On November 8, TEC Edmonton hosted a panel at the 8th annual Canadian Science Policy Conference in Ottawa entitled, “Fertile Ground: How incubators and accelerators drive innovation.” Moderated by TEC Edmonton CEO Chris Lumb, the pan-Canadian panelists represented research-intensive universities, incubators and accelerators, and spinoff companies. The panel focused on the increasingly critical role that accelerators and incubators play in advancing and building Canada’s science and innovation agenda.

The speakers were: Frank Béraud, Chief Executive Officer, Montréal InVivo; Helen Burt, Interim Vice-President Research and International, University of British Columbia; Michelle Miller, Director of Operations, Delta Genomics; Debbie Plouffe, Vice-President Research, Center for Aquaculture Technologies Canada; and Chris Plunkett, Director of External Relations, Communitech.

The value of bringing representatives from these different groups was demonstrated through the diverse presentations made by each panelist and the rich discussion, following the presentations, that ensued with the audience . Overall, it was agreed that successful innovation depends on researchers and support organizations having access to industry partners, business expertise, entrepreneurial talent, mentors and funding.

Below are more key takeaways from the panel discussion and audience feedback:

The importance of measurement

The value of measuring the outcomes and success of those indivdiuals/SMEs that engage incubators and accelerators was discussed.  It was noted that an incubator or accelerator’s metrics should be focused on a company’s success, but it is also important to be mindful of the incubator’s role in value creation.

Some metrics of note included TEC Edmonton’s observation that companies that export will grow 50 per cent more than those that don’t. As a result, measuring and predicting which companies have the potential to become exporters has become increasingly important, but remains a difficult metric to assess in a company’s early stages. Debbie Plouffe indicated that revenue, R&D investment and job creation are key metrics for The Center For Aquaculture Technologies Canada.

Access to resources and support is key for both innovators and incubators

Successful commercialization depends on researchers having access to resources such as industry partners, business expertise, entrepreneurial talent, mentors and funding. Building a Canada-wide network of mentors was suggested to increase access to mentorship. Additionally, it was suggested to include entrepreneurship and experiential learning in student programs by developing an undergraduate student entrepreneurship program, similar to NSERC’s Undergraduate Student Research Awards program to encourage entrepreneurship and innovation in the student population. As providers of mentorship and education opportunities for innovators, funding for incubators and accelerators was also recognized as an important aspect that needs to be taken into account when thinking long-term.

Support the whole innovation continuum

Some startups find that ongoing support tends to drop off after the company makes its first $1 million, and as a result, it needs to look for alternate sources. Two potential solutions to this problem involve establishing more flexible innovation and funding programs that cover the whole innovation process from start to finish, and ensuring that incubators and accelerators have the resources they need to support innovators beyond the growth phase.