In 1990, the University of Waterloo’s Janusz Pawliszyn developed a new method of collecting and analyzing water samples, a common practice that had scarcely changed since the 1980s. Pawliszyn’s method, called solid phase microextraction (SPME), allows some contaminants to be extracted on-site without the use of organic solvents while making sampling faster, cheaper and more environmentally friendly. It was inevitable that industry would take note. Indeed, when one of Pawliszyn’s former students went to work for Maxxam Analytics in Toronto, she took the idea with her and a great partnership began.

Now Maxxam not only invests $100,000 in the lab annually, but it also offers invaluable insight into real-world requirements and regulatory issues. In return, Maxxam gets the competitive advantage of using SPME and gains access to the cutting-edge technologies Pawliszyn’s team continues to develop, including new methods in on-site monitoring, in vivo analysis and computational and modelling techniques for sample preparation.

This is an example of what can happen when business and research come together. And it is a type of innovation — when a company fosters creativity by supporting world-class research — which gains an edge in the marketplace by finding an inventive solution to a problem. Supporting innovation of all kinds is at the core of the Canada Foundation for Innovation’s (CFI) three-pronged mandate. As the leading federal organization devoted to funding research infrastructure in universities, colleges and research hospitals, the CFI ensures that Canada’s best researchers have access to the advanced labs and equipment necessary to conduct world-class research across all disciplines, from discovery to applied research. Having the best tools helps to attract and retain the best talent from around the world and provides a vibrant environment in which to train the next generation of researchers and innovators. The third element of our mandate is to enhance the capacity of our funded institutions to use their research infrastructure to support innovation and commercialization.

The collaboration between Maxxam and Pawliszyn is one example of the kind of mutually beneficial partnership that is happening across Canada, according to a recent report by the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada, our universities conduct almost $1 billion worth of research in collaboration with the private sector annually, which provides “the intellectual raw material that drives innovation and builds prosperity.”

But it can be challenging for companies to tap into the research resources at post-secondary institutions; they are either not aware what resources they can access or they don’t know what kind of labs or expertise are available.

Clarifying this is the driver behind a new online tool the CFI launched last November, called the Research Facilities Navigator. This is a searchable directory of participating research labs and facilities in universities, colleges and research hospitals across Canada that are open to working with business. Almost 350 labs from virtually every discipline have submitted entries for the Navigator and the number is growing. Every facility listed contains advanced research equipment and each one includes highly skilled researchers and students that have the kind of expertise that is attractive to companies seeking to propel their business towards the cutting edge.

For research facilities, the Navigator is a way to promote their research capabilities to the private and public sectors. For companies, it is a venue to find the research facilities that can help their business grow, stay competitive, design new or better products or processes and foster relationships with highly skilled people.

Tapping into Canada’s incredible storehouse of research capability to open up a company’s potential is a notion that comes naturally to companies like Maxxam and one that has repeatedly been proven in institutions across Canada. Making sure these connections continue and new connections are facilitated is what the Navigator is all about.