Colleges step up for SMEs through tough times

$10 million infusion by provincial government enables more Ontario businesses to tap into college innovation.

With the infusion of $10 million by Queen’s Park small and medium-sized businesses will get a lift from a little known network of Ontario colleges.
The Colleges Ontario Network for Industry Innovation (CONII) links 10 of the province’s top colleges along CONII133X71.gifthe technology corridor between Ottawa and Windsor: Algonquin College in Ottawa, Conestoga College in Kitchener, Fanshawe College in London, Niagara College in Welland, Sheridan College in Oakville, St. Clair College in Windsor, and Centennial College, George Brown College, Humber College and Seneca College in Toronto. Support from students and researchers at CONII colleges are helping to position SMEs to come out ahead when the economic tide turns.
Businesses are getting help to realize projects such as designing more efficient light sources, enhancing the use of laser technology in industry and revolutionizing the three-dimensional gaming experience. With the additional support announced in last week’s budget, CONII intends to expand its program to include additional colleges and increase capacity to provide businesses with access to its support network of students and researchers from.

“Small business accounts for more than 80% of Ontario’s economy and is the sector hardest hit by current difficult times so the renewed funding has come at a vital time,” says Katharine Janzen, chair of the CONII steering committee and VP, research and innovation, at Seneca. “Business owners and managers need to be more effective than ever in using creative resources like CONII, so they can access the applied research, development and commercialization services they need to keep their companies afloat and growing.”
John Breakey, president and CEO of Oakville-based Unis Lumin and chair of CONII's Industry Board, says “the research and commercialization expertise inside the CONII college network is a gold mine of benefit for private companies. The colleges have a wealth of research, marketing and business resources through both the faculty and students that can give an entrepreneur the added advantage to create the next generation of technology or solution.”
CONII was launched in mid-2007 with a grant from the Ministry of Research and Innovation to develop research initiatives that make effective use of faculty expertise, provide students with real-world learning opportunities and ultimately have a positive economic impact on the province’s small business sector. According to John Goerzen, industry liaison officer at Conestoga, a recession is the perfect time for businesses to make use of the collective potential offered by CONII colleges. “Many industries are currently paralyzed by the economy; they don’t want to do anything,” says Mr. Goerzen. “But the reality is that for a very minimal cost, they can tap into college expertise as a way to gain access to the research and development they need to position their businesses for the future.”
CONII’s areas of focus cover alternative energy, environmental technologies and construction, digital media, health and life sciences, hospitality and tourism, information and communication technologies, manufacturing and materials, viticulture and agri-business, Ms. Janzen explains that "the CONII colleges collectively offer a broad range of strengths and we put together the strongest team for each particular company. There’s an incredible potential for any business to get help with the challenges that might be nagging their business, especially as they look for ways to save money.”
Each of the 10 colleges linked by CONII has established an industry innovation centre for business owners looking for assistance. The college will assist any business applicant to source the most appropriate subject matter expert for a particular challenge, either internally or through other CONII colleges. Click here for more information about CONII and its member colleges.

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