The Industrial Research Assistance Program-Innovative Solutions Canada COVID-19 Challenge Program


The Industrial Research Assistance Program (NRC IRAP)-Innovative Solutions Canada (ISC) COVID‑19 Challenge Program leverages existing government programs and activities to meet COVID‑19-related needs.

About the program

NRC IRAP is collaborating with Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada's (ISED) Innovative Solutions Canada (ISC) program to post challenges seeking near-to-market solutions from small and medium-sized businesses (i.e., fewer than 500 staff) that require financial support to refine and sell their product or solution to meet a COVID‑19-related need.

NRC IRAP works with more than 8,000 small and medium-sized businesses every year through its cross-Canada network of 255 industrial technology advisors and provides over $300 million in support to more than 3,000 technology development projects annually.

Created in 2017, ISC is supported by 20 federal organizations that post challenges to industry to respond to different areas of research and development (R&D) interest. These challenges are evolving as a result of government organizations like the Public Health Agency of Canada and Health Canada working together to address the most pressing COVID‑19 needs. This collaboration is essential to establish challenges corresponding to the needs of healthcare providers to deal with COVID‑19.

IRAP ISC COVID‑19 Challenge Program by the numbers

Long description follows.
Long description of IRAP ISC COVID‑19 Challenge Program by the numbers
  • NRC IRAP and ISC have launched 3 COVID‑19 challenges so far, including:
    • Low-cost sensor system for COVID‑19 patient monitoring (April 5 to 21, 2020)
    • Point-of-care and home diagnostic kit for COVID‑19 (April 5 to 21, 2020)
    • Made-in-Canada filtration material for the manufacture of N95 respirators and surgical masks (April 7 to 17, 2020)

Project spotlight: Funding Canadian key enablers to develop diagnostic kits for COVID-19

To fight the spread of COVID-19, the Government of Canada is focussed on building capacity in Canada to develop innovative solutions and purchase essential supplies using existing industrial and innovation programs like the Innovative Solutions Canada program.

Canada needs different types of tests to meet the volume and capacity requirements to diagnose infected individuals and understand the spread of COVID-19. Testing must occur in a variety of settings including centralized environments (hospital or testing laboratories) as well as point-of-care settings (local clinics and long-term care homes).

Using the Innovative Solutions Canada (ISC) program, the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) and the National Research Council of Canada (NRC) collaborated to launch the "Point-of-Care Diagnostic Kit for COVID-19" challenge— seeking a solution from Canadian small and medium-sized businesses.

The NRC is investing nearly $1.2 million dollars to support 4 companies working on a solution:

  • Deep Biologics Inc. is receiving $300,000 to develop a palm-sized, portable device that detects viral protein of the SARS-CoV-2 virus in saliva, with results in 20 minutes 
  • Fourien Inc. is receiving $296,500 to develop a low-cost, disposable point-of-care device for rapid detection of SARS-CoV-2, by detecting viral ribonucleic acid (RNA) in saliva, with results in under 5 minutes
  • Metabolic Insights Inc. is receiving $300,000 to adapt an existing device that detects insulin levels in saliva. The new device will detect the presence of the viral protein of SARS-CoV-2 in a small sample of saliva, with results within 15 minutes
  • Nicoya Lifesciences Inc. is receiving $299,190 to develop a rapid, low-cost, easy-to-use device, using ELISA, a proven testing technique. This single-use disposable device will detect the SARS-CoV-2 viral protein in a saliva sample, providing lab-quality results in less than 20 minutes

The saliva of an infected individual contains the COVID-19 virus. A saliva test is less invasive and is therefore preferred over a nasopharyngeal swab or the taking of a blood sample. These companies have proposed new, innovative methods to detect the presence of the COVID-19 virus in saliva.

In response to phase 1 of the challenge, these companies will bring their expertise and R&D capabilities to prove feasibility of their solution for a rapid, single-use testing kit that will diagnose individuals affected by COVID-19 within 3 days of the start of their symptoms using a sample, other than a nasopharyngeal swab. If successful with phase 1 of the challenge, these companies could each receive up to $2M to develop a prototype of their proposed solution.

Project spotlight: Funding innovative made-in-Canada solutions for alternative filtration material

While the world races to find safe, effective therapies and vaccine candidates to treat and prevent COVID-19, the most important thing we can do is protect ourselves from the virus by limiting our contact with people outside our households, washing our hands, wearing a mask while out in public, and avoiding touching our faces. Those working on the front lines of the pandemic response, like health care workers, provide critical services to our communities and rely on personal protective equipment (PPE), along with strict hygiene protocols, to keep themselves—and others around them—safe. N95 respirators and surgical face masks are important examples of PPE used to keep airborne particles and droplet hazards from contaminating the user's face and potentially exposing them to the virus.

To help create and maintain capacity to manufacture these essential items in Canada, the National Research Council of Canada (NRC), facilitated by the NRC Industrial Research Assistance Program (NRC IRAP) and Innovative Solutions Canada, challenged small and medium-sized businesses to come up with innovative solutions for alternative filtration material that could be sourced and made in large quantities here in Canada, and used to produce N95 respirators and surgical masks for our many front-line workers across the country. Now, NRC IRAP is investing over $200,000 to support 3 companies working on solutions to this important challenge:

  • Stedfast Inc. is receiving $32,570 to develop washable masks with barrier properties, and a prototype N95 respirator, surgical mask, and community mask
  • Roswell Downhole Technologies is receiving $70,253 for rapid reconfiguration of plastic extrusion equipment to manufacture N95 filter material
  • Performance BioFilaments Inc. is receiving $102,524 to develop novel cellulose-based filtration material for N95 respirators and surgical masks that are either recyclable or compostable

This funding will help these companies further their research and development to prove the feasibility of their ideas. The projects will then be evaluated for Phase 2 funding to develop a working prototype, with the goal of scaling up the production of filtration materials for respirators and masks by late summer.

Working with small and medium-sized businesses to find COVID‑19 solutions

In addition to the IRAP-ISC COVID‑19 Challenge Program, NRC IRAP launched an initiative to invite small and medium-sized businesses to register their technology to assist Canada's COVID‑19 response, and participate in virtual "pitch sessions" to present their business, technology, and ideas to a panel of experts from federal and provincial governments. This initiative helped companies align their efforts to ongoing Government of Canada activities, seek funding support from existing relevant funding programs or secure NRC IRAP research and development funding.

Participating companies presented solutions in the following areas:

  • sanitization
  • disease tracking
  • therapeutics
  • diagnostics and testing
  • personal protective equipment
  • patient monitoring and tracking

NRC IRAP COVID‑19 success stories

NRC IRAP is proud to have supported many innovative Canadian small and medium-sized businesses who are working hard to find solutions to our most urgent COVID‑19 needs. Find out more about what they have been up to.

All hands on deck - responding to Canada's need for sanitizer (Acenzia Inc.)


With support from NRC IRAP, Acenzia Inc. of Tecumseh, Ontario, was able to quickly respond to COVID-19 supply shortages by producing much-needed hand sanitizer. Already well versed in product development and advanced manufacturing for the nutraceutical industry, the company turned to NRC IRAP for strategic advice to quickly expand their product line and source an ethanol producer to secure their supply chain.

Acenzia also participated in NRC IRAP's COVID-19 virtual pitch sessions—an opportunity for Canadian businesses to present their technologies to a panel of experts from across government, align their offerings with different COVID-19 response needs, and seek available funding support from interested parties. As a result, the company was able to secure accelerated funding from NRC IRAP to ramp up their hand sanitizer production. With this support, Acenzia has increased its production from 12,500 litres per month up to 400,000 litres per month and is investing in additional equipment to increase manufacturing capacity. Acenzia now has over $5 million in pre-orders for their product and are in talks with major Canadian grocery and pharmacy retailers and distributors.

"Strategic advice and funding from NRC IRAP has enabled us to quickly adapt our operations to join the fight against COVID-19. With this support, we have been able to significantly ramp up production of much-needed hand sanitizer to help keep Canadians safe and expand into a new market."

Indrajit Sinha Ph.D., Co-President/Co-Founder Acenzia Inc.

Producing face shields for healthcare workers (MacKenzie Atlantic)

As an expert in precision manufacturing, design and metal fabrication, MacKenzie Atlantic of Musquodoboit Harbour, Nova Scotia, was well positioned to answer the call for Canadian-made products to help in the fight against COVID-19.  In only a few shorts weeks, the company expanded its operations to include the design and manufacture of face shields for healthcare workers. NRC IRAP played a role in facilitating this journey, providing guidance on safety and effectiveness testing, as well as the process of applying for a medical device establishment license (MDEL)—a necessary step for any company to sell or import any class of medical device in Canada. This support was provided through 2 NRC IRAP subject expert teams (SET) - the Regulatory SET and the Personal Protective Equipment SET - which were established to help Canadian businesses respond to COVID-19 in key priority areas. MacKenzie Atlantic received Health Canada approval and is now ready to deliver on supply contracts for up to 1.5 million face shields to Canadian healthcare workers.

"Thanks to the support of NRC IRAP, we were able to easily navigate the regulatory requirements needed to expand our operations and quickly produce Canadian-made solutions to protect front-line healthcare personnel working through the COVID-19 pandemic."

Matthew MacKenzie, Owner, MacKenzie Atlantic

Decontaminating medical personal protective equipment (Clēan Works Inc.)


Photo credit: The Perley and Rideau Veterans' Health Centre

NRC IRAP provided support to Clēan Works Inc. to help it adapt its technology to meet new needs arising from the COVID‑19 pandemic. This support enabled the company to produce the Clēan Flow Healthcare Mini, a device used to decontaminate medical personal protective equipment which has been proven to kill 99.99% of a surrogate for COVID‑19 on disposable filtering face masks.

The NRC purchased 20 Clēan Flow Healthcare Mini devices to evaluate in Canada's healthcare system as part of a study under the NRC Pandemic Response Challenge Program. Visit the Clēan Works project spotlight to learn more.

Expanding production to include health and medical personal protective equipment (Top Dog Manufacturing)


A long-time producer of protective clothing for the food manufacturing industry, Top Dog Manufacturing (TDM), Prince Edward Island's 2018 Exporter of the Year, looked to NRC IRAP for advisory services and funding to expand its operations to add a line of certified health and medical personal protective equipment for frontline healthcare workers.

With NRC IRAP's support, the firm has been able to hire additional expertise, connect with technical and regulatory experts, validate the structural integrity of their products, and adopt new manufacturing processes to expand their operations. Advice from the company's NRC IRAP industrial technology advisor allowed TDM to prepare a business model for financial growth and explore new opportunities to test their products. TDM is now focussing on producing medical gowns which meet Health Canada regulations for use in the context of COVID-19, and they've added more shifts to address demand for their product.

"Support from NRC IRAP and its experts has been invaluable, providing us with the right advice and contacts as we branch out and expand into the manufacturing of medical gowns to help Canada respond to the COVID-19 pandemic."

Doug LeClair, Chief Executive Officer, Top Dog Manufacturing

NRC IRAP pitch sessions by the numbers

Long description follows.
Long description of NRC IRAP pitch sessions by the numbers
  • NRC IRAP facilitated 23 virtual e-pitch sessions from April 1, through April 17, 2020
  • 76 firms participated in these sessions and were invited to present their solutions
  • Approximately 150 representatives from federal and provincial government departments and agencies participated in these sessions