Commercializing Technology in Canada

"How can I get involved in technology transfer and commercialization?" I've heard many graduate students and postdocs asking this question at Next Wave events across Canada, and for good reason: technology transfer (or technology commercialization, as it is more commonly referred to these days) is becoming a buzzword in the academic environment.

Why? The Canadian Government has been pushing more aggressive technology commercialization in universities as a part of it's Innovation Strategy simply because it wants the country to derive greater commercial benefit from its ongoing investments in university research.

With so much emphasis being placed on commercializing academic research, there's bound to be a greater demand in the coming years for individuals that know science and technology and that have sound marketing and business expertise--a rare breed in most countries, but particularly in Canada. Until recently, there were no formal technology-transfer programs in Canada, and the few enthusiasts typically entered the profession through paid or unpaid internships in tech-transfer offices (read this Next Wave article for an example) or after taking MBA courses that specialize in commercializing scientific knowledge.

Because you asked

So how CAN postdocs and graduate students contemplating a career in technology commercialization get the requisite formal business experience? Over the years, Next Wave has published two features and a number of one-off articles on technology transfer (see the Related Articles listed below) that provide a wealth of practical information and personal experiences from around the globe.

This month, however, Next Wave is presenting an in-depth look at two new Canadian training opportunities for eager young scientists with a thirst for technology commercialization, whether they're citizens, permanent residents, or foreign nationals.

Elsewhere on the site, Next Wave Canada covers a program that specifically caters to wannabe tech transferees--the University of Alberta's MBA in Technology Commercialisation. Here, though, we examine WestLink's Technology Commercialization Internship Program (TCIP), a 2-year internship pilot program that enables scientists from across Canada to develop an understanding of the issues that affect the successful commercialization of new inventions.

The not-for-profit WestLink Innovation Network Ltd. was established in 2000 in an attempt to accelerate the commercialization of scientific inventions at 25 western Canadian universities, colleges, and research institutes. WestLink has since nurtured business ties with venture capital firms, university spin-off companies, industry, and the legal profession, raising money for TCIP through Western Economic Diversification Canada, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (which also supports Next Wave Canada), the Alberta Heritage Foundation for Medical Research, and the four western provincial governments.

The first phase of the 2-year internship pilot program is wrapping up in April this year and has enabled 19 interns from across western Canada to develop a broad understanding of technology commercialization. Phase two of the program will train an additional 16 interns and is open to applicants from across Canada. (You had better hurry if you're thinking of applying: the deadline is 10 February 2003.)

Four of the initial batch of interns shared their experiences with us.

Dann Chow says that the WestLink program gave him an opportunity to apply his background in mechanical and biomedical engineering in a fast-moving, fun business environment.

TCIP opened many more career opportunities for Diane Harms than her previous line of work as a research technician. And at the same time, the program allowed her to build an extensive network of mentors and contacts.

Despite his background in chemistry and his MBA, TCIP intern Panos Kyriacou could not get his foot in the business door. After a long and frustrating job search, WestLink provided Kyriacou with the break he needed--and the chance to get some hardcore business experience.

After years of postgraduate training and two postdoctoral fellowships, TCIP afforded Diana Shaw the opportunity for a much needed change in career direction.

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