Canadian International Innovation Program spurs global R&D collaboration

A funding program that promotes international scientific collaboration is looking for Canadian entrepreneurs that are getting ready to bring their cutting‑edge technologies to lucrative markets around the world.

Funding to pursue international R&D partnerships

The Canadian International Innovation Program (CIIP) fosters joint industrial research & development (R&D) projects that have high potential for commercialization. Delivered by Canada’s Trade Commissioner Service (TCS) and the National Research Council’s Industrial Research Assistance Program (NRC‑IRAP), the niche program helps finance R&D partnerships between Canadian companies and their counterparts in Brazil, China, India, Israel and South Korea.

“The whole idea is collaboration,” says Alexis Roy, who manages the program for the TCS. It supports the creation, adaptation and validation of technologies in the five countries with which Canada has bilateral science, technology and innovation (STI) agreements, to a maximum of $1 million per country per year.

Under the CIIP, small and medium‑sized enterprises (SMEs) can apply for up to $600,000 in funding, representing as much as 50% of the cost of developing their later‑stage technologies, with a goal of getting them out into the global market. The partner companies abroad are equally eligible for such STI funding from their countries.

These joint research projects come through requests for proposal, Roy says, and the number of applications has risen each year, “which shows growing interest in partnership opportunities from SMEs on both sides.”

Alexis Roy
Alexis Roy manages the CIIP for the TCS.

The CIIP also offers partnership development activities (PDAs). PDAs are trade missions and events that focus on particular sectors and countries, where Canadian companies heavy in R&D can look for potential co‑innovators.

Pivoting to virtual events in a pandemic

The program is still going strong despite the COVID‑19 pandemic, Roy notes, especially as the PDA missions have pivoted to take place virtually. Applications to participate have about doubled, he says, while trade commissioners on the ground are even more critical to their success.

In Brazil, a PDA held virtually last November that dealt with smart‑mining R&D included nine Canadian SMEs, says Marie‑Hélène Béland, a trade commissioner in São Paulo who covers STI and is responsible for the CIIP in Brazil. She says the PDA focused on areas such as mining 4.0 and joint funding programs, and participants pitched their technology to Brazilian entrepreneurs in matchmaking sessions.

There are several potential partnerships in the works as a result of that PDA, Béland says. “For us those are successes in the making.”

She says the CIIP “brings value to all involved parties” and it “really opens doors to new business possibilities.” Innovation is seen as a way to foster economic growth in Brazil, which has “bubbling ecosystems” for startups and accelerators, she says. The PDAs include pre-mission webinars where participants are coached on finding good innovation partners and given strategies for success in the country. For instance, “it can take longer to do business in Brazil, so being patient and constant will help build the relationship with your partner,” Béland explains.

Another virtual Brazil PDA is planned for later this year, focused on nanotech in life sciences and nanomedicine, she adds.

Canada–South Korea 2021‑2022 collaborative industrial R&D Call for Proposals

Our Canada–South Korea Call for Proposals is still open. This opportunity is for Canadian companies interested in collaborative R&D projects in advanced manufacturing, cleantech, digital tech, and health sciences. The application deadline is February 25, 2021. Learn more about this funding opportunity.

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In South Korea, a PDA planned for March will address advanced and smart manufacturing, says Hyun‑Ju Lim, a trade commissioner in Seoul who covers STI and the CIIP in the country.

She says the program is an effective way for SMEs to learn about and enter target markets. This is particularly true of Korea, which is a major R&D spender, and like Canada depends heavily on international trade for economic growth. “Both the Korean public and private sectors have been investing in innovation significantly,” says Lim.

She believes Canada and Korea complement each other in terms of getting technologies to market. The upcoming PDA, for example, “will match Canadian technologies with Korean manufacturing expertise,” she explains.

It’s helpful that everything is currently taking place virtually, including PDAs, which makes them an “even a more useful tool for Canadian companies,” Lim says. The virtual format mitigates some of the typical challenges, like the vast distance to travel to market, the language barrier and the long‑term commitment necessary to succeed there.

Korean business still values in‑person interactions, particularly for initial meetings, Lim notes. “Relationship‑building, in many cases, comes first, before you start business discussions.” But the pandemic has changed some business practices in Korea, and companies are increasingly open to digital introductions. Meanwhile the TCS is there to offer support, she adds. “We continue to make connections and raise the profile of Canada during in‑person events, while our clients attend virtually.”

Building strong relationships to grow in new markets

Roy says companies that take part in a PDA and undertake a joint research project in a country “come out of it in better shape to penetrate that market.” These entrepreneurs spend one or two years “building a deep, trusting relationship with a foreign partner that will help them later on.” This leads to tighter ties there, he explains, producing much more than a simple “transactional” trading relationship.

Most CIIP projects involve SMEs validating or testing their products in the foreign market, Roy says. At the same time, participants “grow their networks”, assisted by trade commissioners. The CIIP works alongside other TCS programs such as CanExport Innovation, which can be used strategically by SMEs to build relationships with foreign companies that can then turn into CIIP partnerships.

Roy says it’s important for Canadian companies to do R&D on an international scale with the support of programs and in places that can push their technologies forward. The goal of the CIIP is to enhance Canada’s prosperity, by helping Canadian SMEs create jobs. Innovation is critical to the country’s recovery from the COVID‑19 pandemic, he says, indeed the CIIP has provided funds to an NRC‑IRAP program that supports technologies that address COVID‑19 challenges.

He believes some virtual PDA activities like pitch‑coaching, workshops and business‑to‑business sessions can even be better when done remotely. Some of these effective practices may continue to happen online, at least in part, once the pandemic is over.

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