canada as a whole to innovate when it comes to energy and the future of energy?”

The Clean Resource Innovation Network (CRIN) is a ‘network of networks’ connecting academia, innovators, government, industry and entrepreneurs concerned with ensuring the cleanest possible Canadian oil and gas. Gattinger said it is a great example of how Calgary on the one hand can become a Centre of Excellence with a tight geographical focus, but on the other hand draw on the talents of other regions beyond the municipal boundaries.

“It would be about finding that nice balance between what’s really Calgary focused and then how you then draw some linkages with other initiatives across the country or maybe internationally as well.”

Brad Parry, interim president and chief executive officer of Calgary Economic Development, told the DOB that when he sees what is happening at CRIN, as well as some accelerators and incubators coming to the marketplace with a new energy focus, it suggests much potential exists for motivated innovators and small firms to find solutions together.

“More of that will drive the industry, and it will drive new ways of thinking and new technologies. And so, for me, one of the things I’m encouraged about is knowing who’s coming to town soon, and the types of programming they’re going to build to help accelerate … our community of thought leaders to build sustainable companies.”

Role for CED

For its part, CED tries to improve Calgary’s place in the realm of cleantech and new energy research, development and commercialization by looking at trends shaping economies and gathering data for various local stakeholders, and by facilitating knowledge sharing so governments, industry and post-secondary can take advantage of opportunities.

“That’s one of the key things we can do as an organization, which is to help our academic and corporate partners to see what’s coming, letting them have a glimpse into that and making sure that they’re ready for it, and that we position ourselves to be accepting in having the infrastructure and structure in place so we can be incredibly successful, so these companies that come here can be successful on the global stage, which is where we think we have that right to play.”

He added: “It’s less about how and what we do, and more about how we ensure we have the people in place, and we make sure we make the connections.”

Formalizing relationships

Becoming a Centre of Excellence is largely about formalizing relationships and securing research funding, noted Kevin Krausert, president and CEO of Avatar Innovations Inc. Another “big area” is about turning research into marketable and commercial solutions, which requires the participation of industry.

Fortunately, he said, Calgary has “incredible infrastructure and horsepower” as Canada’s oil and gas headquarters. The key is using that advantage to accelerate a meaningful pathway from research to commercialization.

“You don’t just need the finance push. You also need the market pull. One thing we’re excited about at Avatar is packaging that into a form that is faster, cheaper and simpler than the current initiatives that are out there. It’s really about bundling that all together.”

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