Innovation and entrepreneurship get major boost

Spring 2012

Patents being developed at McGill could drastically reduce world energy consumption. (Photo: Songrui Zhao)

McGill Engineering has long recognized the value of entrepreneurship in building a strong research program, but until recently funding and resource issues hindered Faculty efforts to help professors and students commercialize their research and encourage business start-ups.

A major gift from alumnus William Seath, BEng’52, has provided the impetus to move more purposefully in this area. It will enable our professors, graduate students and undergraduates to concen-trate more fully on the “development” aspect of research and development.

Interim Dean Andrew Kirk says the new emphasis on entrepreneurship will generate additional revenues from research contracts, help to ensure that Faculty research remains relevant and, hopefully, lead to start-up companies that will benefit the Canadian and international economies.

“Increased entrepreneurial contacts and collaboration with industry will also result in greater employment opportunities for our students,” Kirk says, “but most importantly, we hope the new thrust will spark a true culture change — one that will prove critically important to our Faculty’s future.”

A hub for innovation

As the entrepreneurship article in the Teaching & Research section of this eNewsletter demonstrates, commercialization and entrepreneurship  have long formed part of the research agenda at McGill’s Faculty of Engineering, but Kirk says “what was missing was a concerted effort to better harness the talent we have.”

The infusion of new funding from the Seath gift will provide a hub for innovation and entrepreneurship. Dubbed “Innovations Catalyst in Engineering” (ICE), the program will provide mentorship and guidance for students and professors with creative ideas, and encourage and advise academics and external entrepreneurs alike on the ins and outs of pursuing commercial opportunities.

ICE activities include an Industrial Research Development and Engagement Officer who will visit companies to determine their needs and identify McGill Engineering researchers and students who can provide solutions.

As well, the William and Rhea Seath Endowment (named for William and his late wife, Rhea) funds two annual awards that recognize achievement in innovative research with potential for commercialization. The prizes are open to undergraduate students, graduate students and professors. One of the awards’ key objectives is to free up time to allow recipients to engage in technology transfer. That could mean a reduction in teaching time for professors or salary stipends for students in lieu of after school work or summer jobs.

Applications for the awards will be vetted by alumni with venture capitalist experience and professors with a track record in entrepreneurship.

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