College handpicked for industrial innovation

By Mashojka Maimona, from   The Observer

The headquarters of a future RIM could very well set up shop in Sarnia.

Lambton College has been handpicked as the site for one of 14 national college industrial research chairs, complete with a cash envelope of nearly $1 million over five years.

The huge announcement could pave the path for Sarnia to emerge as a leader in developing new technologies, said Judith Morris, CEO of Lambton College, on Friday.

The college’s close relationship with industrial partners helped secure the federal grant, which will be matched by industry, Morris said.

“What that says to me is that the federal government has great faith in us to produce and we intend to do just that,” she said.

Dr. Mehdi Sheikhzadeh was appointed the college’s new Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) industrial chair for colleges.

His job will be to forge and foster relationships between researchers at the college and local regional partners.

“Industry wants (Sheikhzadeh) — they’ve been after him. He will be bringing industry in to work with us and pushing that agenda,” Morris said.

Sarnia-Lambton MP Pat Davidson said the federal government’s decision demonstrates Lambton College has the potential to transfer ideas, innovation, and applied sciences into the marketplace as world-leading products.

“In this community, we know we have the capacity to innovate,” she said.

The college, she said, is an expert in community networking with business partners. But more business research and development funding is needed for long-term competitiveness.

Even with some of the most generous R&D tax incentives in the world, Canada has low private investment in small and mid-sized businesses.

Tom Jenkins, chairperson with Software maker Open Text, was tasked with leading an expert panel to discuss Canada’s innovation to commercialization deficiencies last October.

Davidson said the College and Community Innovation Program is a right step towards change by “strengthen(ing) the links between publicly-funded research and private sector needs.”

Maike Luiken, dean of applied research, business development and sustainable development, said colleges are the key to advancing capacity for innovation to commercialization.

Sheikhzadeh said his new position will benefit cash-strapped small and mid-sized businesses seeking financial aid to help turn their ideas into products.

“Colleges with the expertise can help these businesses in taking an idea, investing money into it, and commercializing an end product.”

Dean de Jong, president of Team Aquatic Management, said it’s “very, very risky” for a small company to single-handedly initiate research.

“This program has taken a lot of the risk away from us, and onto the college. It has also given us the higher level of expertise and resources through people like (Sheikhzadeh).”


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