Universities pitch in with research for local businesses

Many post-secondary schools in Nova Scotia are helping business by offering new research opportunities through the province’s business voucher program.

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Post-secondary schools in Nova Scotia are teaming up with businesses for the research funding project called the "Productivity and Innovation Voucher Program." Photo: Paula Bugden

It won’t be long before some businesses in Nova Scotia find out if they’re getting research funding from the province.  The last day businesses could apply for the funding was Wednesday, Nov. 18.          

It’s the second year for the Productivity and Innovation Voucher Program, a funding project that’s meant to give smaller businesses a chance to work and research with colleges and universities in the province, said Bruce Findlay, corporate strategist with the government’s Economic and Rural Development department.  The total amount available for funding is $500,000, meaning at least 33 businesses will get vouchers and can expect up to $15,000 for research purposes. 

Of the 11 institutions offering research opportunities to successful applicants this year, nine universities and colleges are taking part in the voucher project, including Dalhousie, Acadia, Mount Saint Vincent, St. Francis Xavier and Saint Mary’s.  Findlay says businesses are paired with schools depending on the type of research needed.  

While the Enterprise Development Centre at St. Francis Xavier University has been doing research with local businesses for 12 years, director Mark van de Wiel explains how the voucher program offers them a chance to work with older businesses.

“A lot of our clients, historically, have been start-up businesses or businesses that were fairly new and looking to expand into new areas,” he said. 

“But the businesses that we worked with last year were quite established and had significant operations.”

Van de Wiel said the centre worked on two research projects last year and the school’s Industry Liaison Office also worked on two. 

“For us, it worked really well.  It helped us work with clients that we may not have had the opportunity to work with in the past,” said van de Wiel. 

“A lot of small businesses don’t have that experience of going into a university, dealing with researchers and folks that can take their idea, from what maybe be just a preliminary thought, and turn it into a prototype or something they can actually do,” said Findlay.  

Findlay said he expects this year to have as many applicants as the project in 2008, which ended up being roughly 200.

Kelvin Sams, president of Sunrise Foods in Dartmouth, said his business got the voucher last year.  The business was paired with Dal, which developed a prototype spreader stick for its packaged products, said Sams.  Before receiving the funding, he said employees had to do the work by hand.

Considering there are 15 people on staff, Sams explains the benefits of the voucher program.  He said he was surprised by the lack of “red tape” with the application and that it only took three weeks to learn the business would get funding.  

“Smaller businesses make up a big part of the economy, so it’s a positive part of the program,” said Sams.  “Bigger businesses often benefit from government programs and are more informed about them.  With smaller businesses, it’s harder because of staffing requirements, whereas a larger business can have more employees to deal with these applications.”      

 

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