Driving business and technology innovation in York Region

As part of York University’s continuing expansion of its research outreach strategy, the Office of the Vice-President, Research & Innovation (VPRI), hosted the inaugural York Leadership Roundtable on March 4 at the Schulich School of Business. The roundtable is a new opportunity for business and community leaders of York Region and north Toronto to interact with researchers, students and senior York administrators to identify areas of mutual interest for potential future collaboration.

"The real strength of a great community is the ability to use knowledge and work together to harness and build upon that energy," said Don Cousens (right), chair of the York Leadership Roundtable, former mayor of the City of Markham and member of the VPRI external advisory committee. "The University wants to build upon the relationship between York and its community, and I have great confidence in what York is all about. They are asking how to become an innovative centre and seeking ways to reach out to the expertise around them."

Over 40 senior business executives attended the roundtable meeting to discuss opportunities and best practices for businesses – whether they are large, multinational organizations or locally-based small and medium enterprises – to drive build their scientific, technological and social innovation through research partnerships with York University.

"York’s University Academic Plan calls for us to strengthen our research and increase our involvement in disseminating knowledge," said York President & Vice-Chancellor Mamdouh Shoukri. "We have a responsibility to share our knowledge to the social and economic betterment of our community. We do this by educating our students, by publishing our findings, and by forming partnerships with industry to shorten the time it takes for innovative knowledge to benefit society. Our commitment to work in partnerships in a true and meaningful way is one thing that sets York apart."

A short video highlighted York’s interdisciplinary research strengths in the health and life sciences, with examples drawn from the research of Professor Doug Crawford in the Department of Psychology and Professor Imogen Coe in the Department of Biology. Coe and Crawford were also present at the event to field questions from the researcher’s perspective.

"We all need to be innovators," said Pat Horgan, IBM Canada’s vice-president, manufacturing, development and operations. "When we talk about innovation, we talk not only about invention, but also what we at IBM call innovation that matters: the combination of business insight along with technology that can transform society. Together, they create a competitive advantage that is the key point of innovation that matters."

Horgan cited big green innovations, extended service delivery through PDAs, intelligent transportation, food traceability and smarter healthcare technology as five areas in which IBM anticipates significant innovation within the next five years.

"These advances aren’t things any one company can do alone," said Horgan. "Collaboration is central to creating innovation that matters, and when IBM surveyed 750 CEOs around the world, all said they look for that insight to come through outside sources. Bringing business, academic and government leaders together allows for the sharing of skills and knowledge while advancing Canada’s healthcare expertise, and all three are needed to ensure success."

During a lively question and answer period, the group discussed the continuing importance of investing in R&D, strategies for addressing the innovation needs of small to medium enterprises with limited research budgets, and the role of universities in fostering economic strength in their surrounding cities.

"Twenty years ago, we did 90 per cent of our R&D in house," said Jean Rousseau, vice-president, strategic affairs, at Johnson & Johnson Medical Products. "Now we realize we’re not as productive because the experts are interested in working with universities, in clusters and in partnerships, allowing them to take advantage of natural convergences. That’s the reason why an environment like York could be extremely productive for us."

Johnson & Johnson Medical Products is one of the newest partners to join the proposed National Centre for Medical Device Development (NCMDD) project. Founded by IBM Canada, sanofi pasteur, the Town of Markham and York University, NCMDD’s consortium group now includes 30 organizations. It is one of several cluster strategies, along with CONCERT (the Consortium on New Media, Creative and Entertainment R&D in the Toronto Region), through which York is advancing its research and innovation agenda.

Submitted to Y-File by Elizabeth Monier-Williams, research communications officer.