NRC IRAP celebrates 75 years of innovation

Empowering entrepreneurship and innovation in Canada

The National Research Council of Canada Industrial Research Assistance Program (NRC IRAP) has proudly supported and enabled Canadian innovation since 1947. As NRC IRAP celebrates its 75th anniversary in 2022, we are looking back across the decades to highlight the program's impact and successes in inspiring and supporting Canadian entrepreneurs.

The 75th anniversary is an opportunity to highlight how NRC IRAP has evolved through time to become a leader in Canada's innovation space. Throughout the year we will commemorate the program, celebrate the employees and clients, and continue to cultivate innovation for the future.

Today, NRC IRAP provides technical and business advisory services, linkages to industry-specific business expertise, access to R&D expertise and financial support to help Canadian small and medium-sized businesses build their innovation capacity and successfully take their ideas to market.

NRC IRAP has a proud history of helping Canadian firms increase their innovation capacity and competitiveness, both at home and abroad.

Keep visiting this page to learn more about the rich history of the program and to hear from the people behind the program!

Words of welcome

Message from Iain Stewart, NRC President

Iain Stewart

January 18, 2022, marks the 75th anniversary of the National Research Council of Canada Industrial Research Assistance Program (NRC IRAP). Throughout the coming year, we will celebrate the program's history and contributions to the Canadian innovation landscape by showcasing firms and their success stories, and highlighting the dedicated work of the NRC IRAP team.

Created to expand industrial research capacity and to support entrepreneurs, NRC IRAP has been instrumental to Canada's growth. Through the decades, it has built dynamic connections between science and technology to support innovative Canadian small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) in Canada. SMEs are the backbone of our communities as major employers and drivers of the economy at the local and national levels.

NRC IRAP has expanded substantially over the past 75 years. In 2020-21 alone, the program provided assistance to to 8,000 firms. Through the program's ongoing collaborations with other government departments and external stakeholders, it will continue to address some of Canada's biggest innovation challenges and opportunities, from the development of clean technologies to help address climate change, to fostering the development of transformative technologies to enable, protect and safeguard Canadians and many others across the world.

Most recently, NRC IRAP quickly mobilized during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic to deliver $250 million to support more than 26,000 SME jobs, which is helping to protect the next generation of Canadian SMEs. NRC IRAP's efforts gave Canadian SMEs an opportunity to emerge from the pandemic poised for future growth and prosperity.

The value delivered through NRC IRAP programs and services is a reflection of the quality and calibre of our staff. My thanks and congratulations to the entire NRC IRAP team.

Message from David Lisk, Vice-President, NRC IRAP

David Lisk

On January 18, 2022, the National Research Council of Canada Industrial Research Assistance Program (NRC IRAP) will celebrate 75 years as a program. NRC IRAP has adapted and evolved over time to help Canada's small and medium-sized businesses meet the needs and challenges of the day, thereby keeping the program relevant through the decades. A significant part of remaining relevant is the talented team behind the program who have both the ability and agility to adapt as needed. This was certainly demonstrated at the onset of, and throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

The team at NRC IRAP rose to the COVID-19 challenge to work and deliver new programs and services in different ways. We supported 120 pandemic response projects—everything from manufacturing hand sanitizers, to developing vaccines therapeutics and COVID-19 testing kits. We delivered nearly triple the amount of project funding to Canadian firms as compared to previous years. Every individual who makes up the NRC IRAP team has made a significant contribution to sustaining Canadian companies and safeguarding Canadians throughout the pandemic.

Today, with a national network of more than 460 employees in 110 locations across Canada, NRC IRAP continues to deliver programs and services to assist small and medium-sized businesses in growing, scaling up and expanding into global markets.

Thank you to our many wonderful clients for working with us, and for your trust and collaboration in advancing Canadian innovation over the past 75 years, and my sincerest appreciation and congratulations to our dedicated and talented NRC IRAP staff, past and present, who have made this program the success it is today.

Anniversary spotlight


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IRAP at 75: a proud past, a bright future

Since its origins in 1947 to present day, the National Research Council of Canada Industrial Research Assistance Program (NRC IRAP) has evolved to support Canadian innovation. Over the decades, we have been privileged to play a role in supporting so many small and medium-sized businesses, helping them to develop new technologies, support new jobs for Canadians and bring new innovations to market.

This past year, NRC IRAP celebrated 75 years of program delivery and took the occasion to highlight client successes, as well as reflect on the memories and perspectives of being part of the dedicated NRC IRAP team. We have been privileged to support Canadian innovators and entrepreneurs as they work to overcome challenges in developing next-generation technologies and deliver solutions that bring value to our economy, to people and to our planet. We shared some of these stories as a testament to the incredible talent and ingenuity that exist within Canada and we thank NRC IRAP clients over the years for their vision, their perseverance and for blazing the trail for future Canadian entrepreneurs.

The strength behind our program has always been and remains our people. We have a highly skilled and talented team at NRC IRAP dedicated to supporting and empowering Canadian innovation, no matter the challenge of the day. This agility and steadfast dedication have been hallmarks of the program over the course of our 75 year history, and are what has allowed us to stand the test of time.

Canada's innovation support ecosystem is interconnected and built on collaboration. NRC IRAP is privileged to support many facets of Canadian SMEs' business life cycles, from research and development to product marketing, business growth and expansion into foreign markets. We are able to accomplish this because of the relationships we have built with a number of partners like the many regional development agencies across Canada, federal departments, and other stakeholders, both in Canada and abroad.

We are proud to collaborate with a number of academic, research, technology and industry partners, as well as with our colleagues across the NRC. Together, we are working to ensure Canadian businesses have a robust innovation ecosystem to support their needs, enable their growth and to bring innovative solutions to market.

We would like to close our anniversary year by acknowledging our NRC IRAP community of stakeholders, partners and dedicated staff. A powerful program requires a powerful team behind it, and your support has been instrumental to our success. We would also like to thank our clients, for entrusting us to work with you through your innovation journeys. As we look ahead to the future, we build upon our strong foundation to remain Canada's leading innovation assistance program for Canadian SMEs.

Thank you for being an important part of our anniversary year.

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, 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.

Successful endeavours


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Retrospectives and perspectives

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Erin Geary, Manager, Operations and Finance – Pacific

I came to NRC IRAP in 2019, after 25 years of working with a post-secondary institute in fundraising and as a director of advancement services. My current role as a manager of operations and finance (MOF) is similar in many ways. It is about building partnerships within NRC IRAP and across the NRC, to ensure that my team in the Pacific region have what they need to deliver and support our program. I learned quickly that I am surrounded by incredibly experienced and knowledgeable people, and it is important to me that I become just as much a resource to my colleagues as they are to me.

When I first joined NRC IRAP, I attended a leadership forum where our MOF group from across Canada used the opportunity to sit together. As a group, we wanted to ensure we were carrying out the program in a consistent manner across all NRC IRAP regions. The experience was invaluable for me, as I was able to learn from my fellow MOFs, get to know them and build relationships.

It is very satisfying when you like and believe in what your program is trying to achieve. I believe in NRC IRAP's mission which is to identify firms that need help innovating their products and then to help them reach their full potential. I appreciate the clarity of our mission and that we have been successful doing it for a really long time. I know how important it is to be on the "back end" doing my work to support this mission. Being a life-long learner is integral to who I am and to this position. I embrace and enjoy every opportunity to learn, and I'm lucky that I work for a program that not only supports this but encourages it.

Adam Braceland, Industrial Technology Advisor – Ontario

I have been an industrial technology advisor (ITA) for 7 years with NRC IRAP where I have been a member, co-lead and lead for the Mining Sector team. I worked collaboratively on an ecosystem initiative to help develop mining 4.0. The sector team did a great job in helping address some of the key challenges faced by mining multinationals and we did this by employing innovative solutions developed by Canadian SMEs. NRC IRAP helped bridge that gap, fund the ideas, bring the solutions to fruition and commercialize them as quickly as possible.

I have seen many clients embrace the expertise offered by NRC IRAP, an  opportunity to connect, benefit from guidance, advice and a multitude of advisory services. I have watched small companies grow and corporations join forces to collectively tackle larger innovative projects; the result of which has led to one great innovative global reaching project after the next.

By supporting strong and innovative SMEs, NRC IRAP promotes growth not only to firms and their internal capacity to innovate, but also growth for Canada in terms of societal and economic benefits. The most satisfying part of my job as an ITA is watching a company succeed, a company where you tried to make a difference; you made useful connections, you saw a potential issue and provided the right advice at the right time. It is highly rewarding to see that company succeed.

Pamela Presley, Team Lead – Client Inclusiveness

Pamela Presley

I came to NRC IRAP early in my career and have been with the program for over 23 years. I was one of only 3 female industrial technology advisors (ITAs) in my region at the time which heightened my awareness of some of the demographic disparities that exist in the Canadian business landscape. As I began to see various barriers that exist for women in business, it became clear to me that they were not the only group affected. Addressing inequities and barriers is something I have been passionate about for a long time.

When the Client Inclusiveness team was established at NRC IRAP, I knew I wanted to be a part of it. Our mandate is to effect a culture change, so that equity and inclusiveness become more a part of our everyday language and behaviours, and become fully ingrained in the NRC IRAP program. There is much work to be done and our team is dedicated to creating a better NRC IRAP both internally within the organization as well as externally, through our program delivery that touches thousands of clients every year.

I am incredibly proud of the work we do on the Client Inclusiveness team, while at the same time humbled by the real struggles faced by many entrepreneurs. When EDI is embedded into our thoughts and behaviours, we become much richer as a program and better positioned to understand and meet the unique needs of Canada's diverse business communities.

Godwin Liu, Industrial Technology Advisor – Ontario

Godwin Liu

Since 2016, I've had the pleasure of being an NRC IRAP industrial technology advisor (ITA), serving Canadian businesses in the Toronto area. I am a physicist by training, with a Master of Science degree in Medical Imaging, and my career has yielded a wealth of practical experience in software systems development and entrepreneurship. In my first job as a joint-founder in a medical devices company, I learned the value and the difficulties of integrating hardware and software technologies as part of inventing something new. Managing software and technology development for successful start-up, scale-up and business growth, defined my career in industry for over 17 years.

When I learned about NRC IRAP, I was excited by the breadth of support it offers to SMEs. Not only could I continue to provide advice and guidance to firms, but the program also includes the possibility of providing them with financial support. Combined, these resources give companies the edge they need to expedite the development of new technologies and innovations, and I loved that idea. So, I took on the role of an ITA, became a member of NRC IRAP's information and communications technology (ICT) sector team and am currently the go-to expert team lead in artificial intelligence (AI) and big data. Today, I am able to help Canadian SMEs with their digital transformation, so they have the right foundation to apply AI, machine learning and other applications that are needed to be competitive in any industry.

While delivering NRC IRAP over the years, I have contributed to some amazing innovations, and have also been part of some remarkable public service moments. In March 2020, at one of the most uncertain times of the pandemic, our Ontario NRC IRAP team checked in with 1,000 companies to see what their needs and challenges were and to offer support. It was such a fulfilling experience to see the entire team pull together in aide of our clients when they needed it the most. This was happening across all regions in Canada and you could really feel the dedication of the whole of NRC IRAP during this time to support Canadian SMEs.

I am very proud to work for a program that is focused on the success of our clients. I get to work with colleagues across the country who have expertise on different kinds of technology and in a variety of industries. We work together and draw on each other's expertise, not only from a technical standpoint, but also in resolving the pragmatic issues that entrepreneurs face day-to-day in growing their businesses. That is where I think NRC IRAP's special place is within Canada's innovation ecosystem–it's the personal touch. We combine science and technical knowledge with business and market expertise to find and create the best opportunities for our clients.

Sandra Perez Torres, Program Advisor – Division Services

Sandra Perez Torres

I joined NRC IRAP almost 4 years ago and I currently lead the Data, Analytics and Reporting (DAR) team. I hold master's degrees in Finance and Economics and come with a strong background in economic analysis and reporting. Setting targets for industry growth based on economic outlook is second nature to me.

Ever since I was a little girl, I have always liked solving puzzles and making something new out of existing materials. Making sense of data and understanding what it's telling us is similar to solving a puzzle; it involves looking through and around data to see something that might not be obvious, and using that intelligence to stay one step ahead.

The DAR team works toward a common objective, to lead in analyzing, validating and reporting on business data. Our team doesn't just present our findings, we put the puzzle pieces together to uncover how we can make better decisions for better program delivery. Validating data is critical and supports informed decision-making to ensure we are meeting industry demands. This was evident when COVID-19 hit and NRC IRAP needed to act quickly to be able to support its clients and Canadian firms. The pandemic brought a unique challenge, requiring us to verify if there was a need to adapt program delivery in light of the effects on employment, business growth of our firms and of course the economic conditions that they were all trying to navigate.

I'm proud to belong to a team of incredibly smart and hard-working individuals both within my DAR team, and across the entire program. NRC IRAP fosters an environment of participation and confidence in each other. In this environment, I am able to dream a little, think outside the box and never stop learning. At NRC IRAP we are always learning and bringing new solutions forward to support the growth of small and medium-sized businesses and ultimately Canada's growth. To see the successes of our clients come to fruition, time and again, is incredibly rewarding.

Peter Rosenthal, Acting Regional Director – Quebec

Peter Rosenthal

I worked as an avionics engineer and product manager in the aerospace industry for 25 years before becoming an NRC IRAP industrial technology advisor (ITA). What I realized soon after joining NRC IRAP was that there were many opportunities to work on different projects within the NRC in conjunction with my ITA role. I was able to work with the NRC's Aerospace Research Centre to collaborate on different projects that linked small and medium-sized businesses, large multinational organizations and universities. I also discovered that NRC IRAP had an Aerospace Sector team, which brings together ITAs across Canada with aerospace industry experience. Being part of this sector team has remained a fantastic experience, working with my colleagues in just about every segment of this industry from drones, to space technologies and clean tech.

A year ago, I became the acting regional director for NRC IRAP in the Montreal area. We are a team of 12 ITAs, 2 regional contribution agreement officers and a client engagement advisor, all from varied backgrounds: IT, materials and health sciences, among others. It is such a hardworking and dedicated team; I am lucky and proud to have been given the opportunity to work alongside such talented professionals.

Regardless of our role, we get to see the value that NRC IRAP delivers in many ways. I see first-hand some incredible success stories of innovation, growth, job creation, and other positive impacts to businesses, to industry and to Canada. NRC IRAP support is so much more than just funding, it is also expert advisory services to help SMEs accomplish their goals. One of the most fulfilling parts of working at NRC IRAP is when a client sends us a note of thanks, telling us how much they appreciate the guidance of their ITA.