Commercializing research and building industry partnerships

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Kelvin Cole, Industry Liaison Officer, Athabasca University

Kelvin Cole, Industry Liaison Officer, Athabasca University

Athabasca University has appointed a new industry liaison officer (ILO) to help increase research funding and develop technological innovation for industry.

Kelvin Cole joins AU’s Research Centre, from Kingston, Ont., where he worked in a variety of roles, from lab research to intellectual property and technology transfer.

Cole received his M.Sc. from Queen’s University in plant molecular biology and biochemistry, followed by research work in a start-up company, and later taking on a role managing intellectual property. He has held various positions at Queen’s, and as an independent intellectual property consultant.

“We’re really excited about this appointment,” says Associate Vice-President, Research, Athabasca University, Dr. Donna Romyn.

“One of the primary goals of the ILO role is to strengthen AU’s academic-industry partnerships. Kelvin has a really good understanding of both the academic side as well as the industry side of these partnerships.”

Romyn says one way to do this is by getting our students involved in hands-on research, with faculty mentoring and training opportunities, that will “pair AU’s excellent researchers with industry partners in Alberta and elsewhere.”

To market, to market

Cole will also spearhead the development of longer-term relationships that will lead to grant-application opportunities to support these academic-industry partnerships. Romyn believes that Cole is the right person to steer this initiative — AU has a wealth of expertise in developing research programs, so why not have someone who can help take that knowledge to the wider market?

One of the primary goals of the ILO role is to strengthen AU’s academic-industry partnerships. Kelvin has a really good understanding of both the academic side as well as the industry side of these partnerships.” ~ Associate Vice-President, Research, Athabasca University, Dr. Donna Romyn

Cole says he hopes to be instrumental in scoping out viable partners in large-, medium-, and small-scale industries that can use AU’s research, especially to help them with problem solving.

“Our students will apply their research skills to real-world issues within a company, or in other areas of technology,” he notes, adding that universities like AU are primed to do just that.

He points to the fact significant external resources can help bolster our research programs, encourage further industry participation and funding opportunities — whether they be from government or other sources designed to help small companies.

In fact, he remarks, a main driver of today’s economy is small companies, which often require help building their own research programs, or overcoming a particular challenge.

Commercializing Research

photo credit: Christy Dean Photography

Cole’s notes

At the top of Cole’s docket is the development of these partnerships in Alberta — and he is intent on getting the word out.

Athabasca University has the intellectual expertise and skills applicable to addressing commercialization and research issues within these kinds of companies,” he says.

As a self-professed science geek, Cole says he has enjoyed meeting the AU faculty and potential industry partners, and is buoyed by the prospect of setting up these symbiotic programs.

“I’ve always been interested in research, new technologies and cool science,” he asserts.

“Seeing those developed and moved into the marketplace is where my interest lies … that whole linkage of technology transfer and growth. Each aspect has its own rewards, and each aspect has its own challenges, too.”

Our students will apply their research skills to real-world issues in a company’s research program, or in other areas of technology.” ~ Kelvin Cole, industry liaison officer, Athabasca University

Establishing industry partnerships can also be profitable through access to industry-linked funding opportunities.

“Using those partnerships to leverage AU’s intellectual assets to solve issues for outside organizations is a key area. They certainly bring money into the university through granting and funding opportunities,” says Cole, adding that AU students, whether they’re ‘post-docs,’ graduate students, or undergraduates, will benefit by participating in cutting-edge science as it is applied to realistic problems.

Not to mention the fact that development of highly-qualified personnel (HQP) is a key indicator of success by granting agencies. Says Cole: “A lot of the granting agencies look at the development of new scientists and new talent — the education aspects of it — as a metric of success. Providing these research opportunities to our students is a good way to capitalize on that HQP factor.”

Using those programs to leverage AU’s intellectual assets to solve issues for outside organizations is a key area. It certainly brings money into the university through granting and funding opportunities.”

Navigating challenges

Romyn believes that Cole’s appointment will allow AU to better address the challenges that can sometimes impede progress. One such challenge, she explains, is providing solutions for industry partners within similar time frames.

“Academic research agendas don’t always move forward at the same pace as industry. If you have a student working on a project, normally their first priority is their academic program,” she explains.

“A student working as a research assistant, for example, may not be able to devote 40 hours a week to an industry project. So sometimes it can take a little bit longer than if you have somebody working on it full-time.”

Challenges aside, Romyn says: “It’s a great opportunity for us to engage in that kind of real-world research training that isn’t necessarily otherwise available to our students.”

The newly evolved ILO role will help lead that charge, developing these smaller-scale research projects between students and industry partners, overseen by AU academics.

The ILO position is funded by a grant from Alberta Innovates Technology Futures (AITF), Applied Research & Innovation Activities Program (ARIAP), and the Research Support Fund (RSF).

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