Our review with CATA of how small businesses can participate more in government procurement is part of an overall exercise in helping develop more small business innovation accelerators.
The OSME at the Federal Govt has a mission of growing Canada`s economic success through greater involvement of SME`s in their procurement, and given the role small businesses play in catalyzing economic growth this is a really important lever to invest more into given the need to address Canada`s dreaded ‘Innovation Gap’.
Actually as many have started to point out recently, Canada doesn’t have an innovation gap but rather they have a Commercialization Gap. There are lots of great inventors and new innovations, but a lack of process to help them turn them into profitable businesses, most notably a lack of venture financing, as well as sales support et al.
With this in mind the other key focus of this review with OSME is the CICP program, intended as an accelerator in this area, where government procurement is used as the context for funding new innovation ideas.
To define how CICP might be built up further we can do a quick scan of what other similar programs are being implemented throughout the world.
Technology Strategy Innovation
In particular the UK’s equivalent program, the SBRI (Small Business Research Initiative) is a very good one to consider.
Part of the Technology Strategy Board, the ‘UKs Innovation Agency’, this is a very progressive model that has a number of powerful elements to consider, with a view to discussing how we might map them to a Canadian program.
First, their white paper is the idea behind the title – It explains the overall picture: From Concept to Commercialization (27-page PDF).
There are a number of foundations that makes the TSB a powerful approach, such as Catapult Centres - Business office centres to provide facilities to support projects, Knowledge Transfer Networks, to better connect academia into innovation procedures and projects and _connect - The use of online social media tools to better encourage and support all of these various collaborations.
However in my view the real catalyst effects come from:
- Rapid prototyping - Rather than trying to copy the role of Venture Capitalists, these programs aim to fund lots of smaller projects. For example as described in this announcement, 80 small businesses will receive slots of around $50k each.
- Technical expertise & portfolio funding - These multiple projects aren’t randomly scattered around. The board recruits the leading technology experts to define an focused R&D agenda, so that these projects are highly targeted into the right strategic areas.
For example as highlighted here, beginning in 2010 the board ran a program to fund projects for ‘Trusted Services’, the foundations for secure online transactions. They funded multiple small projects of highly innovative technologies, documented in this directory (28 page PDF).
The venture opportunity for these projects is clearly described by the UK’s own plans for online Trusted Services, which is the key point about these CICP type programs, i.e. It’s really smart to make investments in areas where you yourself have requirements.
This validates the market as governments throughout the world have the same needs and hence makes the right connections for really accelerating new ventures.