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SFU brings international innovators together to turn science into solutions

August 11, 2020

By Lynn Warburton

With a growing urgency for universities to address global challenges with breakthrough innovations, the demand for entrepreneurial scientists is on the rise.

On Aug. 4 and 5, the Beedie School of Business’ Charles Chang Institute for Entrepreneurship drew 395 attendees from 38 countries in 22 time zones to the digital 2020 R & D Management Symposium, Invention to Innovation: Creating the Conditions for Impact. Their goal? To re-define how universities, policymakers and industry can advance research-based innovation and respond to societal needs in Canada and around the world.

Government policymakers and industry leaders heard leading researchers and practitioners from universities such as MIT, Duke University, University of Bologna, Concordia, Harvard and Tsinghua University present cutting-edge research that challenges conventional wisdom on innovation ecosystems.

They discussed shaping research and capabilities around regional natural strengths. Specifically, they discussed the roles universities play in regional resilience and adaptability, and the pressing need for greater investment in translating university research into impact as ambitious corporate R&D continues to decrease. They also heard about capabilities that can imrpove research-based innovation. SFU Beedie School of Business professor Elicia Maine spoke about the entrepreneurial capabilities scientists can develop to help create greater impact from their research, and how they can found spinoff ventures that have a better chance of success.

SFU President Andrew Petter opened the symposium with a challenge, explaining that “universities, as powerhouses of great ideas, discoveries and innovations, have important roles to play not only in advancing solutions, but also in creating the societal conditions and infrastructure required to ensure they have impact. Indeed, as anchor institutions within their communities, universities have a responsibility to harness their knowledge and resources to benefit society.”

Maine says scientists and researchers are being called on to play a much more active role in translating their inventions into practice to address crises such as responding to COVID-19, global warming and food scarcity.

Sarah Lubik, executive director of the Chang Institute for Entrepreneurship and the symposium co-chair, underscored the importance of entrepreneurial training for scientists and researchers as they take on those challenges, while confronting the stereotype that entrepreneurship can’t be taught.

"The entrepreneurial mindset is in everyone, but needs to be unleashed, which means we need programs tailored to this space and to create supportive communities that help us push forward into difficult spaces,” she says.

A PhD mentoring session during the symposium ensured the next generation of scholars was supported by thought-leaders and academic mentors. The Discovery Foundation Tech4Impact program offered student engagement opportunities, which included  volunteer opportunities for SFU students. Alumni from SFU’s invention to innovation (i2I) commercialization program hosted ‘creative coffee” networking breakouts. The symposium also included an announcement about the launch of the Mitacs i2I innovation skills program in Ontario, with Queen’s University as the lead Ontario partner.

Impacts of the symposium didn’t end when it closed. Future research and collaboration is expected to be driven by outcomes from the symposium and a white paper, expected by the end of 2020, will provide a road map for future partnerships and studies.