Whether they've got a great idea and don't know what to do with it, need funding to move forward, or want to access training, mining companies looking to build on their innovative ideas are being encouraged to access a portfolio of programs that can assist them in evolving their ideas to the next level.
Through the Ontario Network of Excellence (ONE), comprised of 14 Regional Innovation Centres (RICs) across the province, small and medium enterprises, business startups and students with innovative ideas can access a pocket of expertise that provides them with research and development support.
“It's really just a collaborative network of organizations across Ontario, and we're all trying to do the same thing and that's to help SMEs (small- and medium-sized enterprises) to commercialize ideas and commercialize technology,” explained Jamie Maher, director of business development at Sudbury's Northern Ontario Centre for Advanced Technology (NORCAT), the lead organization for operations in Northern Ontario.
In the North, under the umbrella of the Northern Technology Alliance, participating innovation centres include the Northwestern Ontario Innovation Centre in Thunder Bay, the Sault Ste. Marie Innovation Centre, NORCAT in Sudbury, and Innovation Initiatives Ontario North in North Bay.
Accessing support is as easy as visiting the ONE website, www.oneinnnovation.ca, where entering a postal code points the business owner to the nearest innovation centre. After business owners meet the program criteria, a meeting is set up with a representative from their area.
Some of the most popular programs are those under the provincial Ministry of Economic Development and Innovation, which come under two streams: the business acceleration program and the industry-academic collaboration program.
Under the industry-academic collaboration program, if a company needs research done, the innovation centre can connect the company with any college or university across Ontario to help them do the research, which can be partially funded by the program, Maher said.
Through the business acceleration stream, which is funded by the companies themselves, an advisory service is available.
“There are programs like what they call the embedded executive program, where they'll pay for an executive in your company for up to six months to help you get your company going,” Maher explained. “There are also market intelligence programs they offer to companies to do some research on the market for their product.”
NORCAT also has on staff a technical mining specialist, funded through the business acceleration program, who's available to companies that are innovating or developing new products. Retired from the mining industry, the specialist offers a set of skills and connections within the sector that can prove invaluable to the company moving forward.
“They could be developing a new product for the mining company and need somebody from the mining industry with a little expertise in that area that could maybe help them develop their product or help them bring their product to the next level,” Maher said. “It's just offering some expertise in that field.”
NORCAT additionally has a forestry specialist to advise that industry.
NORCAT was designated an innovation centre just over a year ago, and the ONE resources have been well used in that time, Maher said. He estimated the mining specialist sees an average of five to 10 new clients a month.
In addition to the services offered through ONE, Maher frequently speaks to companies about the programs and participates in business promotion events. NORCAT plans to extend its reach this winter through job fairs, where Maher hopes to further encourage students in their entrepreneurial leanings.
Recent and upcoming graduates are fertile ground for new ideas, Maher said. If they've graduated and can't immediately find work in their field, the ONE can help them work on their own ideas, fostering their ingenuity, and keeping more youth in the North.