Startup city

Startup city

< Back to Articles | Topics: Skilled workforce | Contributors: Erin Elaine Casey | This is a guest post from Nova Scotia Community College
(Member since 1996) | Published: July 1, 2018

This is a guest post from Nova Scotia Community College
(Member since 1996)

Reaching a world-class calibre of excellence.

Nova Scotia Community College has come a long way in the last couple of decades. NSCC has grown to a complement of more than 120 programs, covering everything from skilled trades to the very latest in science and technology. It might surprise you to learn that in the last five years alone, NSCC has been involved in more than 260 research and innovation projects. In fact, NSCC has a department completely dedicated to developing practical and innovative solutions for industry’s real-world problems.

As the Director of Applied Research at NSCC, Dr. Alain Joseph spends a lot of time thinking about those problems. “There are a lot of social, business and economic questions in Nova Scotia that could use some research,” he says. Establishing the college as part of the province’s innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystem is a key part of NSCC’s mission to build Nova Scotia’s economy and quality of life through education and innovation.

“We want to focus on improving opportunities for young people in our region,” says Joseph. “And we’re really proud that the college is a middle space in that ecosystem, building on cutting-edge ideas and developing them for practical implementation by industry.”

NSCC employs expert research teams and offers a network of faculty and students from a wide range of programs, to help industry improve their products and processes — and grow their businesses. Joseph describes the cutting-edge labs, facilities and equipment at NSCC campuses as a “community resource.”

“We have a lot of great infrastructure that we need to deliver teaching and training to young people — and a lot of that adapts really well to research. We offer applied research opportunities at our campuses to link students and community with experts,” says Joseph.

“Culturally, we really recognize the talent and skill sets of our faculty from having worked in industry and passing that on to the next generation,” he explains. “They’ve recently come from industry, so they have a current understanding of what kinds of needs exist in various industry sectors.” In addition to scientific disciplines, Applied Research also has the expertise of more than 120 programs at its fingertips, including business, culinary and natural resources.

Applied Research at NSCC focuses on five areas. The Applied Energy Research team develops and tests sustainable energy alternatives; the Engineered Technologies Research team works in a range of technology sectors; the Environment and Agriculture team studies real-world ecological and spatial questions in the sector; the Applied Geomatics Research group applies advanced mapping techniques to solve problems and support sustainable development in the coastal zone and aquaculture sites; and the Applied Oceans Research group investigates the latest innovations in ocean survey instruments.

NSCC’s Industry Liaison Offi ce (ILO) acts as the link between industry and expertise, working with industry partners to identify opportunities and develop collaborative research agreements. How does Applied Research at NSCC actually work? “We want to help industry partners solve problems and the ILO facilitates those interactions,” explains Joseph. “There are other agencies that direct clients our way: Innovacorp, ACOA, Nova Scotia Business Inc. and others.” Once a project comes to the front door of the college, the Applied Research team looks at it to see if it’s a good fi t. “We put together a team and look for funding resources to make it happen,” says Joseph. “It’s a little diff erent from the traditional research model — we recognize that industry partners have the greatest expertise in their problem and they are part of the team in looking at next steps to solve that problem.”

Joseph emphasizes that the college must play to its areas of strength when choosing which projects to pursue. “We only have so many hours in the day!” he laughs. Startup Neothermal Energy Storage fi t perfectly into the Applied Energy Research stream. Chief Research and Technology Officer, Louis Desgrosseilliers, developed Neothermal’s electric thermal storage (ETS) technology during his PhD studies at Dalhousie. Together with CEO, Jill Johnson, he formed a company in 2015 to develop and market a plug-in supplemental room-heating appliance. This electric space heater uses thermal storage to save customers money by using time of day electricity rates.

“We’ve been working with NSCC for three years — and trying to get a brand new clean-tech startup, from an idea to market is a very long process. The fact that they’ve been supportive of us has been really great. I don’t think we would have gotten here without their support,” says Johnson. “They gave us access to a lab, equipment and resources, which is invaluable early on.” The initial connection to NSCC came when they won the Innovacorp Smart Energy Demo Challenge in 2015 and they’ve been working with them ever since.

Neothermal Energy Storage started out at the Ivany Campus in Dartmouth, but in May moved to Bridgewater, a small town that’s fast becoming a clean energy destination with their Energize Bridgewater program. Johnson and Desgrosseilliers also installed their very first prototype in March, at Pilikan House on the Middleton Campus. The house is a “living lab” and demonstration site where the next generation of residential construction professionals can learn how to incorporate sustainability into their work.

“It’s a high performance house, built the same as an occupied home, all the same systems, but with a whole home automation system that’s more common to commercial buildings,” says Desgrosseilliers. This test run is measuring both performance and cost savings, critical information that will inform the pilot project planned for this fall, which will see up to 25 homes outfi tted with the new heating appliances. “We’d like to talk to anyone interested in being an early adopter and we’re looking at programs that would reduce the cost to the customer,” adds Johnson.

Desgrosseilliers points to the set up of NSCC as a huge benefit. “Having a more expansive network of campuses is a really big structural advantage of NSCC. It’s designed in a way that you can drive 45 minutes in any direction and you can get to a campus.” He and Johnson are now also connected to the Lunenburg campus, located in Bridgewater — that network has been invaluable.

Students are a big part of every research project at NSCC. “Any research activity we do is linked to an industry partner and almost all of it involves students,” explains Alain Joseph. “Students often will work as hired research assistants, or have opportunities to engage in research for their senior projects. This is a great opportunity to work on an industry challenge.”

“We also bring those problems to the classroom and see if students want to work on them. It often leads to good ideas and a nice connection if companies are looking to hire someone who knows, or has insights into an emerging area. You might realize that a student you’re working with would be a great person to have on your team. When it does work, the partners are always really happy, because they know exactly who they have joining their team — it’s kind of a seamless transition.”
The Neothermal Energy team has certainly benefitted from student contributions. This will be their third year participating in the NSCC student exchange program. “Students from Austria come for the summer and complete different projects related to our technology,” says Johnson. “This has been so valuable because it’s just the two of us building the business.”

“When we first started with Austrian students, we were still completing work at Ivany,” adds Desgrosseilliers. “Students there were building on experiments we were already doing around design of components. Last year, they were doing some experiments on future directions, such as cold storage for AC and heat storage for solar electricity. This year, we’re back onto doing stuff directly related to our path. We have two students working on central heating integration approaches — taking our technology and tying it into either a furnace or a boiler. We would be directly linked to existing systems so they would physically operate together and all equipment would be located in the furnace room.”

This win-win situation allows students to study and learn from cutting-edge technology while contributing much-needed research hours to a fledgling business. “It’s fun to see students excel in areas where we really need skills and excellence,” says Joseph.

Joseph has been with NSCC since 2009 when he started as one of the College’s first post-doctoral researchers after completing an interdisciplinary PhD at Dalhousie. He took over as Director of Applied Research about a year ago. “I’m even still impressed by the calibre of some of the research activities we have here. We have many of the world’s leading experts in some of these applied fields.”

One example is NSCC hosting the Industrial Research Chair for Canadian Colleges, Dr. Craig Brown, who holds a $1 million grant from NSERC, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, in the field of ocean sea floor habitat mapping. Dr. Brown has two post-doctoral researchers working with him. “These young PhDs could go anywhere in the world,” says Joseph, “but they’re actively doing applied research at the college. This is not something you would have seen 10 or 15 years ago.”

NSCC is also one of the only academic institutions in Canada to have light detection and ranging — or LiDAR — mapping instrumentation available. “LiDAR uses a laser instrument to produce really high quality maps, which allows local resource sector companies to get really accurate maps for things like aquaculture. We’ve worked with municipalities to look at flooding and road planning and to map the solar energy potential of roofs in Halifax.”

Joseph also points to important collaborations emerging in the oceantech arena. NSCC is a partner in the Ocean Supercluster — and when the COVE (Centre for Ocean Ventures and Entrepreneurship) facility opens this summer on the Dartmouth waterfront, NSCC’s Ocean Research team is going to be based there.

One of the most unusual things about NSCC’s Applied Research model is that the college does not retain any ownership of the intellectual property developed by their partnerships. “Our mandate is to help industries grow. We help them improve, advance and turn ideas into prototypes. Then we turn it all over to our partners,” explains Joseph.

“Hopefully, we have a chance to loop back to them. If they have success, they’ll be looking for people to help them grow, further refine their research, implement training and develop a business model. Having that connection to industry helps us improve how we teach across all our programs, even the ones that don’t have a direct connection to science or technology.”

Despite the hundreds of projects NSCC has participated in — and the millions of research dollars the institution has garnered, Joseph thinks there’s still tons of untapped potential. “I’d love to see a lot more of that capacity leveraged. You can walk down the halls here and see so many talented people. Our region needs to put that skill and talent into action.”

The Applied Research team at NSCC is thinking big. “We want Nova Scotia to have one of the most innovative economies in the world,” says Joseph. “This is a province with 10 universities and a college with 13 campuses. We can compete globally. The research is about reaching a world-class calibre of excellence.”

< Back to Articles | Topics: Skilled workforce

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