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Government matchmaking program gains traction

March 1, 2009
by Adelle Larmour
In: News with 0 Comments

A new government program is offering businesses and organizations a chance to tap into a vast pool of bright young minds to help innovation-minded companies further their R&D goals.

MITACS, a government agency, connects companies with university graduate students across Canada to promote research and development through its ACCELERATE program. The agency will arrange more than 600 internships through its program this year.

MITACS president Jim Brookes has high hopes they’ll come close to doubling the number of internships by next year.

“We’re confident we’ll hit a 1,000 or more. We’re on a steep growth curve.”

The matchmaking program has enjoyed great success in British Columbia, which has had a year’s head start over Ontario, said Brookes. So far in this province, they’ve placed about 200 interns with companies and there are opportunities for more. Last year, the Ontario government invested almost $17 million over four years to fund 1,750 internships, the largest commitment of any province to date.

For companies, it is an opportunity to recruit and groom future employees by having interns perform high-quality research for their business under the direction of a professor. It also opens more doors by establishing possible long-term relationships with the universities.

“The area with the biggest impact is international students,” said Brookes. These Canadian-trained students typically return home after finishing their degrees. “As a result of doing an internship, there is an approximate 50 per cent increase in the probability that they will stay and work in Canada. Not only does the internship build their resumé, but it also gives international students insight into employment opportunities in Canada that they may not have otherwise known.

The program originally started as a federally-funded pilot project supporting advanced math-based internships under MITACS’ Network Centre of Excellence, but has now become a federally- and provincially-funded program available in all university disciplines.

 

Research

ACCELERATE Ontario connects graduate students and post-doctoral fellows with Ontario companies through four-month, applied research projects, approved both by the company and an independent scientific review panel.

During the internship, the student undertakes research on an identified issue under the supervision of his or her professor at the respective university. About half of the intern’s time is spent on site with the partner company, researching the identified issue, collecting data and gaining an in-depth understanding of the business challenge.

An internship requires $7,500 from the partner company. This is matched by ACCELERATE Ontario via provincial and federal support resulting in a $15,000 research grant to the intern’s supervising professor. The intern receives a minimum of $10,000 as a stipend for the four-month period of study. The remaining amount is for related materials to further support the student’s research. On top of that, they’ll give another $5,000 for inter-provincial travel expenses.

Once a student applies, the turnaround time to process and approve a student’s application is as quick as four weeks. The expectation is that it has to be serious, high-quality research and the student must interact with and obtain on-site time in the company’s environment.

In Ontario, about 25 per cent of internships are with not-for-profit companies or government organizations. For example, some First Nations groups take on internships to help leverage their economic initiatives.

 

Connections

 

Connecting university expertise with industry can be challenging. Not everyone has a good understanding of the others’ needs or who to contact. Time, money and concerns about intellectual property can also be stumbling blocks. As well, not all university professors are comfortable making cold calls to industry.

The matchmakers are 20 business development directors across the country linking companies and universities. Not unlike a sales operation with set targets, directors speak with companies to understand the research problems and then source the expertise at the universities.

“Without this matchmaking capability for this high-level research, a great number of these connections would not take place,” Brookes said. “A four-month internship is a nice toe-in-the-water to try out the value for companies of university research collaboration. In the vast majority, they are thrilled with the results.”

Although the ACCELERATE program is in its infancy, Brookes said they are not even close to tapping into the program’s full potential. He anticipates much larger numbers in the years to come.

 

 

www.acceleratecanada.ca

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