Dr. Mehdi Sheikhzadeh
Vice President of Research & Innovation, Lambton College
SMEs are the backbone of Canada’s economy, and colleges help them develop and commercialize their technologies, products and offerings through research projects.
Canada’s economic engine is fuelled by small businesses: 99 percent of businesses in the country are small or medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). These, in turn, are propelled by collaboration — a crucial economic driver that fuels ingenuity, empowers entrepreneurs, roots innovation in the needs of local communities, and creates and attracts international players. Research in colleges, with their connections, experience, and resources, are a crucial keystone of collaborative economic ecosystems.
Driving innovation and positive change
Many colleges have well-honed research expertise, extensive supporting infrastructure and long-forged connections — both with industry partners and their communities at large. Between 2017 and 2018, members of Colleges and Institutes Canada produced more than 4,400 prototypes, products, processes, and services — the result of 7,300 partnerships, most with SMEs in the private sector.
Governments and communities can leverage the unique strength of colleges to tackle social, environmental, health, and economic issues, among others. By embedding colleges in community initiatives and strategic activities with key stakeholders — and in doing so, deploying their networks and research and development (R&D) infrastructure — communities can both address regional challenges and export innovative solutions to other regions for economic growth.
Building on a region’s existing strengths
Cluster building is a particular socio-economic impact of research in colleges, such as in the Sarnia-Lambton region, where is helping advance a new Biohybrid Chemistry Cluster. The first of its kind in North America, the cluster builds on the strength of the region’s existing hydrocarbon-based and agricultural economies.
Lambton College has emerged as this cluster’s primary research driver and its Bio-Industrial Process Research Centre and Lambton Energy Research Centre has provided more than 200 projects and services with industry. “More than 70 percent of these collaborative projects are being conducted with non-local businesses,” says Dr. Mehdi Sheikhzadeh, Lambton’s Vice President of Research and Innovation. “Some of these companies have already moved to the community or started the discussion with local incubators and organizations to relocate partially or completely to Sarnia-Lambton.”
Helping innovative startups develop their products and bring them to market is another key strength of and other colleges. A lack of resources and industry connections can stymie the growth of a promising fledgling firm — and that’s where colleges come in. “As illustrated by Lambton College, colleges can fill this gap through applied research initiatives,” says Dr. Sheikhzadeh. “By providing essential R&D services to startups and SMEs as well as initiating cluster-building initiatives, which in turn supports regional diversification and strengthens communities, colleges and institutes play a vital role in Canada’s economic growth.”