RFP by Feb 11 for EOI on RICs and SICs in ONE

tony1459Edit90X167.jpg By Tony Patterson

OTTAWA — The way Ontario supports its science and tech sector is about to change. It’s not entirely clear yet how it will change. But change it will and it will be done under the title of the Ontario Network of Excellence — ONE.
The purpose of ONE is to align all the programs and resources Ontario has to support innovative researchers, entrepreneurs and businesses. The goal is to ensure that when innovators walk into the nearest ONE office “they will have access to best practices from around the world, programs linking them to researchers and successful entrepreneurs, and assistance in accessing the funding and advice they need to take their ideas to market.”
The Ministry of Research and Innovation (MRI) is not yet five years of age. It was launched to all the fanfare Dalton McGuinty could attract by naming himself its first minister.
But the premier was pretty busy with a lot of other stuff and before long he handed MRI off to John Wilkinson. Then Mr. Wilkinson was redeployed to Revenue to defend against attacks on the government’s plan to harmonize sales taxes with Ottawa, a plan being greeted far from harmoniously by many. Mr. Wilkinson handed MRI off to John Milloy, who was and remains Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities but found a spare day or few in the month to tend MRI as well.
Despite its brief existence, revolving ministers and devolution from premier’s baby to ministerial stepchild, MRI managed to launch a couple of dozen programs to channel money and various other forms of support to S&T projects in companies and schools throughout Ontario. There are early researcher awards, an innovation demo fund, post-doc fellowships, green school funds, a healthtech exchange, research funds, commercialization investment funds, three separate premier’s award programs and much more, all in a $3 billion package (over eight years) called Ontario’s Innovation Agenda.

But it isn’t as coordinated as it might be. Noone is sure that Queen’s Park is putting its money where it can do most good for the tech sector and by extension for the province’s socio-economic climate. So a study has been done to see how the agenda might be improved. The outcome is ONE.
The study took less than six months, by a tight group from outside government, including Tom Jenkins of OpenText, chaired by MRI’s first and former deputy minister, Alastair Glass. Key recommendations are that the system become more “client focused,” that performance and results be measured and that programs be equally accessible in all parts of the province. In order to get a grip on this the Glass Committee spoke of forming a network that would deliver services and programs through interconnected regional and sectoral organizations.
The next step is to determine which organizations and where. To accomplish this MRI has just issued an RFP asking for EOI on RICs and SICs to operate within ONE.
RICs and SICs are meant to deliver ONE programs and services.
RICs are Regional Innovation Centres. In Ottawa, OCRI would be a RIC. In Waterloo it’s Communitech, ELORIN in Cornwall and eastern Ontario. But “the ministry has no predefined regions and expects that the regions will be defined by the EOIs received.” EOIs are expressions of interest. They can come from any not-for-profit corporation but it’s safe to say that the likes of OCRI and Communitech won’t readily be displaced and there will only be one RIC per region.
SICs are Sector Innovation Centres to deliver highly sector-specific programs. Sectors, the ministry says, “can align with areas of focus identified in the Ontario Innovation Agenda,” however the ministry “may consider other sectors at its discretion.” One knowledgeable observer says, “The dust is still settling for SICs. They have to provide province-wide coverage.”
The deadline for EOI is February 11, 2010. To a certain extent the ministry appears to be fishing to see what good ideas are around. The expression of interest is the first phase. If the ministry likes an EOI, it will ask for a business plan. Or “the ministry may request that an applicant re-submit an EOI . . . to align regional and/or sector partners . . . and where required, the ministry may provide facilitation support.” Or the ministry may advise the applicant that it’s a no-go based on the EOI. Even then all is not necessarily lost. “The ministry may consider exploring other opportunities for the applicant’s participation" in ONE.
But after all is said and done RICs and SICs will always be subordinate to PICs. These are provincial innovation coordinators. Two have already been named and given marching orders.
MaRS-DD (Medical and Related Services Discovery District) will coordinate business acceleration programs and services. These include funding, training and marketing support designed to strengthen entrepreneurial talent, create globally competitive businesses and support innovators as they deal with all the challenges and opportunities that come with building an innovative enterprise.
OCE (Ontario Centres of Excellence) will be the provincial coordinator for industry-academic collaboration programs and services. This means helping to support industry-academic collaboration, to develop entrepreneurial and business skills and to move research discoveries from Ontario’s labs to the global marketplace.
Click here for more information on becoming a RIC or a SIC.

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