Special Innovation Forum called “Spin-off and Startups: Innovation Partnerships Between Universities, Researchers, Institutions and Industry"
Ottawa, Tuesday, October 2, 2012
It is a pleasure to see so many of you here, exploring new opportunities between countries, between universities, between people.
Europe and Canada have long been partners in a wide variety of fields. It is wonderful to see that Italians and Canadians are exploring additional ways to collaborate and to share.
One needn’t be an economist to understand there are many challenges in today’s economy. Because of these challenges, it is even more important that we create more opportunities to think and to act creatively. Necessity is, and should be, the mother of invention—and innovation.
Spinoff or start-up companies, some of which find their origin on our campuses, are nothing new and in fact have been quite commonplace in our history. In our universities, education provides the foundation behind these projects, which can later be extended to research and experimentation, and then to practical applications. All of these are just a few of the building blocks that need to be in place to launch a business.
The degree to which entrepreneurs succeed depends on many factors, not least of which are the amount of innovative and creative energy put into the venture, and the demands imposed by both investors and customers. In other words, there are both internal and external factors at work.
Internally, innovation is not a one- directional linear process from education and fundamental research, to experimentation, to practical application in business. Innovation occurs back and forth at various points of that linear story.
I think the definition offered by Jon Gertner in his book, The Idea Factory, is one of the best ways to define innovation. He writes that “If an idea begat a discovery, and if a discovery begat an invention, then an innovation defined the lengthy and wholesale transformation of an idea into a technological product (or process) meant for widespread practical use.”
Innovation, he goes on to say, cannot be fostered by one person, but by several people working on various aspects. The process of innovation is shared. This linear story, with many dimensions and the ability to go back and forth along the line, is a great strength that our start-ups and spinoffs have in common.
Of course, a start-up or spinoff requires support from many different sources to stay afloat. One of the ways we do this is by expanding our knowledge in different ways, including beyond borders.
That is why what you are doing here today is so important.
I am passionate about the influence that educational institutions like this one can have over our economic development. Carleton University, for example—which has been at the centre of more than 150 spinoff companies—has been creating programs between many countries, including Italy, to promote the exchange of students and ideas.
It is through this increase in sharing that we are able to increase our potential. Utilizing what I call the diplomacy of knowledge, Canada, Carleton and Italy can benefit both our countries.
Let me explain what I mean by diplomacy of knowledge: It is our ability and willingness to work together and share the knowledge we uncover and refine across disciplines and across borders to improve the human condition together.
For our purposes here today, I want to stress one particular aspect: across borders.
This dimension includes both the geographical and the intercultural.
While the diplomacy of knowledge operates on many geographic levels—local, regional and national—I believe it is particularly potent when we cross international borders and cultivate closer contacts and interactions among educators, entrepreneurs, researchers, students and schools from different countries.
This engagement of different cultural points of view gives us a finer calculus for innovation.
Rapid advances in communications technologies have made it easier for us to make those initial connections. But once those connections are made, we must bring ideas and necessity together—across borders, across cultures and across disciplines.
It is here where we can take full advantage of the diplomacy of knowledge through the sharing of ideas. As we look at things from different perspectives, we strengthen our views and our conclusions, much as surveyors use a theodolite to triangulate distances by measuring horizontal and vertical angles.
This tripod of cross cultural exchange is a fundamentally human activity, and it begins with people like all of you, talking with each other, connecting, intersecting, triangulating.
Education leads to innovation, innovation can spark collaboration, and those partnerships bring us back to learning new and exciting things.
I commend you for using this occasion to create new opportunities for entrepreneurs to thrive. We can learn so much from one another, from our successes and from our failures as well. Let us utilize what we learn in this room on behalf of our start-ups and spinoffs so that they gain the full benefit of our diplomacy of knowledge.