A new government program that aims to boost R&D support for small and mid-sized enterprises (SMEs) is being welcomed by players in the innovation ecosystem as many have long been clamouring for such an initiative. However, expectations are coloured with caution, depending on how the program will be implemented.
The federal government launched Innovative Solutions Canada (ISC) late last year with the aim of helping SMEs find a market for their innovation – by selling to the government on a “challenge” basis. ISC comes in three funding phases with some $100 million being allocated for the program and requiring 20 government departments and agencies dedicate 1% of their 2015-16 procurement and intramural R&S expenditures to ISC.
Only A Handful Will Benefit
Dr Margaret Dalziel, associate professor at the Conrad Centre for Business Entrepreneurship and Technology at Univ of Waterloo, has doubts that the program can reach out to thousands of SMEs with only six challenges.
“Any government observer knows that the government has … lots and lots of opportunities for efficient services – the scope is endless. Instead of having a full list of their (government’s) needs, they’ve identified a handful of hot technologies. So, I don’t think this program is going to really do much to improve government for Canadians, on one hand. And on the other hand of supporting high potential companies, it is going to support only a handful. And that handful could be companies that are eligible for other government programs.”
Dalziel says the challenges should go beyond technologies and include innovative services, not only to expand the reach of the program but also because a large part of what the government does is to provide services. “Is there no room for innovation in services?” she asks.
“SBIR has a positive effect (based on the study) but that effect is primarily as a consequence of Phase 1 funding,” Dalziel tells R$.
Both Dalziel and Nobina Robinson, president and CEO of Polytechnics Canada, note that there are other federal programs that also help SMEs innovate, creating a “rivalry” among government programs. As an example Robinson cites the National Research Council’s Industrial Research Assistance Program (IRAP) which also offers “innovation and funding services” … to help accelerate the growth of … business through innovation and technology.” On the ISC website, there is a list of other programs for SMEs in case the ISC is not the “right fit”.
You can find out more about how Innovative Solutions Canada (ISC) is aiming to help SMEs find a market for their innovation on the RESEARCH MONEY website.