Brad Bennett, Mitacs’ former chair, reflects on five years of inspiring innovation

Brad Bennett recently ended his five-year tenure as Mitacs’ board chair. Having steered the organization through several key milestones and achievements, Brad possesses a particular insight into Mitacs’ success and unique position in Canada.

In 2004, Brad was entering a six-year term on the University of British Columbia’s (UBC) board of governors.  Later that year, he was also invited to join the Premier’s Technology Council (PTC), which provides advice to British Columbia Premier Christy Clark regarding technology issues faced by the province. Throughout his travels across BC and in his other dealings with the PTC, Brad kept hearing about an organization called Mitacs and its work connecting academic research with industry needs. Eventually, he got a chance to get involved.

“I had the opportunity to meet with Arvind Gupta, who was Mitacs’ CEO at the time,” Brad reminisces. “We were scheduled for a half-hour meeting over coffee and we ended up talking for over two hours about Canadian innovation and productivity. The more I listened to Arvind, the more excited I got.”

Soon, Brad would be given the chance to bring his initial sense of excitement to the organization: “In 2010, Mitacs was splitting from its founding Network of Centres of Excellence and into its own innovation organization,” he recalls. “I was approached first by then-UBC president Stephen Toope, and then by Arvind to chair the new Mitacs board.” Describing himself as a fan of the organization’s work, Brad signed on as chair of board of directors.

When asked about Mitacs’ evolution in the years since his appointment, Brad says that young organizations have to discover themselves and invent who they are: “In 2011, Mitacs had a lot of ideas, but didn’t yet have the discipline to know what would be successful and what might not. Over time, the organization evolved and matured, and now we measure outcomes through tools like longitudinal surveys. The fact is Mitacs programs work.”

In terms of other evolution, Brad notes that the creation of the business development team represented a critical shift for Mitacs: “It took a lot of discussions but ultimately, it was the right thing to do. The team has helped people in academia and people in industry talk to each other.  Mitacs Business Development Officers are the ‘boots on the ground,’ part of the organization, the one-on-one relationship builders.”

Significant changes to Canada’s innovation landscape won’t be immediately apparent, but as Brad notes, “meaningful change takes time, and the organization has started to move the dial in terms of discussing — and measuring — innovation and productivity. Governments and other stakeholders are aware of what’s possible and how Mitacs can play a central role.”