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December 20, 2010

The buzz about innovation

by Paul Krzyzanowski

Basic scientific research is a fundamental driver of improved quality of life that our society enjoys. However, it's tacitly acknowledged that the benefits of research sometimes don't materialize until some time has passed, with the finish line sometimes decades away. This length of time for an advance to be recognized as 'valuable' is extremely unpredictable -- so much so that it's one of the major points of dispute between those who conduct research for knowledge's sake and those eager to see the benefits of the research put into practices.  

Scientific advances and newly discovered techniques are always shared and copied by researchers, most of whom appreciate the time and skill required to learn how to do so. It's not always easy to replicate what someone else has done in another lab, even for someone considered to be a specialist in a subject area.

In the absence of commercialization or a product development process, many technologies being developed in research labs cannot quickly get into the hands of non-specialists like other research groups, businesses, and consumers. The kind of innovation required to convert highly technical processes to ones that can be used easily by many has been encouraged to grow in Canada, but more development is needed. To some, 'innovation' is a catch-all phrase –- a buzzword -– that has become a prevalent topic in the mainstream press, spurring discussions about small businesses, carbon taxes, immigration, business focus, and government support for research and development. Getting an innovative culture to take root takes a long time but it can be done. 

Over the upcoming months, I’ll post a series of articles showing how innovation plays a part in basic research and the commercialization of life sciences, and how both can be improved here in Canada (and beyond). Here’s a snapshot of the topics I’ll cover:

  1. Academia vs Business: Are they really that different?
  2. Business skills are learned, but why can't they be taught?
  3. Canada's innovation gap 
  4. What researchers can learn from playing Risk
  5. Life-sciences start-up funding models: Not fund and forget, but not Silicon Valley, either
  6. Despite the paperwork, the government is your friend
  7. Innovative environments are more than labs and boardrooms



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