When we spoke to Éric Aimé Patry about the Build in Canada Innovation Program, we couldn’t help but get excited about the possibilities for Canadian innovators and companies, specifically those in renewable energy and clean tech.
At its heart, the program is designed to help innovative Canadian entrepreneurs move their state-of-the-art products to market.
The program focuses on anything that is cutting edge, new to market or advances existing technology beyond where it is now. It provides Canadian companies with a competitive advantage, too. They get their first sale from the Government of Canada, which means they can go to market with some backing and credibility, and the department gets to test (and in most cases, keep) Canadian-made innovation. It’s a win-win.
Here’s Éric with more about the program, what it means for companies in the renewable energy sector and how innovators can access the program benefits.
Éric, can you tell me a little bit more about the program? What is it and who was it created for?
The Build in Canada Innovation Program kicked-off as a pilot in 2010 and became permanent in 2012. The program exists to help companies navigate the “valley of death” between a prototype that works and getting that first customer and going to market. It provides a boost to the companies that participate and acts as a commercialization program – helping organizations get funds into their company with that initial, and extremely crucial, first sale.
On the other side of the coin, the government has the opportunity to be more innovative and gain access to new technologies before they go to market. The program matches the applicants to government departments – some military, some not – and provides a testing ground where the prototype can be used in a real environment with real people. The departments that participate get to work with new companies and try new things with little to no risk involved on their side.
Thus far, the program has awarded over $101M through 257 contracts and 97% of those have gone to small and medium enterprises. The industries vary and the companies span across many sectors, from clean tech to IT and everything in between.
In the program’s current funding envelope, we have $40M per year to spend (and this amount will continue on an on-going, yearly basis). Submission numbers are quite high but we’re hoping to attract even more Canadian innovators, specifically in the renewable energy and clean tech space, so that we can continue to stimulate the economy through job creation and infusing cash flow into Canadian companies.
That sounds incredible – who is eligible to submit a proposal and apply to the program?
The rules for eligibility are fairly simple. The company must be Canadian and at least 80% of the innovation that is being proposed must come from Canada. We ask a few questions when reviewing new applicants:
- Is the company innovative and can they prove they are innovative?
- Is the technology being presented at least 80% Canadian?
- Is there a market for the technology or solution?
- Is the innovation at technology readiness level 7-9?
- Does the company have a prototype that is ready to be tested in an operational environment?
Each applicant is evaluated by the National Research Council Industrial Research Program (NCR-IRAP) to ensure that it meets these criteria. The other component that is reviewed is commercial availability. If the innovation or technology is already for sale commercially, it’s not eligible for this program. We’re keeping the program focused on new innovations.
It’s not surprising to hear that there have been many applicants to the program. It seems like a fantastic way to stimulate growth in a new tech company. What sort of response has the program had thus far and which industries is the program attracting?
Every year, after the program finishes, there is a follow-up survey sent out. We look for information about the number of jobs created, what impact the program had on the participating company, etc. The resulting information is significant. Most of the support we provide companies is helping to create more jobs, stimulate the economy and have a positive impact on tech in Canada. That’s really great to see.
We know that the economy of the future is in technology. The government, and the general population, is realizing that. This program was created to ensure that important industries in Canada such as tech can continue to thrive and create job opportunities and economy stimulation today and for years to come.
Since we’re operating heavily in a tech and innovation space, we have some natural priority areas that we’re focused on. The first thing we look at with our applicants is: are they a good fit for the military or are they better suited to a non-military department? Non-military contract can go up to $500K and a military contract can go up to $1M. From there, we then look to see which industry they are in and what sort of impact they’d have on the testers they’ll work with through our program.
While we don’t discriminate against any industry or prefer one over the other, we’re definitely looking ahead to the future and we know that clean and green tech is going to matter a lot to the government departments we work with. That priority level will likely play a factor in our decision-making for the next round of applications. Right now, we see a lot of software innovations, solar and wind technologies and other renewable energy-focused projects being proposed. This is exciting for us as renewable energy becomes a higher priority for government.
What’s really interesting is that the companies that use the program often come back more than once. For example, Bubble Technology Industries in Chalk River has gone through the program four times now to leverage different technology innovations that they are working on. For most companies that go through the process, they really see the value in what we offer so they’ll go through the program over and over again.
Let’s talk a bit more about the program and renewable energy. Why should companies in the renewable energy space be paying attention to this program?
The biggest benefit for clean tech companies is that the program helps secure that first reference sale. Given that it can be difficult to have your technology adopted by new customers, receiving the backing of a government department helps tremendously when moving forward to secure outside funding or additional sales.
There are some other benefits, too:
- A controlled, governmental environment to test your innovation
- Access to communities that may be outside of a company’s natural reach
- Access to third-party testers if the departments we work with don’t have experience
- Validation of the company’s innovation and a natural refinement process
Green and clean tech is truly where the world is headed. When you look at what companies like Tesla are doing and where they are going, it’s easy to see why this is the future. To be able to support a company, let’s say in Montreal, doing something incredible in the hydro space and help them secure business that previously only the large players could, is a huge win for the Canadian ecosystem.
If a company is interested in applying to the program, how can they do that?
We try to keep the process fairly simple and it’s all done online. Companies can first go to our website to read the call for proposals and the solicitation documents. They can also download the questions we ask in advance so they can use that as a working document to better prepare themselves. Once that step is done and the company is ready to apply, they simply fill out an online application.
Our process has two distinct phases post-application. In phase one, an application is evaluated by NRC-IRAP for market potential and to ensure that it is 80% Canadian. In phase two, they are matched with a tester and they work with that department to create a testing plan. Once the plan is agreed upon, they move on to the contract and testing phase.
People often ask, “What’s the catch to all of this?” and the easy answer is: there is none. The program exists to work with you, help you get a tester, test your innovation, pay you for it and allow you to walk away with a reference sale. We don’t ask for any shares in your company, we don’t purchase your intellectual property and we make no claims over your company in any way.
The reason we do this program at all is because it’s good for Canada and it boosts the economy. When we can stimulate our local companies, we create jobs, put money back into the local economy and create more innovation on Canadian soil. All of those benefits are then seen and felt for a long time to come.
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Curious to Learn More?
If the BCIP interests you, we’d love to invite you to attend our Presentation Theatre sessions, which will be held on Thursday, October 5th from 10:30am-10:50am (this session will be held in English) and again from 2:30pm-2:50pm (this session will be held in French.)
These sessions will focus on Service or Product Innovation Funding and will be presented by Samuel Archambault and Christopher Baird, from the Build in Canada Innovation Program.