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This article was published 16/10/2018 (467 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
The Winnipeg technology sector was briefed Tuesday on an under-publicized new federal government program that seeks to help growing Canadian companies scale up, as well as meet federal government departments’ technology needs at the same time.
Innovative Solutions Canada was quietly launched last December accompanied by more than $100 million in funds, representing one per cent of the internal research budget from 20 different government department and agencies.
The idea is that these departments post problems that require some kind of novel technology solution not currently available on the market. Small businesses can apply to receive $150,000 to develop a proof of concept that could address the problem. After evaluation of the proof of concept, the successful small businesses could receive up to an additional $1 million to develop the prototype.
After that, the federal government could become the first customer for that technology.
Robert Smith, executive director of Innovative Solutions Canada, was in Winnipeg on Tuesday speaking to a group of interested officials from the Manitoba technology sector.
He said, "It has been shown that Canada lags behind other OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) countries when it comes to scaling up businesses and developing IP (intellectual property). Those are two areas we don’t perform that well in, and this program is designed to help in that area."
Although the program is not widely known at this point, earlier this year the Winnipeg company CEMWorks Inc. won the first award for $150,000 for a project called "Connected Vehicle and Engineered Surfaces Challenge," which is to address the future issues associated with smart highways and potential wireless communication interferences between vehicles — something that is expected to be problem as autonomous vehicles are introduced to the market.
CEMWorks Inc., a five-person company that has been around for about five years, partnered with a Waterloo company called mmSense Technologies Inc. to win the challenge. CEMWorks develops computer programs or algorithms to simulate physics such as predicting how electromagnetic physics behave.
"You might have two vehicles that want to communicate by sending electromagnetic waves or radio waves. We can simulate how the physics will behave and how the signals might bounce off building and how the environment will impact the physics," Jon Aronsson, founder and president of CEMWorks, explained.
Aronsson said while there may not be much demand for this type of technology now, as more connected vehicles need more bandwidth, it will be challenging to create enough signal strength for everyone.
"We definitely think it could become something bigger, something that will be needed in the future," he said. "In three-to-five years it will be a critical piece of technology."
If CEMWorks is awarded the phase two funding form Innovation Solutions Canada, it would receive $1 million for up to two years to build a prototype.
"We would be in very good position for the future market," Aronsson said. "That is what they want to do, to support Canadian industry for the future."
Marshall Ring, CEO of Manitoba Technology Accelerator, knows how hard it is for technology companies to gain enough momentum to scale up.
"This program gives companies the chance to have a marquee customer — the Federal government — as well as some financing," he said. "If a company has the federal government as a customer, another company would be more likely to buy the product because if has been de-risked in terms of market application."
Innovative Solutions Canada is expected to post a new challenge every month. The application for the proof-of-concept challenge is short, and decisions are usually made within a couple of months.
Martin Cash has been writing a column and business news at the Free Press since 1989. Over those years he’s written through a number of business cycles and the rise and fall (and rise) in fortunes of many local businesses.