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Canadian Innovation

How Mitacs Accelerates AI Adoption by Linking Research and Industry 

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Artificial intelligence can transform Canada’s economy by boosting productivity, jobs, and living standards — but bold action is needed to connect industry with research and put AI to work.

Mitacs is leading the charge, helping Canada take centre stage as a leader in artificial intelligence (AI).  The secret to implementing AI effectively lies in Mitacs’s ability to attract and deploy top talent to onboard AI and provide businesses with the skills they need for successful implementation. Through Mitacs’s unique model, combining strategic connections, talent, and financial support, over the past five years, Mitacs has supported more than 14,000 AI internships, partnered with over 117 academic institutions, and invested more than $200 million in Canadian AI research and development. Projects span all sectors, including cleantech, biotech, agritech, and advanced manufacturing. 


Partnerships with results

Mitacs played a pivotal role in Unilever’s decision to establish its Global AI hub in Toronto. Since 2019, this partnership has scaled to enable Unilever to launch its AI Horizon3 Lab last year. These projects are already leveraging world renowned AI expertise to transform Unilever’s global business needs. Through this initiative, Unilever is recruiting approximately twelve graduate-level Mitacs interns from Canadian universities to enable AI capabilities across its supply chain, consumer engagement, e-commerce, and digital marketing.

Another Mitacs partner is Ericsson, the communication giant that chose Canada as its fourth global AI hub. Mitacs and Ericsson forged a three-year agreement to build a talent pipeline for the Montreal-based Global Artificial Intelligence Accelerator. This hub is tapping into a deep pool of highly skilled talent, capable of advancing critical research and development in artificial intelligence and machine learning. This initiative also resulted in Ericsson recruiting approximately 90 graduate-level Mitacs interns from Canadian universities to enable the creation of robust, intelligent, data-driven ICT systems, including a 5G network in Canada.

With the Government of Canada’s recent $2.4 billion investment announcement to secure the country’s AI advantage, now is the time for businesses of all sizes to embrace AI integration across the Canadian economy. 

We sat down with Mitacs CEO John Hepburn to learn what businesses and researchers need to do to leverage the full potential of AI and how Mitacs is playing a leading role.  

John Hepburn

CEO, Mitacs

 What impact can AI have on our society?

AI is widely expected to have a major impact on economic growth and labour productivity by revolutionizing all industries in Canada. AI will help us create ambitious solutions to some of our most pressing challenges. We’ve already seen the positive impact of AI, but we need to scale up adoption. If not, Canadian businesses will fall behind and Canadians won’t reap the benefits. According to the International Monetary Fund, AI has the potential to reshape the global economy. Its recent analysis for the U.K. indicates that productivity gains from AI are expected to range from 0.9 to 1.5 per cent a year.

How does Canada compare to other countries when it comes to AI adoption?

Considering Canada has a world-leading AI ecosystem and has been at the forefront of AI research and development, it might surprise some that we lag behind other countries in AI adoption. In 2020, Canada ranked fourth on the Global AI Index. The country has since dropped a spot, and its position could tumble further without bold action. Less than five per cent of Canadian firms have deployed AI in their business in any capacity. Global leaders, such as Denmark, have so far had more than double the rate of AI adoption as Canada. Furthermore, AI adoption in Canada has been uneven, with 20 per cent of large companies reporting the use of AI, while just three per cent of small firms have done so. This shows the work we need to do to increase AI adoption across our economy

Why is there a disconnect between industry uptake of AI and Canada’s role as an AI research powerhouse?

One of the key reasons is the lack of investment in new technologies, particularly the reluctance of Canadian businesses to embrace AI, especially among small- and medium-sized companies. When compared globally, Canadian firms are generally smaller, and adopting new technology has often been seen as expensive and complex. But with the right supports and partnerships, the kind Mitacs can bring, AI may ease the integration of new technology to existing processes and optimize costs, allowing smaller firms to leapfrog innovation.

 How can the strength of Canada’s AI ecosystem help Canadian businesses accelerate AI adoption?

Canada is recognized as a global-leading AI research hub. We’ve nurtured an environment that attracts and retains the world’s top AI talent, who not only are contributing to innovative programs and solutions but are training the next generation of AI leaders in Canada. We were the first country to release a national AI strategy and since 2017, over $2 billion have been invested to support AI and digital research and innovation. Being a leader in AI research isn’t enough, though — we need to leverage our advantage by forging a pathway for research to connect to the business level. 

How does Mitacs play a role in connecting AI research and industry?

Through the generous support of our government partners, we’ve invested over $1.3 billion into research and development since 2010, directly supporting over 11,000 small businesses across the country. Almost two thirds of the AI innovation we’ve supported is being led by small- and medium-sized businesses. We’re embedded in the AI ecosystem and continuously collaborate with prominent stakeholders in the Canadian AI community, including Mila, the Vector Institute for Artificial Intelligence, the Alberta Machine Intelligence Institute (Amii), and IVADO. 

These unique partnerships support the adoption of AI across diverse industries. One such initiative, Vector’s FastLane program, involves facilitating access to AI talent for industries through collaborative efforts. Mitacs supports startups integrating AI into various applications by leveraging the expertise of the Vector Institute. This initiative allows startups to benefit from Vector’s pool of AI talent and accommodates their interns within the dynamic heart of the AI ecosystem. 

How important is government investment in AI?  

Mitacs plays an important role as catalyst in AI adoption for Canadian businesses, but we can’t do this important work without government investment and support. Funding enables Mitacs to significantly enhance the competitive edge of small- and medium-sized businesses through advanced AI applications. This strategic investment boosts AI infrastructure and research, enabling Mitacs to effectively channel these advancements directly into industry. By facilitating collaborations between academia and businesses, we serve as the conduit to transforming innovative AI research into practical, industry-specific solutions that spur growth and productivity across Canada’s economic landscape. 

Learn more about how Mitacs is driving AI adoption in Canada. 

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