September 11, 2023

The GSA’s Response to the Alberta Innovative Catalyst Grant

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In a bid to bolster innovation in Alberta, the provincial government has launched the Innovation catalyst Grant (ICG), an initiative aimed at supporting science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) graduate students. With the goal to commercialize research emerging from Alberta’s universities, this grant program holds the promise of transforming innovative ideas into thriving businesses. While the initiative is commendable, it also raises several questions and concerns that merit a closer look.

About the ICG

The Innovation Catalyst Grant is a two-year fellowship program designed to address concerns raised in Alberta Technology and Innovation Strategy on supporting STEM graduate students. The grant offers financial support of up to $250,000 to eligible applicants. Administered by the University of Calgary, University of Alberta, and University of Lethbridge, the program is set to continue its annual intakes until 2025.

Eligibility

To qualify as an ICG fellow and participate in the program, candidates must meet certain criteria:

  • Graduate from an advanced STEM degree (Master’s or Ph.D.) within the last five years.
  • Involved in a primary technology innovator of a science-based business or product concept with a hardware component.
  • Demonstrate access or reasonable steps toward the legal right to commercialize the underlying intellectual property.
  • Commit to the fellowship as their full-time job.
  • Reside in Alberta with the legal right to work in Canada during the program.
  • Be ready and capable to incorporate the venture in Alberta or Canada upon acceptance, operating in Alberta for a minimum of three years post-ICG Fellowship.

How to Apply

For more comprehensive application instructions and details on how to apply, click here.

Advocating for a Balance Approach

The Graduate Students’ Association (GSA) welcomes the Innovation Catalyst Grant and its dedication to fostering the commercialization of graduate student research.

The program acknowledges the pivotal role played by graduate student research in propelling innovation and business development, echoing the sentiments shared by the federal Standing Committee on Industry, Science, and Technology.

In a 2017 report titled “Intellectual Property and Technology Transfers: Best Practices,” private sector witnesses underlined the substantial impact of graduate student research on firm innovation. The GSA recognizes and celebrates this influence on Alberta’s innovative ecosystem.

However, a lingering concern emerges regarding the program’s focus on retaining graduates. While it extends a helping hand to those who have already earned their degrees, the GSA worries about its potential limitations. Graduate students often require support to successfully complete their programs. Without adequate backing, there is a risk of a diminishing pool of graduate students available to tap into the Innovation Catalyst Grant.

This decline could manifest either through students discontinuing their programs prematurely or by students opting to study in regions with more comprehensive support structures. To harness the full potential of Alberta’s intellectual capital, it is essential to ensure that graduate students receive the assistance they need to complete their studies.

Furthermore, innovation is not confined solely to STEM fields. While STEM innovation is undoubtedly vital, other fields also contribute significantly to the innovation landscape. Organizational innovation, for instance, plays a pivotal role in fostering a dynamic economy. Unfortunately, the Innovation Catalyst Grant’s exclusive focus on STEM start-ups overlooks the inherently transdisciplinary nature of innovation.

Innovation flourishes when diverse fields collaborate, each bringing its unique perspective and expertise to the table. By disproportionately incentivizing STEM research, the program inadvertently stifles research in non-STEM domains and directs investment capital towards a select few industries. This restrictive approach limits students’ academic freedom and curtails the broader spectrum of innovative possibilities.

A Call to Action

The Graduate Students’ Association appreciates the Innovation Catalyst Grant’s positive intentions.

However, to truly empower Alberta’s future innovators, the program should be supplemented with increased financial support for graduate students who are still in the midst of their academic journeys.

Moreover, while STEM fields are undeniably crucial, government investment policies should not neglect non-STEM disciplines and their valuable contributions to innovation. A more inclusive approach that embraces the rich tapestry of academic disciplines will yield a more vibrant and diverse innovation ecosystem.

In conclusion, the Innovation Catalyst Grant is a commendable step towards fostering innovation in Alberta. Yet, as we embrace this opportunity, let us remember that true innovation knows no bounds and encompasses a multitude of disciplines. By providing support to all graduate students and recognizing the breadth of innovation, Alberta can truly catalyze a brighter, more innovative future for all.

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