Few business owners and entrepreneurs would attempt to break the mold during a global pandemic.
Thanks to strategic partnerships between industry and academia, many emerging start-ups and small- to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) soldiered on and are now setting a benchmark for Canadian innovation and research.
Although these groundbreaking innovations come from small- and mid-sized organizations, their social and economic outcomes are titanic. Here’s why:
Meet Sara Child, a researcher at North Island College, who is spearheading a project to revitalize one of the oldest, most complex languages on Earth — a polysynthetic Indigenous language known as Kwak’wala — using artificial intelligence (AI).
According to UNESCO, three-quarters of the 90 Indigenous languages still spoken in Canada are endangered, while the rest remain vulnerable. With the loss of language comes the loss of culture — the death of sacred teachings, heritage, and history — and an extinction of the very values that shape their identity.
After consulting with Kwakwakaʼwakw Elders in Port Hardy, British Columbia, Child founded The Sanyakola Foundation, a BC-based not-for-profit society that aims to build a template for Indigenous language revitalization worldwide. “Language revitalization isn’t about language at all,” she explains. “It is about the restoration of wellness for people because they know that language is integral to every aspect of who we are. And when that was taken away, it disrupted every aspect of who we were.”
Despite a dearth of technological and financial support for Indigenous languages, Child sought out funding and responded to Mitacs’s Indigenous Call for Proposal. The grant enabled her to work with a talented team of researchers at North Island College, who possessed the rare skillset needed to turn her vision into reality.
“If we can unlock AI for Kwak’wala, we can unlock AI for Indigenous languages on a global scale,” she said.
Watch the video:
Each year, 40 million children end up in emergency care in North America. Among them, 1.5 million are hurt by intravenous medication errors. One out of three are given the incorrect medication dosage — making the difference between life and death.
These alarming numbers in pediatric care demand change, and a group of graduate students from McGill University are leading the way.
A design-thinking course at McGill’s Surgical Innovation program allowed Sofia Addab and her friends to shadow an emergency physician at the Montreal Children’s Hospital. After identifying a number of problems in the emergency department, they conceived NURA Medical, a Montréal-based medtech start-up that uses a custom device to deliver accurate weight-based dosage calculations in pediatric care.
As part of a Mitacs internship, the students interacted with a variety of scientists and clinicians, tested their device, and gained valuable insight into user experience. “The funding that we got from Mitacs really allowed us to do our studies at the hospital. So, we’re really able to test the accuracy of our device with the nurses, who would be the end users of this device,” said Addab.
NURA Medical’s game-changing device uses personalized data to reduce errors by 50% and can save hospitals up to $1.3 million each year.
Nearly 40% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions come from the construction and building sector — a quarter of which comes from concrete. With the world’s building stock set to double by the year 2060, the need for carbon utilization is greater than ever. Fortunately, Novia-Scotia-based company CarbonCure is transforming the concrete production process, which can potentially reduce global emissions by up to 15% and create new market opportunities worth a trillion dollars.
“We’ve developed technology that recycles waste carbon dioxide to improve concrete,” says Jennifer Wagner, President of CarbonCure. “As a company, our mission is to reduce 500 million tons [of waste carbon dioxide] per year by the end of this decade.”
Since teaming up with Mitacs and partnering with post-secondary institutions, CarbonCure has successfully commercialized its technology and delivered more than 1 million truckloads of “green concrete” to construction sites around the world. Today, its technology is installed in about 400 plants across four different continents.
Since the start of the pandemic, more than 2,000 businesses — about 70% of which are SMEs — partnered with Mitacs for the first time. The total value of all industry-related innovation projects funded through Mitacs nears $1 billion, with businesses contributing about half that amount. This is a testament to the power of industry-academia partnerships, and the tremendous value of commercializing post-secondary research.
“We have the tools, connections, and solutions that small businesses need to navigate the current economic challenges, and we’re seeing firsthand how many of those companies that take advantage of working with us are thriving,” says John Hepburn, CEO, Mitacs.
In 2021, Mitacs launched a video series profiling some of the most ambitious innovation projects initiated by Canadian SMEs and not-for-profit organizations — including the ones above — as part of an ongoing effort to promote small businesses. The series was produced by Dan Herman, founder of Go to Jupiter Productions, who travelled across the country with his team amidst the pandemic to complete the inspiring project.
Since 2016, the Canadian government has invested over $13 billion in science and research. More than $3 billion of this funding was sourced from the 2021 budget for Canadian researchers and science. This includes support for research encompassing systemic racism and gender inequality, life sciences and biotechnology, and national strategies on artificial intelligence, cleantech, quantum technologies, and genomics.
We are proud to continue investing in, and celebrating, the creativity and innovation that are at the heart of Canada’s research ecosystem. It is inspiring to see the ingenuity and dedication Canadian researchers embrace in exploring big ideas that will fuel the discoveries and innovations of tomorrow to make our world a better place and create prosperity for Canadians. – The Honourable François-Philippe Champagne, Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry
With the government’s support, Mitacs continues to build bridges between industry and academia, giving small business owners and post-secondary researchers an invaluable opportunity to join hands and tackle some of the greatest challenges of our time.
Companies around the world are trying to go net-zero with solar, batteries, and wind. But what happens when their plans are literally dampened by unexpected weather? Eavor Technologies is a closed-loop Calgary-based geothermal start-up that has discovered a way to transform naturally occurring geothermal heat into power — making it the first truly scalable form of clean baseload power.
Breastfeeding moms can now enjoy a tasty beverage that satisfies their coffee cravings and improves lactation. Newfoundland-based entrepreneur Lian Delos Reyes has launched an all-natural decaffeinated lactogenic drink that contains moringa, a plant native to the Philippines that doubles as a galactagogue.
Jean-Simon Venne and his team in Montréal, Quebec are proactively changing the energy consumption of one of the largest contributors to climate change: buildings. Brainbox.AI is the first company to introduce artificial intelligence that can reduce a building’s energy consumption by 25-35% in less than 3 months, while lowering its carbon footprint by 20-40%.
When we think of space, we don’t usually think “healthcare”. But ensuring the health and safety of those travelling to the great unknown could push the boundaries of what is humanly possible across the universe. Lunar Medical is a Hamilton space-tech start-up that combines biomedical engineering with predictive analytics to deliver the best available medical care to infinity and beyond.
Global energy consumption is expected to rise by 50% by 2050. With today’s growing demand for renewable energy comes the challenge of efficient storage. This is where BC-based start-up Atlas Power Technologies comes in. Founder and CEO, Mitchell Miller and his team have created a supercapacitor that can store grid-scale renewable energy, challenging conventional battery technologies and enabling our transition to a cleaner future.
What happens when artificial intelligence meets agriculture? Regina-based start-up Precision.AI is answering that question by using AI technology to remove chemical waste from the food supply chain. With the help of Dr. Malek Mouhoub, Professor at University of Regina, the start-up has developed autonomous aerial and ground robots to conduct precise weed-spraying missions, helping farmers save on input costs while putting greener food on our plates.