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R&D Partnerships Spark Innovation

Dalhousie is Atlantic Canada’s main hub for private sector-linked research and innovation, accounting for 98 per cent of industry-sponsored university research in Nova Scotia. Here’s how Dal sparks innovation through its robust network of partnerships.

Serendipity in the Sandbox

Cultivating solutions

Can horticultural waste be modified and used to feed bees over the winter? Is there a way to make money off of lamb hides? Nova Scotia’s agriculture industry hopes Dal students can shed some light on these and other questions through Cultiv8, one of three provincially supported “sandbox” spaces hosted by the university to bring students, mentors and business leaders together to collaborate on innovative business ideas. Students explore ideas in a weekly gathering, at Startup Weekends, and during related events with partners at Acadia University and Perennia, a N.S. government-owned agri-food and bio-resource firm. “This is exciting for the ag industry because there are a lot of new potential avenues for business creation and leveraging some of our assets in the region,” says Cultiv8 coordinator Jolene MacEachern.

Shifting keys

Eleven teams converged on Dal’s ShiftKey Labs sandbox last September for a two-day “hackathon”—essentially, a computer coding competition—where they were asked to create an application based on data collected by Halifax’s municipal government on households using solar hot-water systems. Two researchers from Dal’s Institute for Big Data teamed up with a Dal engineering alumnus to create a web-based app called Sol-Ops that monitors household behaviour and provides simple feedback on ways to improve efficiency. Judges were impressed and sent the winning team along to a demo event at the Halifax Central Library where they were crowned the victors and awarded $6,000 to further develop their app.

Engineering new ideas

“If you guys build that, we will buy it tomorrow.” That’s how people reacted to Team Tilt’s innovative reimagining of the humble household compost bin at a Dal open-house event last spring. A three-person team from Management, Engineering and NSCAD University’s design program created the prototype for the receptacle—complete with dishwasher-safe reusable liners—during an inaugural six-week boot camp on product development hosted by the Faculty of Engineering’s IDEA Innovation sandbox last spring. The sandbox also offers workshops and a pre-incubation space for researchers working on potential spinout companies. Teams at the IDEA sandbox boot camp wowed attendees with products such as buoyant swimming shirts and a high-tech river turbine. “They’re now primed. They’ve gone through the whole process,” says director Clif Johnson.

Engaging the Private Sector

Dal’s success in attracting private-sector funding can be attributed in part to the university’s Industry Liaison and Innovation (ILI) office, which helps facilitate the transfer of knowledge between researchers and industry partners with the aim of fostering innovation and economic impact. In addition to engaging with businesses to meet their research needs, ILI assists Dal researchers in transferring technology and creating spin-out ventures and startup companies. ILI’s mission has gained urgency in light of the One Nova Scotia Coalition’s goal of doubling annual research funding in the province. “The only way to make that quantum jump is by doing more research within the private sector,” says Stephen Hartlen (BComm’87), executive director with ILI and Dal’s assistant vice-president of industry relations.