Partnerships and Innovation

Office of Partnerships and Innovation
Office of Partnerships and Innovation

Examining International Opportunities - GreenCentre Canada moving quickly to increase deal flow and establish brand

Green Centre Canada (GCC) is rapidly becoming a major commercialization force to be reckoned with as it implements its unique collaboration-based technology transfer model and prepares to expand internationally. In its first five years, GCC aims to commercialize 50 green technologies through at least 10 licence agreements, six start-ups and the creation of 250 highly skilled jobs by obtaining and exploiting novel, commercially promising green chemistry technologies and processes.

Jointly funded by the federal and Ontario governments as well as a host of industry players, GCC has a five-year budget of more than $40 million, with public and private sources providing roughly equal amounts of cash. It has struck a major chord with its business-led decision making model that reaches into into academia to identify, assess and select the most commercially promising technologies for further development.

"Green Centre brings market relevance and rigour to the commercialization process," says PARTEQ president and CEO John Molloy, adding that he anticipates the model will soon be replicated in other emerging technology areas across the country. "You have to be aggressive with the right people, resources and infrastructure and that's expensive. It gets to be a numbers game — lots of deal flow to get enough winners to make it pay for itself."

More than 160 technologies have already been forwarded from universities across Canada that will be assessed for their market potential, stretching the centre's technology development capacity. But that hasn't stopped GCC executives from considering an expansion of the centre's model internationally, with plans to establish a US-based subsidiary to match university discovery with industry needs in the Great Lakes region of the US.

"It's to replicate what we're doing across Canada," says GCC executive director Dr Rui Resendes. "It really increases our bandwidth of opportunity and we have the same captive industrial audience that we align to in a complementary way."

With a staff of more than 20 scientists, administration and commercialization experts, GCC has moved from its Queen's Univ campus location into new facilities in suburban Kingston. It's hoped that by the end of its fifth year, both the technology pipeline and the facility will be full to overflowing. Revenues derived from spin-offs and licensing out to industry will fuel the expansion, contributing to industry growth as well as its greening.

"Opportunities are missed all the time. Patents and discoveries die because they're not developed enough to attract industry," says Dr Philip Jessop, GCC's scientific director, a Canada Research Chair holder in green chemistry and a professor in the departments of Chemistry and Environmental Studies at Queen's Univ. "Green Centre breaks the impasse and gets past the gap. We pick likely winners and try to take them to market."

Building the GCC model and securing federal and Ontario funding has been a long process that is now gaining attention in many circles as the concept is being realized. The initial awarding of $9.1 million through the Centres of Excellence for Commercialization and Research (CECR) program was augmented by $13.1 million from Ontario's Ministry of Research and Innovation.

"I was a little skeptical about our reception by the universities but it has far exceeded my expectations," says Molloy. "Every university wants to get on board."

Private Sector Partners
Ford Motor Co
Dearborn MI
Polycorp Ltd
NOVA Chemicals Corp
Pressure Chemical Co
Pittsburgh PA
Veolia Water Solutions & Technologies
Paris, France
NexCycle Plastics Inc
Fielding Chemical Technologies Inc
The Stephan Company
Worcester MA

Resendes says the key to GCC's initial success has been gaining the trust of university-based researchers as well as forging ties with small and large companies spanning the spectrum of the chemical industry. Peter Snucins, chair of Elora ON-based Polycorp Ltd (formerly BFGoodrich Engineering Products of Canada) chairs GCC's industry-dominated board of directors, which is instrumental in determining the direction of the centre and the technologies it selects for commercialization.

mining a $1-billion research base

GCC's current capacity is impressive. It works through university technology transfer offices to draw from more than 1,000 research groups across Canada whose most promising discoveries are funneled into the centre's development facilities. It's estimated that more than $1 billion in fundamental research is spent each year on chemical materials science. In addition to assessment, services include scale-up and testing, intellectual property protection, business management, communications and marketing and, perhaps most importantly, financial resources and management to move promising technologies and processes from the lab to the marketplace.

"The companies (associated with GCC) are investing a tremendous amount of capital, in-kind resources and intelligence that is allowing us to triage the various opportunities we see and formulate a commercialization strategy to maximize the chances of getting that into the marketplace," says Resendes. "Because they're making a huge investment they need to have a competitive advantage."

That advantage means that GCC does not collaborate with any and all companies that approach the centre. A finite number of companies representing different aspects of the green chemistry value chain (currently nine with another four in negotiations, including German chemical giant BASF) are permitted to participate, providing the firms with real potential to gain market share through innovations stemming from GCC. To date, several technologies are close to licensing agreements and three start-up companies are being developed for spin-off.

green center usa

Discussions with US-based researchers, chemical companies and public funding agencies and foundations to establish Green Center USA. The GCC board is scheduled to vote on September 14th on whether to approve the initiative. To be based in Pittsburgh PA, the US centre will focus on the Great Lakes region, the historical home to much of the American chemical industry.

"In our discussions with many large and small players we discovered that this is not a uniquely Canadian gap and there are the same opportunities being squandered in the US that were being squandered in Canada, so the opportunity was there. And we had the networks by virtue of our US-based companies to help us navigate the political and funding landscapes. If we didn't act, someone else would,"says Resendes.

"It will be a separate centre spelled ‘er' and it will be under the control of Green Centre Canada with its own board if directors and executive director ... Part of the CECR and the federal S&T mandate is to establish Canada as leaders. I don't think anything says that better than establishing a commercialization centre in the US based on a Canadian model."

In addition to the US initiative, interest has also been expressed by Israel as well as China, although discussions with the latter are very preliminary.

Within Canada, the GCC has garnered considerable attention but the concept has yet to expand to other sectors. Molloy says GCC works because of the scale and commitment it has received from both industry and academia.

GCC is also providing significant value-add to its industrial clients with its recent MOU with sister CECR, the Bioindustrial Innovation Centre (BIC) and its affiliated Sustainable Chemistry Alliance, both based in Sarnia ON in the Univ of Western Ontario's Sarnia-Lambton Research Park.

While GCC has capacity for technology assessment, IP protection, product and prototype development and initial scale-up, BIC works further down the commercialization chain with the design and commissioning of large-scale pilot manufacturing and large-scale investment attraction.

PARTEQ also applied to the CECR program for a centre modelled on GCC but focused on power electronics. The application was not successful.

GCC has been established as a separate, not-for-profit entity and PARTEQ is the only voting member giving it full control over the centre. Molloy says the corporate structure was implemented to conform to Ontario government funding conditions.

CECR funding renewal unclear

GCC's funding future beyond the five-year envelope provided by the CECR program is uncertain. The government has not clarified whether CECRs are eligible for a second funding tranche and the Networks of Centres of Excellence directorate which manages the CECRs did not respond to queries.

While Resendes says GCC's strategic plan calls for GCC to become self sufficient in its eighth year of operation, Molloy says that in the interim, GCC must assume that further funding is not forthcoming beyond year five.

"We have to go on the assumption that there will be no new funding from CECR. Rui (Resendes) is working on this," says Molloy. "We will depend on contract development and industry sponsorship to keep us going. It's a difficult task but not impossible."