How to improve Canada’s record in science innovation

May 04, 2016
Elicia Maine's new research focuses on improving advanced material commercialization.

Beedie Professor Elicia Maine’s new research focuses on improving advanced material commercialization.

SFU Beedie Professor Elicia Maine studies strategies to boost advanced material commercialization. 

Canada is failing when it comes to bringing its science inventions to the marketplace – but the latest research from Elicia Maine, professor of innovation and entrepreneurship at Simon Fraser University’s Beedie School of Business, suggests that we can improve at turning our inventions into innovation.

In research published in the May edition of top-ranked materials science journal Nature Materials, Maine suggests that long commercialization times, high capital costs, and sustained uncertainty deter investment in innovation for advanced materials.

The study indicates that with appropriate strategies, technology and market uncertainties can be reduced, and the commercialization of advanced materials – enabling technologies such as electric cars, medical devices, smaller, lighter smart phones, and solar cells – can be accelerated.

To achieve this goal, Maine identifies four strategies for scientist-entrepreneurs:

  • Utilize accelerators as they validate the technology’s usefulness and readiness;
  • Match the technology to an initial target market, considering consumer utility, partnership potential, and regulatory hurdles;
  • Decide on value chain positioning in the chosen target market;
  • Mitigate market risks through targeted strategic partnerships and licensing that aligns partner incentives.

“There has been a shift in industry; there used to be more corporate R&D done in large research labs in multinational firms,” says Maine. “Multinational firms have shifted to open innovation, but under this new model there is some great science that has trouble moving from the lab to the marketplace.

“Some of the world’s biggest problems – clean water, global poverty, curing cancer, clean energy – can be alleviated through science innovation,” she adds. “But not if the great science is languishing in the university lab. These recommendations address that commercialization gap.”

The study also has implications for government policymakers, recommending they let scientist-entrepreneurs use government grants to support broad IP protection and prototype development.

The paper, “Accelerating advanced materials commercialization”, is co-authored by prominent venture capitalist Purnesh Seegopaul, of Pangaea Ventures.

It builds on Maine’s previous research in this area, in which she has examined methods to improve Canada’s lacklustre innovation record through revised innovation policy, value creation strategies for science ventures, and better supporting university scientist-entrepreneurs.

One of the nation’s foremost experts in the formation and growth of science-based ventures, Maine has been selected as a finalist for the 2016 BCTIA Person of the Year Award.

She is Academic Director of Beedie’s Graduate Certificate in Science and Technology Commercialization, which teaches scientists and engineers the skills to commercialize their inventions, including market opportunity identification, managing under uncertainty, articulating a value proposition, creating financial projections, and business model iteration.

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