MITACS powers research and development creation by connecting private sector with the best post-secondary institutions to solve organizational challenges — in Canada and internationally. We spoke to John Hepburn, CEO, to learn more about how the organization enables Canadian cleantech companies to execute their innovation vision.
Describe your core offering(s). How is your organization contributing to a cleaner, greener future?
The cleantech revolution is coming, and that’s good news for Canada and the planet. It is a transition that we should all be eager and grateful for because future generations of Canadians are depending on it. But we also need to recognize the incredible realignment this reality will require for Canadian businesses, and we need to chart a course that provides burgeoning businesses in the field with the funding and expertise they need to prosper and grow in the green economy.
As a pioneer in Canada’s innovation ecosystem for more than 20 years, Mitacs has worked to build strong research collaborations between industry and academia. With our knowledge and expertise, Mitacs enables Canadian cleantech companies to execute their innovation vision at every stage of their journey: from product development all the way to commercialization.
With a strong commitment to creating a cleaner and more sustainable Canada, we have funded projects that raise awareness about ocean literacy, have created technologies that can convert carbon emissions into commercial-grade potassium formate, developed systems for the power storage of renewable resources, and more.
Other than coffee, what gets you out of bed in the morning? How does this work connect with your core beliefs and values?
It’s easy to get behind our mission to provide solutions from academia to address real-world challenges, whether they be environmentally related or in the realm of social innovation. We have an exceptional team that is committed to powering clean economic growth for Canada.
Having partnered with the organization for many years to advance research before becoming CEO, I knew firsthand the value that this organization brings to the table. Since I became CEO in February 2020, the Government of Canada entrusted Mitacs with more than $708 million to create tens of thousands of new innovation internships over a period of five years. That is a true testament to the important work that Mitacs does, and I am proud to be part of it.
Tell us about a recent win (or wins) or your organization.
The last two years have brought unique challenges to Mitacs, as was the case for many Canadians. But these challenges also proved our resilience; that alone is worth celebrating.
Last year, we delivered 17,000 innovation internships to help businesses of all sizes thrive and grow. We launched a new strategic plan, we grew our team of innovation experts, and we piloted more new programs and initiatives. Our programs continue to be the connecting tissue that lets Canada flex its clean technology muscle on the domestic and international stage.
What’s next for your organization?
Cleantech start-ups face enormous challenges. Small and medium-sized businesses in the sector often lack critical access to public and private capital. Many clean technologies are capital-intensive, but this capital needs to be patient and investments take time to show their potential. On top of this, the regulatory and policy environment can create hurdles for entrepreneurs.
We aim to fill a portion of this gap by helping companies bring in talent from Canada’s strong postsecondary institutions to help execute on innovation. At Mitacs, we believe that collaboration is the key to success. And when it comes to cleantech, this is vitally important.
Through our programs, our main goal is to foster innovation collaborations that will help companies fill gaps in their research and access the expertise they need to succeed in this important and growing sector of the economy.
Finally, what’s on your team’s wish list for Ontario’s cleantech sector?
Ontario is national leader when it comes to the cleantech sector. With the support of the provincial government, Mitacs will continue to explore opportunities that energize Ontario’s innovation ecosystem. We are more than on track to create up to 8,000 paid internships opportunities for postsecondary students to work and gain experience in sustainable industries.
By helping Ontario innovators build in-house capacities for renewable industries, we believe we are contributing to Ontario’s economic and environmental resiliency and growth.
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