All project ideas have finite windows of opportunity that require the right balance of resources. In Humber’s opinion, one of the strongest barriers to innovation is uncertainty – not in whether a project will be successful – but rather when resources required to initiate a project will be provided. Presently, the funding of large valued projects often requires a review process that takes multiple months rather than days or weeks. This presents two significant challenges.
- First, by the time a project is approved, the ideal resource identified by the institution to lead the project may no longer be available, having been assigned other work (college and polytechnic faculty must be released from teaching duties to assume applied research work).
- Second, a company that has a problem to be resolved cannot wait for an answer and may either abandon the project, or worse, relocate to another location, potentially outside Canada, where the work can be expedited. This results in either decreased job opportunities or even job losses for Canada.
One solution to this challenge is to create a funding program that allows post-secondary institutions to apply for a fixed funding envelope over a specified time frame that could then be redistributed to fund eligible projects. In essence, a reverse voucher program that would allow the institution to manage a preapproved level of funding.
Criteria for eligibility, accountability and transparency, contributions needed from industry partners and metrics could be established as requirements of receiving this funding. The program would build on the highly successful Applied Research and Commercialization (ARC) program launched by Fed Dev Ontario several years ago. The advantage of this program is that institutions could seek and secure partnerships with the knowledge that funding existed to allow projects to start immediately. The program would also allow institutions to plan projects that meet their scheduling needs. Further, industry benefits from having a mechanism that allows their projects to be initiated in a timely fashion, thus mitigating or even removing their incentive to either abandon the idea or relocate.