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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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.

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.

Successful endeavours

 

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Retrospectives and perspectives

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Maureen Hatanaka, Industrial Technology Advisor—Pacific

Maureen Hatanaka

I have a degree in Food Science and worked with food companies as a food consultant for a number of years before joining NRC IRAP in 1997. I officially became an industrial technology advisor (ITA) in 2003. The time I spent in industry continues to help me in supporting my clients in a variety of ways. In addition to the technical advice I am able to provide, I also assist clients in other ways to grow their business. For example, helping a firm transition from small scale production to larger commercial production can be daunting. Having someone with that industry experience who has lived through those challenges is reassuring for many NRC IRAP clients.

I love helping our clients to progress and achieve their goals. I have worked with firms that had no sales in the beginning and watched them grow to become a major player in their industry—that is very rewarding to see. When I hear about many of our client success stories it really speaks to the supportive atmosphere at NRC IRAP. Everyone supports each other in delivering our program and helping our clients succeed.

Over the years I have been involved in many different initiatives as part of NRC IRAP, from business process review, to the program's AgFood Sector team and now, as part of the 75th Anniversary Internal Celebrations team. My professional journey with NRC IRAP has really been about connections, whether industry or internal program connections. What stands out for me, is the gratitude shown for my efforts, whether it is a client expressing their appreciation, receiving an industry award or for participating in special initiatives, like our NRC IRAP Wellness West initiative that focused on supporting firms in the Natural Health Product, Health and Wellness sector. Those are fond memories for me. It means that what I contributed had a positive impact and that people value the time and effort I put into that initiative.

Ryan Johnson, Industrial Technology Advisor—Prairies

Ryan Johnson

Early in my career as an Industrial Engineer, I found myself working for a large multinational company. I realized very quickly that I didn't want to be a small part of a very large organization, so I made the move to work with smaller companies. I knew this was going to be a lot more work, but I felt this would enable me to contribute in a more meaningful way. I held positions as a manager, senior manager, director, president and consultant and, with every position, I remained committed to improving product design and manufacturing. I grew as a business professional learning how to balance the technical tactics needed to produce a singular solution, to being able to address gaps that were the root to more complex problems in design and manufacturing.

In 2014, I became an industrial technology advisor with NRC IRAP and it proved to be a seamless transition. It was an extension of what I was doing in private industry: supporting SMEs so they could grow and develop. Every time I meet a new client, I look to understand their pain points and ask myself, "What advanced systems, engineering technologies, methodologies or strategies can be adopted to have a positive impact?"

What I have enjoyed most over my career is helping people. It's not simply about working with a company, it is about working with its people to help them move past a challenge they have been struggling with for a long time. I recall once walking onto a shop floor, everyone was deflated from recent news that their work was about to be shut down. At the request of operations, I investigated the manufacturing issue at hand and assessed the core of their productivity challenges. I started to coach the company, work with them, hands-on, like a team member to turn things around. Aside from reducing costs and increasing their output, the biggest reward was seeing those same people with renewed energy, inspired to be on that same shop floor. Moments like that hit you deep, lasting a lifetime.

As an ITA I am blessed to have the ability to help many SMEs. A majority of clients come to the NRC IRAP looking for funding. They are often surprised when they learn that they can leverage invaluable knowledge and expertise that exists within the NRC IRAP network. The recipe to our success as a program is in our ability to develop strong relationships with our clients and to respond to their needs, whether that is scientific, technological or the many other facets of business operations. NRC IRAP was built to have true staying power because, at its heart, it's about people helping people.

Jennifer Berry, Industrial Technology Advisor—Atlantic and Nunavut

Jennifer Berry

I began my career as a food scientist in product development, moved into a technical sales role and travelled internationally learning about food and nutrition product commercialization and how to lead a team. Because of these experiences, I came into the role of industrial technology advisor (ITA) able to advise my clients, not solely on matters of research in food science, but also in product development, commercialization and human resources. When I meet with a client and listen to their story, I start to share their energy and feel inspired to support them. As ITAs we contribute our knowledge, pull in resources and do what we can to help firms succeed. These advisory services are core to our program.

Since I started working with NRC IRAP just over a year ago, my experience with my colleagues, in my sector across the country, and in my region, has been tremendous. If one of my small and medium-sized enterprise (SME) clients has a very unique challenge, I reach out to my network of colleagues to ask for input. Every time, the result is that someone either knows how to solve the issue or we work together collaboratively, sharing knowledge to find the solution. Even when I reach out to a colleague that has never met me before, they are always very willing to help whether it is for our SMEs or to help me gain a better understanding of a program or a process. NRC IRAP is a cooperative, supportive place and it gives me incredible confidence to know that every day we are giving our best to each other and to the firms that we support.

Alberto Vargas, Program Advisor, Division Services

Alberto Vargas

Alongside an MBA, a Master's Degree in Economics and graduate-level certifications in management and marketing research, I have developed extensive experience in the area of economic and policy research and data analysis.

I joined NRC IRAP in August 2019 as a program advisor working under the Program Expertise Data and Analytics Reporting team (DART). It is our responsibility to conduct in-depth statistical analysis to better understand the nature of Canadian SMEs investing in research and innovation. Our work on the DART team supports informed decision-making for program development and aims to improve our service offerings to our clients and support the achievement of their goals. For example, we look at high-growth firms in terms of what characteristics they are exhibiting that may correlate to their steady trajectory of development. These findings are then used to build on our strategy to support more innovative SMEs to grow and expand their innovation.

What is truly amazing, is that I work for an organization that values the importance of performance metrics and uses this data to help achieve its goal of accelerating the growth of Canadian businesses. This is a mission worth pursuing and one that I fully believe in. Over the years, I have developed an expertise in data analysis and the ability to share this expertise to this end is something I am very proud of.

I enjoy the team I work with, the DART team, my colleagues in Division Services and everyone across other regions and teams. Everyone is cooperative, supportive and exhibits such a high standard of professionalism. I feel very privileged to be part of such an outstanding group of professionals.