School of Graduate Studies

School of Graduate Studies
School of Graduate Studies

Destination Kingston: Building an Innovation Cluster through Talent Growth and Retention – A Review

Adenike Ogunrinde

Science to Business CollageThe first Science to Business Network event, in partnership with Life Sciences Ontario (LSO), was recently held at Queen’s University. The President and founder of the Science to Business (or S2B) Network, Dr. Bruce Seet, started the network to enhance Canada’s culture of innovation and its entrepreneurial ecosystem. S2B has been steadily gaining steam through networking events, educational programs, and workshops since 2011 with the ultimate goal of optimizing the science to business transition for graduate students.

The S2B network, with support from the Queen’s School of Graduate studies and the Faculty of Health Sciences, organized this particular event with the aims of: (1) discussing career opportunities for S.T.E.M. graduate students in Kingston, (2) exploring some of the issues concerning retaining talent, and (3) to generate conversation around developing strategies to better communicate Kingston’s value to students and young professionals. In short, I feel the event was a successful step in the right direction. Sophia Kiwala, Member of Provincial Parliament, Kingston and the Islands; Janice Mady, Director of Industry Partnerships & Innovation Park, Queen’s University; Andrew Yoshoika, President of Sanbonki Inc., Management Consulting; Nuala Trainor, Head of Biological Programs at Octane Medical Group; Ricky Chan, Senior Program Lead at The Ontario Brain Institute, and finally Ted Hsu, Member of Parliament for Kingston and the Islands, collectively formed a well-balanced panel. These panelists provided broad insight concerning the job market for STEM students from academic, industrial, and political perspectives.

Christine Fader, a Career Counsellor at Queen’s university with 16+ years of recruiting and counselling experience, opened up as the moderator for the evening with an enlightening statement, setting an affirmative tone for the evening - “less than 2% of Canadians have a Ph.D.”  The question I felt I was implicitly asking as an event attendee was, ‘how are we to use our unique knowledge base and diverse skill set to obtain prosperous careers in the life sciences, technology, and biotechnology sectors?’

‘Networking’ was the resounding answer provided by many of the panelists, and the topic itself engaged quite a few members in the audience. Andrew Yoshoika, also a Volunteer Advisor for LSO, emphasized the importance of networking but also discussed the LSO mentorship program, whereby mentors in science and business are matched to protégé(s). The pair is urged to “set goals, establish a plan, and work towards these goals.”  Ricky Chan also discussed two additional programs that exist through the Ontario Brain institute, primarily for neuroscience graduates. He estimated that the success rate after these programs is ~95% for finding longer term employment (links to both these programs are provided below).  Janice Mady suggested a more intimate approach – to seek mentorship through people you already know – Ph.D Candidates, Post-Docs, etc., and to maintain those relationships as you work on developing your career.

One big topic of discussion was ‘funding for R&D’, for which Ted Hsu, the M.P. and Sophie Kiwala, the M.P.P. on the panel, contributed the most to the discussion. Ted Hsu suggested that R&D would benefit from a larger tax credit – something many researchers are intimately aware of – saying that we need to find a way to get the risk taking [that typically comes with research] incentivised, also suggesting that it would be a good place for municipal and provincial governments to get involved.  A good suggestion was to corral like-minded researchers together to petition for their causes, suggesting that it might hold a stronger weight with politicians looking to the public for issues that are of concern. Sophia Kiwala suggested that improvements on the research side of the issue might help, in that research focused on issues that would be relevant in 3, 5 and 10 years, might be more likely to be funded. Generally, the topic of funding for R&D, although a touchy subject for most scientific researchers, was discussed in an engaging, well-rounded fashion.

Another event attendee opened up the discussion on the topic of programs that currently exist in Kingston, asking where some of these opportunities for employment lie. Janice Mady gave a review of some of the dominant clusters in town: the public sector, academic institutions, and more emerging clusters in the private sector with respects to materials, manufacturing, clean technology, and defense; which I thought was quite useful. By being armed with a basic understanding of the clusters that exist in Kingston, students can research more in depth about clusters that apply to them. Upon further conversation with Janice, I discovered there are quite a few opportunities that exist at Innovation Park for those who already have an innovative idea. Innovation Park strives to foster interaction between researchers and innovators in order to stimulate commercialization and economic development. Innovation Park has five distinct program streams ranging from the Physical Incubation Program, whereby eligible start-ups can take a place in the park where they have access to its resources, to the Match Making program, whereby a business development team works with select companies to help make connections to funding, other businesses, or additional resources. Janice urged me to pass along her contact information for those who might want to know more about the resources as Innovation Park, which you can find in the link at the end of the article.

In attending the first Science to Business Networking event with a panel that collectively has such a diverse range of expertise it was beneficial both to hear their feedback and opinions on select topics, but also to ask specific questions that take advantage of the panel’s knowledge base.  I spoke with Andrew Yoshoika and thereupon learned more about Life Sciences Ontario; more specifically that it helps promotes synergy between PhDs and organizations resulting in mutual benefit. Having seen many of the event attendees make an effort to engage with the panelists on a one-on-one basis, I felt like many others were able to take advantage of their knowledge base as well.

Overall, the Science to Business Networking event was a success. It was a great way to open up the discussion on some of the resources for budding young talent both within and outside of Kingston, and some of the issues surrounding R&D. The S2BN event followed the lead of the SGS to continue the discussion about careers for STEM graduates.

For those looking for more opportunities in Kingston, check out the resources provided by Queen’s Career Services (links below). The following career oriented resources were launched at Queen’s in the past year: mygradskills.ca, versatilephd.com and the inaugural Career Week. I urge you to check them out as well if you are a graduate student looking for more career options. In addition, the second Career Week at Queen’s will be put on by the SGS October 19th-23rd.

 

Science to Business Panel

Science to Business Panel (left to right): Andrew Yoshoika, Janice Mady, Sophie Kiwala, Ricky Chan, Ted Hsu, Nuala Trainor

Links of interest:       

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