Industry-academic collaborative research projects can be extremely beneficial, especially for small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs), as they can provide access to not only intellectual expertise, but more importantly, access to advanced laboratory equipment and low cost labour (students). There are numerous funding routes that are available for industry-academic collaborations, which allow SMEs to better leverage their resources and get the most bang-for-their-buck. The downside of working with academia from a SME’s perspective is the widely different timelines between SMEs and academia.
MetaFLO has been involved in various collaborative projects with academia and is continually looking for more opportunities. We have completed a NSERC Engage (http://www.nserc-crsng.gc.ca/Professors-Professeurs/RPP-PP/Engage-Engagement_eng.asp) project with Ryerson University on geotechnical properties of solidified hydrovac slurries, and we are starting another NSERC Engage project with the University of Guelph looking at potential agricultural applications of MetaFLO solidified drilling fluids. Due to our limited resources and manpower, teaming up with academia to perform some of the essential research to further our technology makes perfect sense. Not only are we getting access to testing equipment that would be otherwise unaffordable and advice from industry-leading researchers, we are also getting third-party validation on our materials.
Although we gained great insight from working with academia, SMEs must be aware of the timelines with academia, which may often be an overlooked yet critical factor. In a nutshell, when you have an idea of a collaborative research project, you must first find a willing professor to work on that project, who will then put together a grant proposal, such as NSERC Engage, and submit the proposal for approval. There must also be students available to do the research, and finding a good student is a tougher task than it may seem. I would recommend that any industry partner takes an active role in identifying the student that will be leading the project. It is also important to keep in mind that projects can essentially only start at three different times in a year: September, January, or May, which coincides with the university semesters. Therefore, it could easily take 6 – 10 months from identifying a professor to when the project will actually start.
It should be apparent to SMEs that projects with academia should be ones that do not have an immediate deadline. Ideal projects are ones that aren’t essential to the business, but could have major implications down the road if the research proves to be successful. At MetaFLO, we have found that these academic collaborations to be extremely beneficial, and with some experience under our belt, we will be able to further enhance our technology offerings through active collaborations in a more efficient manner.