A Quick Guide For Small Businesses Leveraging Academic Funding Programs

Across Canada, there are a significant number of funding programs available to help small businesses find new product and service opportunities for technologies by partnering with academic institutions. Here we provide a quick guide on how a small business, from a startup through to established small businesses and larger ones, can engage these programs and partnerships.

Identifying A Problem:Every business has some form of problem they want to solve. Some are known, some are unknown. As an owner or executive manager, you may know the problem well or have a hunch, but not be sure of the solution. It may be a technology problem or a service oriented problem. Either way, the first step is to identify the problem clearly. You can start by contacting the faculty of a nearby university or community college. Set up an initial meeting. Most all faculties have an associate dean or someone senior who can arrange a meeting with the right professor.

The Initial Meeting:Once a meeting is set, outline your problem. Often, it helps to draft a one page document which can be in point form, that outlines the problem or what you think you’d like to achieve. Send this in advance to the professor or primary contact. That way, they’ll have some time to prepare themselves and perhaps bring in additional people.

Objectives for An Initial Meeting:The initial meeting should be an open discussion where ideas can flow and approaches be discussed. This may require several meetings as defining the problem is often an iterative process.  The faculty member will be able to identify what types of funding programs are available and how to go about applying for them. A professor will also be able to determine the amount and education level of students that might be involved. You’ll also want to discuss timelines and expectations.

Getting Going:Most funding programs are actually quite easy to access and don’t require massive amounts of paperwork as is commonly thought.  The better a project can be defined, the better the chances of reaching a desired outcome. It is important to be clear on timelines and anticipated outcomes.

A good approach is to identify a funding program,   This can be done relatively quickly and provide a “proof-of-concept” or validation. Depending on the outcomes you may move on to more advanced programs or you may stop there.

Some programs require a small contribution from the business and then matching funds kick in. Larger projects may take longer and involve more than one faculty and varying degrees of student education levels.

The key is to make that first contact and let the faculty member work with you. It’s easy and starts with a conversation!


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