Getting any new technology to market is often a team effort that brings together public and private sector players from across the supply chain.
Take Muse, a brain-sensing headband that provides real-time neuro feedback to help users meditate. The company behind it is InteraXon, a Toronto-based innovator in the field of brain-sensing technology.
InteraXon has an advisory board drawn from a number of Canadian and U.S. research institutions. Its path to market included commercialization support from the University of Toronto, the MaRS Discovery District and Ontario Centres of Excellence (OCE).
But even after InteraXon brought Muse to market and began generating revenue, it still needed external support to to refine its quality control processes.
That’s when CPEIA Member Centennial College, Ontario’s first public college, came into the picture.
Since it was now a revenue-generating enterprise, InteraXon no longer qualified for the same government-sponsored support that had helped it through its startup phase, said Dr. Purnima Tyagi, Innovation Program Manager (Health) at Centennial College.
Through the OCE, which works with industry and publicly funded colleges, universities and research hospitals, InteraXon found at Centennial the technical support it needed for its next phase of growth.
“Colleges are the best place for SMEs to further develop and refine their products and ideas,” she said.
Centennial serves a key link in the commercialization value chain through its Applied Research and Innovation Centre (ARIC). Since 2004, ARIC has worked with a broad range of SMEs to develop and launch market-ready solutions in a timely manner. It does this by tapping into the talent of its students, faculty and staff, and accessing federal and Ontario government funding sources, that, in may cases, SMEs can’t on their own.
For InteraXon, Centennial put together a team that developed a test bench for Muse – a simulated human head loaded with sensors and transmitters that mimic brain activity. This allows for much more accurate testing and quality control than using real human testers.
“The simulated head Centennial students created will help reduce the time for us to develop new software algorithms and hardware,” said Sam Mackenzie, Hardware Lead, InteraXon. “Our partnership has provided us with customized tools we would otherwise not have the resources to create on our own.”
Muse is just one example of how Centennial, and a growing number of colleges across Ontario, can help SMEs get new products to market, by providing R&D and prototyping services they may not be able to afford to do in house, said Dr. Deepak Gupta, Director, Applied Research, Innovation, and Entrepreneurship Services at Centennial.
That role also extends to working with universities.
“Colleges are good partners to take universities’ fundamental research to market,” he said. “And we take a very industry-friendly approach.”
How friendly? Regardless of the level of effort from Centennial, SMEs always retain full ownership of their related intellectual property.
These partnerships also serve as proving grounds for new talent. Students can impress potential employers while working on a real-world challenge and line up a great job for after graduation.
The Muse project was a natural fit for Centennial. The college ranked 12th among Canada’s top research colleges last year and placed in the top 10 in terms of research income growth, at 32.8 per cent over the previous year. To date, Centennial has helped to commercialize 30 different product technologies, and has pledged to support entrepreneurship and the growth of SMEs.