Institutional Approaches to Research and Innovation and Public Statement on the Annual Commercialization Plan

The University of Waterloo’s approach to IP – unique in Canada – is one of the driving factors behind Waterloo Region’s dynamic innovation ecosystem. It begins with our world-class and dynamic research environment, which generates discoveries that create new commercial opportunities and, in some cases, entire industries.

The University supports innovation and commercialization through three main pillars. First, the University’s creator-owned IP policy (Policy 73) provides campus innovators with the freedom and incentives to pursue commercialization through industry partnerships or startup activities. The IP policy also serves as a magnet to attract entrepreneurial researchers and students to Waterloo. Second, the University operates the largest work-integrated learning program in Canada through co-operative education. By cycling students between the academic\research environment and the private sector, we facilitate the rapid exchange of ideas and innovations between industry and academic, while enhancing the employability of our graduates. 96% of our co-op student graduates are employed six months after graduating, compared to 79% for other Ontario university graduates. In the commercialization context, experiential learning provides students the insight to identify challenges facing corporations, representing market-validated business opportunities that are often pursued as 4th year capstone projects, and the stimulus to develop new and commercially viable products and services. Third, the University deeply invests in a range of commercialization and entrepreneurship programs that provide campus innovators the opportunity to find the types of support that are uniquely suited to their specific circumstances (more detail below). The synergy and interplay between these three pillars of policy, practice, and mentorship serve to power our world-renowned commercialization engine – one that has generated in excess of 500 startups, most of which are located in Ontario and Canada, that are currently generating high quality jobs and disruptive business opportunities.

In consultation with the Office of Research, Waterloo’s inventor-owned IP policy provides autonomy for all members of the University (as defined in Policy 73 to include faculty members, staff, graduate and undergraduate students, and postdoctoral fellows) to make informed decisions on IP arrangements that can be made with Ontario and Canadian industry partners. In designing a sponsored funding arrangement, several key factors are at play:

  • What minimal yet sufficient IP rights the company needs to support the project
  • How to ensure the researcher’s IP rights are protected to facilitate their future research plans
  • What opportunities for students and other researchers to develop and commercialize their ideas will be created
  • That the benefits to the Region, Province, and Canada should be compelling and clearly articulated
  • That IP will be managed in such a way as to align with the educational mission of the University – that is, graduate students and others must be able to freely publish their research, and the proposed research must be of a nature and quality that is suitable for meeting the University’s standards for Masters and PhD theses
  • Students should be afforded a meaningful training opportunity that enhances their ability to be hired as highly qualified personnel by Ontario and Canadian companies (i.e., know-how IP transfer)

It is not always possible to satisfy all these criteria equally, and the acceptable balance is always considered on a case-by-case basis. However, roughly two-thirds of the institution’s sponsored research agreements are with Ontario-based companies, supporting productivity enhancement, HQP talent acquisition, and IP asset creation that cumulatively serve as a basis for generating economic prosperity for Canadians.

The University’s institutional commitment to intellectual property (IP) mobilization and commercialization is codified in its Intellectual Property policy (#73) and the Commercialization Framework guidelines. This is further supported via the IP and commercialization campus navigator site to motivate and assist the campus community to engage in IP, entrepreneurship, and commercialization activities. Supporting this ecosystem, the University provides frequent opportunities to participate in a range of IP\commercialization educational awareness presentations and student-oriented entrepreneurship learning workshops\events\programs. The University also plans on encouraging engagement with other Provincial and Canadian government supported research and innovation intermediaries, most notably the newly constituted Intellectual Property Ontario (IPON) agency.

Structurally, the University invests in providing IP, commercialization, and entrepreneurship service and program groups to assist the campus community to realize their aspirations to commercialization of their ideas. The Waterloo Commercialization Office (WatCo) offers the research community a range of services that include IP protection investment and management, private sector IP\commercialization contractual agreement support, and commercialization mobilization support via licensing and startup company creation. Velocity provides co-curricular entrepreneurial training, resources to validate business strategies, and resources to turn products into saleable products. Fueling this work is a Velocity-orchestrated set of advisors and partners that accelerate the entrepreneurial journey and a venture capital fund to invest in Velocity ecosystem startups.

Recently, under the governance of the Office of Research, WatCo and Velocity have united aspects of their specific activities within a new unit referred to as Waterloo Ventures. Waterloo Ventures is designed to more efficiently allocate resources across the campus innovation ecosystem and with a “one stop” landing site to make it easier for potential innovators to seek support and guidance for their commercialization ambitions. Further, the University has constituted the Waterloo Innovation Ecosystem Council (WIEC), that convenes a monthly meeting amongst the broader campus innovation stakeholders to discuss new initiatives and to optimize existing programming, as well as providing a general forum for networking and cross functional unit communications.

It is envisioned that specifying annual commercialization plan (ACP) initiatives will be based on consultation with WIEC and various levels of institutional leadership with overall operational implementation by Waterloo Ventures and other members of the innovation ecosystem on a case-by-case basis. An example of one such initiative is Waterloo Ventures’ investment in the Up Start trial program that provides a funding grant to prospective entrepreneurs, mostly targeting students, at the earliest stage of their journey, to help them shape the vision\plan for the creation of potential startups. Continuation of this program and consideration of additional IP and commercialization initiatives will be based upon the aforesaid consultative pathways and identification of sources of external funding to provide sustainability funding.