Conestoga news

November 30, 2007 3:29 PM

Conestoga College to form business innovation network

Some universities and colleges have had a notable amount of success with business innovation, helping firms turn ideas into new products and services.
Conestoga College wants to get in on the action, a welcome development given the expertise on its various campuses, including the one in Guelph. (Full disclosure, I'm a Conestoga journalism grad, having previously studied archeology at Wilfrid Laurier University.)

College applied research director Angela Vuk noted small- and medium-sized companies are the biggest driver of the economy but have limited resources available for their own research and development. That's where colleges like Conestoga, which recently formed a business innovation network, can come to their aid by providing a "win/win service," she said.

"Colleges see this as a natural extension (of their role in the larger community)," Vuk said.

Conestoga is one of 10 colleges in the recently formed Colleges Ontario Network for Industry Innovation, which they simply call CONII. Others include Fanshawe, Humber and Sheridan.

With the new network, colleges can offer applied research, development and commercialization expertise, steering committee chair Katharine Janzen noted recently. It's doing so with a $3.5-million grant from Queen's Park.

Conestoga College, for example, is currently working on several innovation projects with local businesses. They include an efficient heating-and- cooling system for a multi-unit residential building, streamlining the manufacturing of electronic devices and improving the quality of injection moulding processes in the plastics industry.

The intention is to respond to specific, identified business needs, Vuk said.

As another example, third-year integrated advanced manufacturing technology students created a way for Waterloo-based Research In Motion to improve testing of the keypads on its ubiquitous BlackBerry communications devices. The keypads were tested manually, but the students devised sensors to help automate this testing while also boosting consistency in manufacturing.

Not only do the colleges and businesses benefit from such symbiotic development work, but college students also gain.

"They get real-world experience," Vuk told me yesterday. "That's a powerful learning tool."

She sees potential for further college-business development work in areas like advanced manufacturing, particularly in automation and process controls.

There's also opportunity, she said, in the health-care field, such as information systems, which she calls infomatics. Good timely information is needed in hospital settings, for example, and that's an area where technology can help, reducing the need for paper records and transactions.

A third area she's convinced her college can help is in the field of integrated telecommunications and computing technology.

All of these are burgeoning fields, which makes them ideal for a college that's on the forefront of technological change through its various technology courses and resources.

But why tap into a network of colleges instead of going it alone?

"I think the sum is greater than the individual parts," Vuk concluded.

By pooling resources and expertise, the network can simply offer more to the business community.

I've always been proud of Conestoga College, which I see as a valuable asset for the community, just as I do the University of Guelph, Wilfrid Laurier University and the other great university in this region, the University of Waterloo. In fact, the record of the University of Waterloo as an incubator of business ideas and spinoff companies is one of the immense success stories of the region. There was a time I used to hang out at the University of Waterloo, a hotbed of ideas and trends for decades.

It's good to see the college expand its role in the region, as its already doing with apprenticeships and preapprenticeship programs.

College president John Tibbits has been a visionary, so it comes as no surprise Conestoga is part of this emerging new network.

The college is definitely moving in the right direction.


Originally featured in the Guelph Mercury, November 24th, 2007