It is not secret that Canada has good research and researchers, and yet has a very low rate of commercialization of this R&D. Compared to what happens in countries like the United States, UK, Israel, and Sweden, little of our R&D makes it from the lab bench to the field.
The usual Canadian approach to solving this ‘problem’ is to look for a government-led solution. The tools available to government, such as grants, tax refunds (SR&ED), funding of tech-transfer, etc. have almost all been tried, and yet the problem persists. I believe that government is not the problem, and government alone will never be the solution.
Innovation and commercialization is risky and hard work. It requires determination and commitment. Throwing government resources at the problem will not solve it if individuals do not have the determination and commitment to persist and overcome the many obstacles that will certainly be encountered along the way.
My sense is that, in broad terms (ie. on a country-basis, rather than specific individuals), the problem is cultural, and it is this: neither the researchers, nor industry, have either the determination and commitment – the passion and desire – required to succeed.
Why is this? On the researcher side, there is no imperative to commercialization. Researchers may be in a ‘publish or perish’ environment, but very few are in a ‘commercialize or perish’ environment, and without that level of ‘fear and greed’, commercialization will not happen.
Almost by definition, a skilled academic, mid career, with tenure and a vested pension, is a terrible candidate for entrepreneurship. Only a fool would quit a tenure professorship at a major Canadian university to launch a start up. Tenure, and vested pensions may be great things – they certainly must make for a much higher quality of life for the average academic than a world without either. But there can be no dispute that tenure and vested pensions make for ‘fat and happy researchers’ who are extremely unlikely to have any of the need, passion, determination or commitment necessary to commercialize R&D.