History of NRC IRAP

NRC IRAP to be integrated into the new Canada Innovation Corporation (CIC)

Learn more

On February 16, 2023, the Government of Canada announced that the National Research Council of Canada Industrial Research Assistance Program (NRC IRAP) will be integrated into the new Canada Innovation Corporation (CIC). The CIC will be a new, operationally independent organization solely dedicated to supporting business R&D across all regions and all sectors of the economy.

The transfer of IRAP will happen after an interim period of approximately 24 months, during which IRAP will remain part of the NRC. During this period, every effort will be made to ensure continuity of program delivery for clients and operational stability for staff. Existing funding agreements will continue and new agreements can be signed.

IRAP employees will continue to work directly with clients, under a business-as-usual approach, to ensure a smooth transition. Please contact your IRAP representative directly if you have questions or are seeking more information.

Contact us

Call us toll-free at 1-877-994-4727 to learn more about NRC IRAP.

Please note the NRC is committed to providing a respectful and harassment-free workplace. No inappropriate behaviour, aggression, harassment, or foul language towards our employees will be tolerated. All conversations with anyone behaving in this manner will be immediately terminated.


Innovation beyond borders – NRC IRAP's expanding international programs

In 2010, the proliferation of technology was impacting all industries and intensifying global market competition, which meant Canadian firms needed to leverage innovation programs and support like never before. During this decade, the Government of Canada committed to advancing industrial research and development (R&D) and linking Canadian innovators to global value chains and research networks. To further this commitment, the government announced additional funding for NRC IRAP so the program could double its support to innovative small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

By this time, NRC IRAP had already established a strong reputation for strengthening business- led R&D and had industrial technology advisors (ITAs) with extensive international market experience. Expanding NRC IRAP's programs to help more firms grow beyond Canadian borders through co-innovation was the next logical step in the evolution of the program.

In 2012, NRC IRAP International was formed with the goal of stimulating the growth of SMEs through international collaboration. Growth was not simply defined as penetrating a new or foreign market, but as providing opportunities for Canadian firms to participate in a more integrated global economy, co-developing with foreign partners, and facilitating their access to global value chains and new international markets.

A key step in building a network of international support for SMEs was to join Eureka, the largest international collaboration network for industrial R&D which brings together innovation agencies supporting business co-innovation from over 45 economies in Europe and beyond. In 2012, the same year NRC IRAP International was established, Canada joined Eureka as an associate member with NRC managing Canada's participation in the network. This unique and powerful platform has made it easier for Canadian innovators to accelerate their growth through access to global value chains and collaboration with international partners.

NRC IRAP also began working closely with partners at Global Affairs Canada (GAC). Combining the foreign market expertise and networks of GAC with the Canadian market expertise of NRC IRAP led to the two joining forces in 2015 to co-deliver the Canadian International Innovation Program (CIIP). CIIP continues to be an important program in facilitating R&D collaboration opportunities for Canadian companies with partners from countries such as Brazil, India, South Korea and Israel.

Since joining Eureka in 2012, NRC IRAP has facilitated hundreds of successful co-innovation opportunities for Canadian SMEs, including more than 300 participants in projects with over 600 partners from 34 countries with a total project value of 400 million Euros. Based on this continued success and high-level of participation, in June 2022 Canada was officially invited by Eureka to become a full member in the innovation network. This is an important milestone for Canada, being one of the first non-European countries to be granted full member status. While Canada has participated in Eureka for 10 years as an associate member, full membership allows Canada to be an active participant in the future of Eureka and create even more opportunities for Canadian innovators to work with international partners.

NRC IRAP International started out with only a few projects and a modest budget, led by a small team of NRC employees working part-time on international efforts. Today, NRC IRAP International has grown to a staff of 21 full-time employees and an annual budget of over $30 million. Co-innovation and enhanced cooperation among countries leads to better research results, as well as a more robust pathway to commercializing innovative R&D. The team continues to work with GAC in organizing partnership development activities, multinational consortiums and delivering other programs to help Canadian SMEs seek out international opportunities. NRC IRAP International supports innovation, growth and competitiveness of Canadian SMEs through both large-scale complex co-innovation projects within Eureka and smaller co-innovation projects in collaboration with counterpart foreign innovation agencies in large economies. To further enhance international relationships and collaborations, the NRC has established a presence in Munich, Germany and in Tokyo, Japan.

NRC IRAP has remained dedicated to building stronger ties with its partners to open more doors and find more international opportunities for Canadian SME innovation abroad. The program will always seek to evolve to meet the needs of private industry and to ensure that Canadian SMEs have the opportunity for broader and more impactful market participation today and into the future.

NRC IRAP in the 2020s – a pandemic pivot

2020 heralded a new time of challenges and opportunities, not only for Canadians but for the entire world. It began under the shadow of an emerging virus, later declared a global pandemic by the World Health Organization on March 11, 2020. The National Research Council of Canada Industrial Research Assistance Program (NRC IRAP), which has always drawn strength and agility from its dedicated workforce, quickly mobilized to support the Government of Canada-wide response to COVID-19.

The NRC IRAP team of approximately 450 individuals stepped up and came together in remarkable ways, swiftly adapting to a new way of working. Employees worked from home and adopted new digital and virtual tools to ensure continued program delivery and support to SME clients. Protocols were created to allow industrial technology advisors (ITAs) to continue critical site visits to clients, along with facilitating contact tracing and timely notification, should exposure to COVID-19 arise. Learning through its own experience, NRC IRAP also provided advisory services to SMEs on how to shift operations from a physical to a virtual work environment, providing webinars and direct consultations reaching thousands of businesses across Canada.

Collaborating with other government departments, industry partners, academia and other stakeholders, NRC IRAP was able to assist Canadian SMEs in overcoming hurdles to find new solutions to help safeguard Canadians not only during the pandemic but for future emergency preparedness.

During this time, NRC IRAP led 7 COVID-specific challenges through the Government of Canada's Innovative Solution Canada (ISC) program. This initiative provided financial support that helped Canadian SMEs develop, test and market solutions focused on urgent pandemic-related needs. Between 2020 and 2021 alone, NRC IRAP provided $8 million in funding to 17 firms to support 23 COVID-specific projects through ISC.

To further address pandemic challenges, NRC IRAP also established 9 distinct Subject Expert teams (SETs) in the areas of: testing and diagnostics, swabs, personal protective equipment, sanitizers and sanitization, ventilators and intubation, vaccine and therapeutics as well as finance and regulatory. Through these teams, NRC IRAP supported many COVID response projects, everything from producing much-needed hand sanitizers to new COVID testing kits to vaccine and therapeutic candidate development.

NRC IRAP also provided income support for thousands of jobs through the delivery of the Innovation Assistance Program, a temporary wage-subsidy program to support innovative Canadian SMEs impacted by the pandemic. NRC IRAP provided over $390 million in wage subsidies that helped over 2,200 SMEs maintain more than 26,000 jobs in Canada. In addition to saving jobs, it allowed companies to continue their operations to get their products and services to market.

Alongside these pandemic efforts, the delivery of regular NRC IRAP continued, as did providing students and recent graduates with opportunities to gain professional work experience through the Youth Employment program.

Today, NRC IRAP continues to collaborate with its network of government, industry, academic and other partners to ensure that Canadian SMEs continue to conduct R&D, innovate, accelerate their growth, address domestic and global challenges, and explore the opportunities of a post-pandemic economy.

NRC IRAP in the 2010s – going digital and global

At the beginning of the 2010s, the National Research Council of Canada Industrial Research Assistance Program (NRC IRAP) continued to deliver strong economic benefits to Canadian innovators and the national economy. According to the 2012 NRC IRAP evaluation, the program had a significant impact on Canada's labour market, creating and supporting employment within the range of 6,900 to 10,700 jobs per year over a 5 year period, 80% of which were R&D positions.

Over the decade, the program continued evolving to ensure success for Canadian small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) by adding new programming to meet emerging needs. Part of this evolution included the delivery of a new Concierge Program across the country. This service provided SMEs with one single point of access to the full range of government programs and innovation support services available to SMEs. Working in collaboration with federal and provincial partners, concierge services provided customized guidance to help SMEs identify "best fit" opportunities and guide them toward the appropriate resources and programs available to help support their innovation.

In 2011, NRC IRAP launched the Digital Technology Adoption Pilot Program (DTAPP) to deliver on the ground support to accelerate information and communications technology adoption and investment in Canada. The goal was to help Canadian SMEs integrate business systems software that improved efficiencies, ensured quality, reduced time to market and increased sales. Systems such as robotics and automation for plant manufacturing and customer relationship management software were proving to have many benefits for businesses, from lowering production costs to improving customer experience. At the time, Canadian firms were lagging behind other countries in their productivity and needed to bolster their capacity to compete in new and global markets. NRC IRAP helped hundreds of SMEs digitally integrate and align their plant and business operations.

Alongside DTAPP, other pilot programs were being delivered at this time, including the Business Innovation Access Program (BIAP), the Canada Accelerator and Incubator Program (CAIP) and the HIV Technology and Vaccine Development program. From 2012 to 2016 NRC IRAP invested $118.1M in these pilot programs and $750M through core IRAP. Together these funded projects saw firms increase their technical capabilities, their productivity and their competitiveness.

In 2012, NRC IRAP also evolved to include a dedicated NRC IRAP international team to provide direct support to Canadian SMEs with global interest, by connecting them with advice, funding, export, and innovation services to access new markets and global value chains. It was at this time that Canada joined Eureka - an international network for industrial R&D collaboration. Working with NRC's International Relations Office, NRC IRAP also began delivering CanExport and the Canadian International Innovation Program (CIIP) jointly with Global Affairs Canada –it was during this decade that NRC IRAP began playing a lead role in connecting Canadian SMEs with opportunities across a network of global economies.

NRC IRAP excelled at program delivery throughout this decade and from 2017 to 2021 was demonstrating a net benefit of $16 billion over the cost of the program. In 2018, NRC IRAP was identified as one of the Government of Canada's flagship innovation support programs. At this time, NRC IRAP's funding was increased to enable support for even larger research and development projects up to a threshold of $10 million, positioning the program to help more SMEs overcome scale-up challenges and successfully bring Canadian innovations into both domestic and global markets.

In 2019 NRC IRAP delivered 12,381 advisory services, funded 3,541 firms and supported 15,662 jobs with firms demonstrating a 27% increase in revenues and an 18% increase in their labour force. NRC IRAP was expanding both its program and its reach helping more Canadian businesses to grow, innovate, and export.

NRC IRAP in the 2000s – a new millennia

At the beginning of the new millennium, NRC IRAP played a critical role in bringing together key players in the Canadian innovation ecosystem. By forging extensive networks, NRC IRAP served as a catalyst for providing entrepreneurs with a more holistic support system, from linking them to the right local sources of financing, to specialized R&D expertise, to technology brokers and technology transfer centres. These networks also extended beyond Canadian borders to include international technology partnering missions and other collaborations on the global stage.

In the early 2000s, Technology Partnerships Canada (TPC), a special operating agency of Industry Canada, joined forces with NRC IRAP to expand support to small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) across Canada. Leveraging NRC IRAP's network, this initiative stimulated technology development for SMEs, specifically in aerospace, environment, advanced materials, biotechnology, information technology and advanced manufacturing sectors. From 2000 to 2001, the NRC IRAP-TPC portfolio consisted of 77 projects totalling over $25 million in investments and by March 31, 2002, the joint initiative supported 266 projects with a total investment of more than $99 million. This initiative allocated funds to key players in the innovation space and contributed to Canada's success in the global market.

During this time NRC IRAP was also delivering its regular program alongside the joint initiative with TPC. NRC IRAP's total investment in 2000-2001 was over $93 million in R&D funding directly to 3,382 businesses, including the $25 million in NRC IRAP-TPC support. Through delivery of both programs NRC IRAP continued to help businesses build innovation through expert advisory services aimed at: increasing skills, knowledge, technical competencies and innovation; developing efficient management practices; improving financial performance, and enhancing linkages to expertise.

NRC IRAP in the 1990s – the age of collaboration

By the start of the 1990s, the National Research Council of Canada Industrial Research Assistance Program (NRC IRAP) had established an effective model for how to deploy government innovation assistance to industry. NRC IRAP became well known among Canada's small and medium-sized business community, industry groups and within government, including the National Advisory Board on Science and Technology.

During the 90s, innovation in Canada was increasingly driven by regional and community-based systems. Consequently, efforts to strengthen the national innovation ecosystem recognized the importance of geographic concentrations, technology clusters and local initiatives. It became vital for NRC IRAP to further its presence from coast-to-coast-to-coast. In response, the program expanded its Industrial Technology Advisor (ITA) network from 75 to 225 advisors, and also focused on collaboration with industrial, academic and other government partners, to help Canada develop and leverage key technologies.

As part of its collaborative efforts, NRC IRAP explored partnering projects with technology transfer and regional R&D funding agencies; this included working with the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA), the former Société de development industriel du Québec and the British Columbia Ministry of Advanced Education, Training and Technology. This led to a program strategy based on research partnerships and collaborations and on providing advisory services for pre-commercialization support aimed at near-market development of new technological products.

Throughout the 1990s, NRC IRAP's strategy took on a more assertive entrepreneurial approach. Efforts focused on knowledge transfer to Canadian-based firms, so they could leverage technology to develop or improve internal processes, establish technical activities or solve technical issues. At the time, NRC IRAP was delivering a significant number of advisory services to firms—12,000 in 1995 alone—and it was recognized as a model for success in encouraging the use of technology in industry.

NRC IRAP in the 1980s – delivering the right mix of expertise across Canada

By 1980, the National Research Council of Canada Industrial Research Assistance Program (NRC IRAP) had cultivated a strong reputation for helping industries leverage existing and established technologies, as well as supporting research to discover and develop innovative new technology solutions. NRC IRAP began the 1980s with 3 distinct programs. The first was a cost sharing program to pay salaries of R&D staff. The second was an employment program to enable firms to hire on new students in science and engineering. The third was a "small projects" program, which was created in response to the growing number of smaller Canadian companies who wanted to undertake R&D activities.

To meet the increased need for innovation support across Canada, the 1980s saw a significant shift in the way NRC IRAP delivered its advisory services. Between 1962 and 1982, advisory services were almost exclusively delivered from staff located at NRC offices in Ottawa. The program realized that it could maximize both accessibility and reach by embedding its Industrial Technology Advisors (ITAs) in local communities across Canada. As a result, in 1982, NRC IRAP established its ITA field services in 16 locations across Canada to provide guidance on industrial engineering methods and techniques to improve production. ITA field staff would visit companies to gather data, assess operations and then provide guidance and solutions on how best to overcome innovation challenges. Furthermore, field staff could also help companies access other NRC programs and services.

1982 also saw another addition to NRC IRAP's advisory capacity with the formation of its Technical Assistance Group, a team consisting of engineers and scientists with industry experience. Their purpose was to respond to clients and to NRC IRAP field staff to help address complex technical queries. The team was located within the NRC's Canada Institute for Scientific and Technical Information (CISTI) and was embedded within a large network of technological and scientific resources both within Canada and internationally. This provided Canadian companies with access to a vast network of knowledge and resources to support their business needs.

Over the course of the 1980s, NRC IRAP evolved into a robust program offering a new level of support and expertise to help Canadian companies succeed. In 1985, the program introduced new technology to 4,300 firms and responded to more than 7,000 technical enquiries. In the following fiscal year, NRC IRAP contributed $70M in R&D funding support to Canadian companies, which resulted in 12,000 full time jobs, $1.5B in new sales and $500M in GDP. By the end of the 1980s, NRC IRAP grew in size and scale, offering 11 different programs and pilot initiatives to help advance technology development in Canada and help pull its small and medium-sized businesses to the forefront on innovation.

NRC IRAP in the 1970s - expanding innovation support for Canada's evolving industry landscape

By the 1970s, the benefits to industry derived from the National Research Council of Canada Industrial Research Assistance Program (NRC IRAP) were becoming increasingly apparent. The number of research positions the program helped to establish across industry continued to grow, offering more employment opportunities for scientists and engineers across Canada. Improvements were also being seen in terms of the growth of technological competency and capacity of NRC IRAP-supported firms, through an increase in the number of new research and development projects being undertaken.

The 1970s also saw a growing trend of research occurring within smaller Canadian companies, who recognized a need to undertake R&D in order to be successful. Over the course of the decade, more than 50% of NRC IRAP funding was allocated to projects for small and medium-sized businesses. Thirty-six percent of total funding went to small companies with less than 200 employees, 19% to medium-sized companies with over 200 employees, and 45% to large companies with over 1000 employees. While NRC IRAP provided support across all industries, companies within the electrical and electronics industry received the largest share (23%). This trend represented a significant development in Canadian industry—one that recognized the growing potential of high tech industries.

By the end of the decade, NRC IRAP expanded to include 2 different funding streams. These new offerings ran alongside the original cost-sharing NRC IRAP program, which covered salary costs of staff working on approved research projects, and contributed as much as 40% of the total project costs. One of the new streams was known as the Science and Engineering Student Program, which enabled firms to hire on summer students to contribute to their scientific and technical goals, in turn helping students gain valuable job experience in the innovation sector. The other stream was born of the increasing number of small businesses wanting to engage in first-time R&D through smaller-scale research projects. NRC IRAP was making the shift to support smaller firms and smaller projects.

NRC IRAP was approaching a new era, one that sought to expand innovation support to Canada's burgeoning small businesses across the nation. Innovation was no longer just reserved for large or well-established businesses—it was becoming more accessible to the broader business community and an essential stepping stone to success.

NRC IRAP in the 1960s - building research capacity in Canada

In 1962, the Technical Information Service (TIS) program was formally renamed as the National Research Council of Canada Industrial Research Assistance Program (NRC IRAP). At the time, the program's main purpose was to assist industry in becoming more competitive and innovative by promoting the adoption by industry of research and development teams. NRC IRAP continued to provide its hallmark advisory services, but also expanded to include the addition of financial assistance. NRC IRAP provided grant funding to industry to undertake private research in the same way that universities received grants for research. The financial assistance was on a matching basis, with companies contributing at least half the cost of any research project.

As a result of NRC IRAP's evolved offerings, Canadian scientific and industrial activity increased substantially in the 1960s. Between 1963 and 1965, NRC IRAP was responsible for establishing and sustaining 1 in 3 of all new Canadian industrial research jobs. By 1969, the program supported 415 companies to raise the level of their R&D commitments, which resulted in many positive outcomes.

Companies got on board with capital investments in research facilities and increased their annual operating budgets to include the capacity for research and development. Tangible results appeared in the form of published papers, patents and many innovative new products being created by Canadian firms. Reports from companies receiving NRC IRAP support during this time noted significant improvements in existing products and processes, and the successful development of new products. The number of small and medium-sized companies new to research was growing in Canada and with it came a demand for more scientific and technical talent.

NRC IRAP in the 1940s and 1950s - bolstering the post-war industrial economy

The National Research Council of Canada Industrial Research Assistance Program (NRC IRAP) traces its roots back to 1947 when its precursor, the Technical Information Service (TIS), was transferred by the Government of Canada to the care of the NRC. The purpose was to provide manufacturers with a point of contact to easily access scientific data, particularly as it pertained to manufacturing processes and the uses of new materials.

TIS was charged with providing these advisory services to industry with the goal of bolstering the post-war industrial economy. From the beginning, TIS was demonstrating impact for Canadian industry. Even while establishing its network, in its first year TIS received 3,657 enquiries from Canadian entrepreneurs and 4,430 enquiries in 1948.

There were many requests for information to address industry problems. It was not uncommon for an individual to make multiple enquiries, the feedback was that these individuals found the advice provided by TIS for a previous enquiry considerably helpful.

It was clear that having a central office in Ottawa was not going to be enough to service growing industry demands, so in the early 1950s, regional TIS representatives were located in field offices covering all major industrial areas across Canada. This was accomplished with provincial support, reaching agreements with provincial research organizations.

Over the course of the 1950s, TIS provided support to Canadian industry on a number of innovative projects including:

  • the use of water for canning vegetables and fruits
  • the use of propane as a fuel for automotive engines
  • the welding of stainless steel

As the decade of the 1950s drew to a close, one thing was certain: there was a strong appetite for specialized support for Canada's burgeoning innovation sectors.

NRC IRAP foundations to current services

Post Second World War, the Canadian government feared a repeat of the 1930s Great Depression and focussed its efforts on the conversion of military technology and know-how to commercial applications. In response to government priorities, the Technical Information Service (TIS) was established. TIS was charged with keeping the small manufacturing industry alive and growing in post-war Canada.

Technical advice

What started out as a small network of technically skilled employees, mainly responsible for answering technical inquiries from Canadian firms, evolved into more of a proactive advisory service. Initially introduced under the Department of Reconstruction and Supply, TIS was later transferred to the National Research Council of Canada (NRC), as it was believed the program could benefit from the NRC's background and resources to provide scientific and technical information to industry.

NRC IRAP R&D funding

In the 1960s, the NRC shifted its focus on science in Canadian industry and at that time the government authorized the NRC to assist firms with funding to expand their industrially based R&D. It was during this time that TIS was renamed the National Research Council of Canada Industrial Research Assistance Program (NRC IRAP), which became the only program of its kind to provide direct financial support for research performed by Canadian firms.

Today's NRC IRAP

Initially, the information service provided by TIS and the funding assistance to firms were operated separately by the NRC. In 1981, NRC IRAP as we know it, combined proactive advisory assistance and shared-cost projects under one strategic service. This model continues to this day, with NRC IRAP providing Canadian small and medium-sized businesses with advisory services, financial assistance and connections to the best business and R&D expertise to help them innovate and grow. In 2020–2021 alone, NRC IRAP assisted over 9,300 firms.

Evolving program and new initiatives

Over time, NRC IRAP introduced new initiatives to better support client firms and program delivery. Advances included the decentralization of offices across the country in the late 1970s to 1980s to facilitate field advisory services, the ongoing evolution of organizational structure to meet emerging needs for program implementation and administration, and the renewal and expansion of program offerings such as the addition of international collaboration initiatives.

NRC IRAP International

Since 2013, a suite of NRC IRAP International program offerings have been developed to connect Canadian SMEs with the funding, international linkages, advisory, export and innovation support services they need to access new markets and global value chains. NRC IRAP International also manages Canada's participation in Eureka—the world's largest public network for international cooperation in R&D and innovation, present in over 45 countries. Integrating with the Eureka network serves to maximize benefits for Canadian SMEs, providing them with access to technology, expertise and markets in Europe and beyond.

Youth Employment Program

The concept of a student hiring program started in Quebec in the 1970s and has since grown into a national Youth Employment Program (YEP) which NRC IRAP delivers under the Government of Canada's Youth Employment and Skills Strategy. Under the program, NRC IRAP provides funding assistance to Canadian SMEs to support the hiring of young Canadian post-secondary graduates. In fiscal year 2020–2021, NRC IRAP supported close to 900 youth employment opportunities.

Responding to COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has called on every facet of the NRC. Through new initiatives such as the NRC IRAP Innovative Solutions Canada COVID-19 Challenge Program, NRC IRAP has awarded up to $14.4 million in funding across 13 different challenges to date to Canadian innovators to help combat COVID-19. In addition, NRC IRAP has and continues to invest in a number of Canadian SMEs to support government-wide efforts to strengthen Canada's domestic PPE manufacturing capacity, create made-in-Canada diagnostic test kits, and advance early-stage R&D of Canadian vaccine and therapeutic candidates to prevent and treat COVID-19.

The NRC received additional funding to develop and launch the NRC IRAP Innovation Assistance Program (IAP), a temporary wage-subsidy program to support innovative Canadian SMEs in the midst of the pandemic. NRC IRAP adapted quickly to the unprecedented demand, providing over $370 million in wage subsidies that helped over 2,200 SMEs maintain more than 26,000 jobs.

No matter the challenge, NRC IRAP has consistently evolved to meet the shifting and emerging needs of the nation—a winning model that has driven Canadian innovation and the continued success of the Program for nearly 75 years!