NRC IRAP celebrates 75 years of innovation

 
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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 approaches January 18, 2022, which marks the program's 75th anniversary, we are looking back across the decades to celebrate 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!

Anniversary spotlight

 
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Successful endeavours

 
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Retrospectives and perspectives

 

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!

Message from Iain Stewart, NRC President

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

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.

Ringing in 75 years of support for Canadian innovation

Starting on November 4, we will be counting down the 75 days leading up to the National Research Council of Canada Industrial Research Assistance Program's (NRC IRAP) 75th anniversary! To celebrate this anniversary, NRC IRAP is putting together an exciting line-up of spotlights and activities to raise awareness of our accomplishments since the program first began.

Leading up to our official anniversary celebration on January 18, 2022, we will be sharing past successes through testimonials, spotlights, and more in-depth articles, as well as a new video series. During the year of celebration, through the eyes of clients, stakeholders, and employees, we will highlight the program's ongoing success, past endeavours, notable services, as well as the dedicated employees at the heart of the program – that have helped small and medium-sized Canadian companies for 75 years.

As we celebrate the past, present and future of the program – we hope to inspire readers with NRC IRAP's story, showing the next generation of Canadian innovators the key role the program can play in getting them to the next step in their journey.

Make sure to follow us on social media to not miss any of our exciting content!

Carlene Fuentes, Project Management Coordinator, Client Enablement

Early in my career, I worked in the private sector and had a drive to support entrepreneurs, which stemmed from my own interest in wanting to run a business. When I began working at NRC IRAP in 2003, I took my passion for entrepreneurship and applied it to government administration. I was invested in leveraging my experience for the benefit of the program and have always looked for opportunities to get more involved. It is in branching out, year in and year out, in different ways that has granted me the opportunity to connect with so many colleagues. I have been involved in 15 Government of Canada Workplace Charitable Campaigns, have provided support to NRC IRAP's Advanced Manufacturing Sector Team since its inception and am currently the lead for NRC IRAP's 75th Celebrations Team. For nearly 2 decades, I've worked in many areas across NRC IRAP to learn, contribute and build relationships—all of which have made my job interesting and fun. I have also seen how connecting and collaborating across the program has made us stronger both internally and in our relationships with clients and partners. I may not be on the frontline, but I am going to do everything I can in the background to make NRC IRAP a success.

Anushiya Kumarakulasingam, Program Advisor - NRC IRAP Vice-President's Office

I first heard about NRC IRAP during my co-op interview and I thought, "I want to work here. I want to be part of a program that really makes a difference for Canada!" Thankfully, I was able to join this talented team which has allowed me to grow personally and professionally. I remember giving my first presentation at an NRC IRAP regional meeting; I was so nervous that I was reading from a piece of paper. It turns out that those nerves were unwarranted as, when I looked up everyone in the room was smiling back at me. I could feel the warmth of my new colleagues; I put the paper down and began to speak. I realized in that moment that this was my team, they were rooting for me and they were here to support me. The more I began interacting with NRC IRAP colleagues across the country, the more I realized that there is a genuine passion for supporting each other. I believe it's this passion that sets our program apart. At NRC IRAP, not only are our people passionate about what we do within our own roles, we are passionate about the team and supporting each other so that we can grow, thrive and better support our clients as a program. As the project lead for NRC IRAP's 75th anniversary, I knew that honouring the people behind the program was going to be an important part of our story and our celebration.

Pierre Vallée, Client Engagement Advisor, Client Enablement - Québec

In my role as a client engagement advisor (CEA), I provide advice and connections to relevant resources to support firms appropriate to their stage of innovation and growth journey. I often provide advisory services by matching early-stage firms with other organizations and programs. Receiving early-stage advisory services can be a turning point for many small and medium-sized businesses, as it can create momentum for companies to keep innovating and growing. CEAs have a trusted network of stakeholders and partners at the regional and national level, and we work together to provide optimized service to firms. What I enjoy about NRC IRAP is that we are supporting innovative firms and, as a result of what we do, we are learning all the time. I consider myself fortunate to be part of an organization where there is so much expertise, collaboration and passion to help our firms and our colleagues succeed.

Geralyn MacDonald, Regional Program Support Officer - Atlantic and Nunavut

I joined NRC IRAP over 23 years ago and in 2018, I became a regional program support officer (RPSO). There are 5 RPSOs across Canada and we all share a passion in making things run smoothly and improving our operations. We are a very dynamic team that leverage each other's skills and strengths to support the implementation and delivery of NRC IRAP across our regions. I have been part of many program initiatives and projects over the years, several of which required a high degree of collaboration and forward-thinking execution. In the earlier days of the COVID-19 pandemic, we had to respond swiftly to help develop processes and tools to deliver 3 rounds of the Innovation Assistance Program (IAP) - a temporary wage subsidy program to assist innovative small and medium-sized businesses. This was an effort we delivered in record time. It was extremely busy, but also a very rewarding undertaking knowing that we achieved this feat to help companies during difficult times. Watching NRC IRAP grow and experience challenges, opportunities and important milestones along the way is a testament to our agility and our steadfast commitment to serving the needs of our clients.

Dennis Sindrey, Industrial Technology Advisor and Diagnostics/Testing Kits Subject Expert Team Lead - Ontario

When COVID-19 hit, NRC IRAP established subject expert teams (SET) to address critical medical supply-chain issues and help source made-in-Canada solutions. Having worked 27 years in the biotechnology industry, including 13 years as an industrial technology advisor (ITA) with a portfolio of clients in diagnostics, medical devices and therapeutics, I was asked to lead NRC IRAP's Diagnostics and Testing Kit SET.

The team helped bring forward SMEs who had the right business, technical and manufacturing capabilities in this field to produce solutions for Canada and for export. A particular highlight in this role involved working with the Greater Toronto Airports Authority (GTAA) to help them establish bio-surveillance capabilities at Toronto Pearson Airport. I saw this as an opportunity to run some trials using existing Canadian diagnostics technologies. We set up temporary laboratories in 2 of their terminals. We brought in an NRC IRAP client that was developing a rapid antigen test, and another that was developing a new application of infrared technology that signaled COVID-19 biomarkers through a 30-second finger scan. We also involved an NRC IRAP client that had a Health Canada-approved PCR test, so at the end of the day their trial could be validated. In addition, we connected the GTAA with another client that had the cloud data system to process the results of the test and send them directly to passengers' cell phones, so they could show a negative test result before boarding. Overall, the trial tested 33,000 passengers and employees and detected 115 positive tests. It was amazing to bring these SMEs together for this trial and even more amazing to see what Canada can do.

Maria Negulescu, Industrial Technology Advisor and Personal Protective Equipment Subject Expert Team Lead – Ontario

The Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) Subject Expert Team (SET) at NRC IRAP put everything we had into helping Canadian companies to overcome the challenges in pivoting to PPE manufacturing. It was much more than looking into specifications on how to make face shields, gowns, masks and respirators. At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, there were no Canadian manufacturers of PPE, no Canadian standards in place, and there were no certified laboratories in Canada to sanction PPE products for use.

There were many gaps to address and many solutions needed in a short timeframe. As such, NRC IRAP, in collaboration with numerous stakeholders (including the Canadian Standards Association, Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada, Next Generation Manufacturing Canada, Health Canada, the NRC's Metrology Research Centre and Advanced Manufacturing program, Public Health Agency of Canada, Standards Council of Canada, among others) came together to address these gaps. With a lot of hard work in a short amount of time, we were able to define an ecosystem that supported Canadian manufacturing capabilities for PPE.

Over 130 Canadian SMEs stepped up to pivot to PPE production in the early days of the pandemic. I am grateful to have worked for NRC IRAP, where we were able to be part of this journey. Together we increased Canadian PPE production and worked on the standardization and distribution of PPE products to protect Canadian healthcare professionals working on the frontlines. It was an amazing experience and I am grateful to my fellow PPE SET team members for all their hard work and contributions.

Perry Quan, Director, NRC IRAP International

I joined the NRC IRAP International team in 2013 when it was just a start-up, so to speak, and became the team leader. While operationalizing the financial support for Canadian firms was important, a lot of focus was also placed on creating advisory service offerings to help Canadian SMEs develop their international co-innovation strategies and plans, and build key R&D partnerships with innovators abroad. One of the most interesting and rewarding parts of the job is being "on the ground" in different parts of the world supporting Canadian clients in real time, helping them to identify partnering opportunities, and advising them on collaboration issues, be they business, financial, technical or otherwise. The support I provided to clients was more than just business and technical, it also included how to engage with different cultures, different business practices, and how to navigate what was often for them a new business landscape. Creating new international programs, testing them, investing in the ones that worked, scaling them up and absorbing so much knowledge along the way reflects the entrepreneurial spirit of NRC IRAP International that today serves over 500 Canadian SMEs per year.

Paul Barran, Industrial Technology Advisor and BioMedical Sector Team member - Pacific

I have been an industrial technology advisor (ITA) with NRC IRAP for over 20 years. From my early days at NRC IRAP to today, collaboration has remained key to the program's success. As part of NRC IRAP's BioMedical Sector Team, we serve as a point of access and a resource, not only to NRC IRAP but to other government departments and broader communities. For example, NRC research centres will call upon us for industry intel— to find out what's happening, determine if there is a market for a certain kind of technology and how to access that market. There is also collaboration with organizations, like the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), who has a keen interest in the adaptation and development of medical technologies for space exploration and astronaut health. CSA has accessed the expertise of the BioMedical Sector Team to better understand where Canada's capabilities are in this area and what technologies are being developed in Canada that could potentially be made space-ready. I have experienced so much collaboration working for NRC IRAP, the results of which have been invaluable. My whole career has been focussed around trying to help build the life sciences industry in Canada. It's been gratifying to see how the industry has evolved and developed over time and to see the difference NRC IRAP has made along the way.

Alain Brizard, Director, Program Expertise – Division Services

Leading the Program Expertise team, my job is two-fold: first to design programs and second to ensure proper implementation. Implementation means ongoing support to staff so they have both the tools and the know-how needed to best serve our clients. Though my role has changed over the last 20+ years, providing meaningful guidance has remained. I have been part of some projects that were significant milestones for IRAP.

Whether it was standardizing our Contribution Agreement, developing the "One IRAP" field manual or working collaboratively on SONAR (our case management system), it is important to me that people have confidence that our central office exists to empower them to go forth and deliver the program. I believe the way to empower staff is to listen to them, to understand what is and isn't working on the ground. Reconciling the best interest of our clients, our staff and our government mandated program entails a commitment to delivering value for each.

I started at IRAP in the previous millennium and have always felt that at IRAP everyone is committed to delivering value on every front. Anyone who comes into IRAP can't help but feel part of it and proud of it.

Denise Prevost, Program Officer – Division Services

I have been with IRAP for 20 years. As a Program Officer with Division Services there are always many things on the go. One day you are working on policy guidance, another day you are building business and functional requirements and another day you're onboarding a new program. I enjoy connecting with my colleagues, not only to help answer their policy and program questions, but also to understand from their shoes, what they need on the ground.

It's important to have a central office that takes care of program integrity in the back end, so our frontline colleagues have what they need to deliver great services. Though I am not on the frontline delivering the program, when I hear how IRAP has made a difference in the success of our clients, I know that each of us at IRAP had a part to play and it makes me proud to be part of this team.

Jewelle Smith-Johnson, Manager, Operations and Finance – Ontario

Whether I am managing operations, overseeing support of the Grants and Contributions program or compiling financials, all my tasks involve connecting and collaborating in some way with colleagues, clients and other stakeholders. This sense of connecting and collaborating was heightened during the pandemic with the roll-out of the Innovation Assistance Program. This wage subsidy program resulted in a substantial workload for many of us; yet we all pulled together and worked hard to ensure that Canadian firms affected by the pandemic had the help they needed at the time they needed it.

There is a shared passion to support each other and our clients that is felt throughout IRAP. What has added depth to my enjoyment in being part of IRAP is the culture, one that strives to promote equity, diversity and inclusion. I am proud to be part of our cultural commitment to listening, educating, validating and taking positive action towards creating an environment of respect and equal opportunity for all employees to achieve career goals.

Cindy Yiu, Administrative Assistant – Quebec

I have been working with IRAP for the past 7 years and my administrative tasks vary greatly. I often have the opportunity to provide help and support to my colleagues during busy periods for the program which allows me to discover, learn and grow at the same time. In addition to the ongoing work of the entire team to support, accompany and advise our clients — the companies we work with — we can also count on the moral support of colleagues when needed.

Solidarity and mutual help are always available whether on a professional or personal level. We feel supported and well surrounded. Being part of the IRAP team is both interesting and rewarding. The diligent and devoted work of each IRAP member to help clients innovate in their respective fields contributes to the success of the program. There is an immense pride in working for the good of Canada.