Mitacs helps Canadian SMEs emerge stronger post-pandemic

10/31/2021
Unique financial incentive assists companies with COVID-19 recovery by significantly contributing to the cost of hiring top post-secondary student interns

Vancouver, BC - Small businesses across Canada grappling with the impact of COVID-19 are getting support from an unexpected resource: top post-secondary students.

Thanks to a unique financial incentive recently launched by Mitacs, students across the country are adding much needed skills for employers looking to manage and grow their operations in an environment disrupted by the pandemic.

What’s more, the Mitacs initiative—available to all small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and not-for-profit organizations with fewer than 500 employees—offers a significant cost reduction. Qualifying partner organizations contribute only 25 percent of the intern’s $10,000 or $15,000 stipend for the first four months of an innovation project done in collaboration with a post-secondary institution instead of the usual 50 percent.

Mitacs interns bring much needed support to business, not-for-profit, hospital, and municipal innovation in all sectors—everything from agriculture, arts and entertainment, and energy, to healthcare, manufacturing, technology, tourism, and utilities.

“Through this effort, we are simultaneously helping Canadian small- and medium-sized businesses to grow and innovate, and our country’s up-and-coming top talent and researchers to secure valuable employment opportunities in spite of a challenging job market caused by COVID-19,” says Mitacs CEO and Scientific Director Dr. John Hepburn. “Both SMEs and academic talent are integral to Canada’s economic recovery, and Mitacs is committed to making the connections needed to help Canadian organizations solve their business issues, remain competitive, and thrive.”

Since the start of the pandemic, more than 2,000 businesses—about 70 percent of which are SMEs—partnered with Mitacs for the first time.

“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,” Dr. Hepburn adds.

Success stories from across Canada

After the COVID-19 pandemic was declared, Mitacs responded to federal and provincial government calls for support to the economy and announced the increased funding leverage in April 2020. An unprecedented step in Mitacs’s 20-year history, the initial focus was to expedite COVID-19 solutions and recovery by helping SMEs innovate during the economic dislocation.

Here are a few small companies that have been able to survive—and even thrive—through the pandemic, thanks in part to support from Mitacs:

Alberta

ParkChamp, a Calgary-based tech start-up with a breakthrough mobile app that gives local drivers access to premium affordable parking spaces from their smartphones, found itself at a standstill when the pandemic kept people off the road. The company turned to the Haskayne School of Business, which was

able to help thanks to the partnership with Mitacs. As a result, in the last year-and-a-half, ParkChamp has not only found creative new ways to attract new customers but has expanded to new markets.

The small business expanded just last month to the Edmonton market—an accomplishment Maggie Young, CEO, credits in part to Mitacs support. “All of the interns we have been able to hire thanks to the amazing funding offered by Mitacs have had a positive impact on our growing company,” she says. “Accessing young, dynamic, and enthusiastic students with the latest skill sets and knowledge of new online platforms and technologies has ultimately helped drive engagement by new customers.”

British Columbia

Vancouver-based HUB Cycling, dedicated to making cycling safer and more accessible, launched a new consulting arm during the pandemic. This was a direct response to a growing need to make commercial, residential, and industrial buildings in the Greater Vancouver area more bike-friendly as more people choose cycling as their preferred mode of transportation.

As HUB Cycling moves forward with its new consulting service, offering bikeability assessments, the Mitacs internship program is enabling the team to access external expertise. “Mitacs gives us the flexibility to access important marketing resources when we need them and, at the same time, we gain an academic partner who is willing to work with us to advance our goals,” says Tim Welsh, HUB Cycling Director of Program Development.

Ontario

Interaxon Inc., the Toronto-based neurotechnology company behind the Muse® brain-sensing meditation headband, had to get more done with fewer resources when the pandemic caused the company to restructure its workforce.

“We’re a small team of under 50 people and every single person is generally working at 120 percent of their maximum bandwidth,” says Interaxon’s VP of Marketing Nadia Kumentas. “Our largest pain point during the pandemic was the reduction in internal resourcing. Hiring a Mitacs intern allowed us to support future growth and not lose momentum with current priority projects.”

Pioneer of a unique line of smart clothing called Textile Computing™ that can sense and react to changes in the body, Myant Inc. employs Mitacs interns for both research and business development. Currently, they’re supporting the company’s go-to-market strategy for its new heart-monitoring undergarments—underwear based on Myant’s revolutionary Skiin intelligent fabric, which works like a portable electrocardiogram (ECG).

“Mitacs provided the foundational R&D funding that allowed us to test and validate our products at a time when testing resources were scarce due to the pandemic,” says Milad Alizadeh-Meghrazi, VP of Research, Development and Partner Integration. He notes that it’s often difficult to find specialized talent through traditional job postings and the contribution of interns from three Ontario universities was instrumental in making the launch possible.

Quebec

Montréal-based Statera Medical Inc., a start-up company incubated within Centech, not only launched during the pandemic, but is rapidly moving forward with the development of a next-generation shoulder implant. Thanks in large part to the Mitacs financial incentive for small businesses, the company is working to improve joint replacement by making it possible to “see” inside a shoulder.

Statera Medical co-founder Frédérik Plourde, a master’s student in mechanical engineering at École de technologie supérieure in Montréal, says the reduction in price for internships is allowing the young company to access vital research and development talent.

“We’re a niche industry that requires deep knowledge in areas like musculoskeletal simulation and mechanical engineering,” Plourde says. “Working with Mitacs, we’ve created some really strong relationships with those in the university setting who are at the cutting edge of their respective fields.”

Their product intends to improve the quality of life for people suffering from osteoarthritis or muscle tears who have to undergo total shoulder replacement, a patient population estimated to be as high as 100,000 people per year in North America.

Quick facts:

· Mitacs is a not-for-profit organization that fosters growth and innovation in Canada by solving business challenges with research solutions from academic institutions.

· Mitacs is funded by the Government of Canada along with the Government of Alberta, the Government of British Columbia, Research Manitoba, the Government of New Brunswick, the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, the Government of Nova Scotia, the Government of Ontario, Innovation PEI, the Government of Quebec, the Government of Saskatchewan, and the Government of Yukon.

· Since 2016, Mitacs has partnered with more than 5,000 SMEs from across the country, helping them reach their business goals. The total value of all industry-related innovation projects funded through Mitacs nears $1 billion, with businesses contributing about half that amount.

· Mitacs’s team of business development experts located across the country are poised to guide SMEs through the funding support process and provides access to the talent and tools needed to succeed.

· Mitacs is committed to supporting the development of innovative solutions for Canada and the world.

Learn more:

For information about Mitacs and its programs, visit mitacs.ca/newsroom.

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Media contact

Adam Austen
Senior Communications Advisor
514-705-8355 | aausten@mitacs.ca
Mitacs
Monique Rodrigues
Senior Communications Specialist
604-347-6837 | msilvarodrigues@mitacs.ca

Mitacs