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Province's innovation framework stresses integration, co-operation

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The province has published a long-awaited and much-needed framework paper on how to support innovation activity in the province.

The Manitoba Innovation Strategy released this week lists six priorities. It is an acknowledgement of the importance of innovation to a healthy economy from the research and startup phase to small business operations to enhancing productivity in established businesses.

Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger said it is something that has been in the works for a few years.

"We believe we have a lot of innovative entrepreneurs and lots of innovative researchers in Manitoba," he said. "They will benefit by having support that will bring them together."

He said the idea is to bring resources together to address all the issues at play, "to support people to allow them to have a greater chance for success. In a world where this is going on in many other centres, Manitoba has always been a hub of innovation, but we think we can take it to another level with these new initiatives."

'We believe we have a lot of innovative entrepreneurs and lots of innovative researchers in Manitoba'

-- Premier Greg Selinger

Among other things, Selinger said an office called Research Manitoba will be created that will bring all provincial research money together under one umbrella.

Doug McCartney, the senior executive with the province's science, innovation and business development branch of Jobs and the Economy, said it is a framework document the innovation community can use to work more closely together.

McCartney said government is a facilitator and, "to the extent there is a role for government to play, it is now more transparent what that role will be."

In the past, there has been frustration and confusion about overlap of programs and uncertainty about priorities.

The document brings all of the province's focus on innovation -- from research to commercialization -- under one department, Jobs and the Economy.

Marshall Ring, the executive director of the Manitoba Technology Accelerator, an Exchange District business incubator, said, "We're happy to see a strategy in place, happy to see its profile raised with a dedicated champion and the premier giving it some attention."

While the eight-page document is comprehensive in touching on all the key points, it does not provide much detail on any new programs or funding opportunities.

"We're interested in seeing what the specific activities will be that will support the strategy," Ring said.

Gary Brownstone, CEO of the Eureka Project, a business incubator at the University of Manitoba's Smartpark, said it looks like part of the strategy will be to corral all the organizations working in the field to get them all working in the same ecosystem, which he believes will be a good thing.

In the March budget, the province did announce changes in the small business venture capital tax credit program, sometimes referred to as the angel tax credit.

The eligible amounts of investment have been altered, and the provincial tax credit has gone up to 45 per cent from 30 per cent.

The document also states that the Commercialization Support of Business program will be streamlined, although details of that have not yet been released.

McCartney said one of the main thrusts in the strategy is a realization that innovation works best when there is collaboration and co-operation.

"I've seen many different definitions of innovation," he said. "Recently I saw a schematic drawing of a bunch of gears that work together to move forward. That is what we need to do better in this community."

martin.cash@freepress.mb.ca

 

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 24, 2014 B6

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