By Kathryn Jezer-Morton
Innovation is certainly a buzzword in business media and Canadian policy – but at what point does the buzz transform into action? At McGill, “innovation” is most broadly understood to mean the advancing of public good, either through the development of scientific and technological solutions to market problems, or through novel approaches to meeting society’s pressing needs.
Innovation by this definition is a major strategic priority at McGill, and the focus is accelerating this summer with the creation of a new position, Associate Vice-Principal of Innovation and Partnerships. Angelique Mannella, a highly accomplished social entrepreneur, has been tapped for this role and begins her tenure on June 13.
The new AVP position coincides with a shifting of portfolios within McGill’s senior administration, reflecting the emerging importance of projects related to innovation. The Vice-Principal (Research and International Relations) is now the Vice-Principal (Research and Innovation), a name change that was officially approved by the Board of Governors on May 16. The new AVP will report to the renamed VP-R&I.
Meanwhile, international initiatives that had previously been under the VP-RIR’s purview have transitioned to the Office of the Provost and Vice-Principal (Academic), where they will be handled alongside academic development files.
While some might associate innovation with startups and get-rich-quick ideas, McGill’s working definition encompasses any academic discovery or insight that can be applied to the benefit of a broader population. Often this means partnering with industry, NGOs, social-purpose organizations, or other external parties to facilitate the delivery of a new idea to the public.
Central to McGill’s innovation agenda is kick-starting entrepreneurial and innovative activity on campus, from all quarters – undergraduate to senior faculty. Undergraduates have a new resource that will encourage them to think about their work’s potential to affect change, through the newly created complement of cross-disciplinary minors in entrepreneurship, developed by the Desautels Faculty of Management. There are four new minors in entrepreneurship in total: Entrepreneurship for Science Students, Music Entrepreneurship, Social Entrepreneurship, and Agribusiness Entrepreneurship. The Faculty of Law is currently developing an entrepreneurship minor tailored to law students.
Meanwhile, the Dobson Centre for Entrepreneurship, McGill’s hub for startup activity, has experienced explosive growth since its founding in 2009. The Dobson Centre has mentored over 2,200 McGill students in entrepreneurship since its inception, and 133 startups that were born out of the Centre are active today. The Dobson Cup, the Centre’s annual startup competition, has grown too: From 14 applications by 28 students in 2009, to 237 applications by a total of 537 students in 2015.
McGill’s innovation agenda naturally extends far beyond the campus itself. In the three years since its official launch, the Quartier de l’Innovation, a dynamic ecosystem devoted to promoting innovation in downtown Montreal, has become the home to an array of tech incubators, laboratories and facilities that support the market-readiness process for start-ups and social ventures. The QI is now an established launch pad for social enterprises that emerge from McGill. Outside stakeholders are noticing: Over two years, there has been a 50 per cent increase in the number of nonprofit organizations applying to participate in the Social Innovation Impact Internships program, which matches top undergraduates with social enterprises, led by the QI.
McGill is currently working in partnership with the Centre d’entreprises et d’innovation de Montréal. CEIM is an established incubator in Montreal which provides support to start-ups in the Quartier de l’Innovation. McGill’s collaboration with CEIM is currently supporting 16 start-ups at varying stages of development.
As McGill continues to build on its progress toward creating a culture of innovation on campus, members of the University might begin to notice more recruitment of mentors, entrepreneurship education at all levels of instruction, and new forms of progress and achievement being celebrated. Innovation might sound like a buzzword to the uninitiated, but once you’ve developed an ear for it, you’ll begin to see it everywhere.