UBC President's Speeches and Writings

The role of the universities in the creation of a tech corridor in Cascadia Ono, Santa Jeremy Sep 20, 2016

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1		The	role	of	the	universities	in	the	creation	of	a	tech	corridor	in	Cascadia			September	20,	2016	Santa	J.	Ono		First,	I	want	to	welcome	our	guests	and	colleagues	from	across	the	border.		In	many	ways	this	conference	is	a	reminder	that	the	US	and	Canada	have	long	been	each	other’s	closest	partner,	exchanging	people	and	ideas	as	well	as	goods.		In	the	realm	of	knowledge	discovery	and	dissemination,	borders	should	have	no	meaning.		We	benefit	most	when	we	work	together,	and	I’m	happy	to	remind	you	that	Canadian	and	American	scholars	and	scientists	are	extensively	embedded	in	the	libraries,	laboratories,	and	classrooms	of	each	other’s	countries.		I	also	want	to	thank	Microsoft	for	its	role	in	sponsoring	this	event.	Microsoft	is	playing	a	major	role	in	developing	tech	industries	in	this	part	of	the	world,	and	in	bringing	all	parts	of	the	Pacific	Northwest	closer	together.			Over	the	last	few	hours	we’ve	heard	a	good	deal	about	tech	corridors,	how	they	have	developed,	and	how	they	might	develop	in	this	region.		The	question	before	us	now	is,	in	what	ways	can	universities	contribute	to	achieving	that	goal?		This	should	be	a	relatively	straightforward	proposition.		Big	universities	like	UBC	and	the	University	of	Washington	already	conduct	large	research	enterprises	in	areas	such	as	information	technology,	digital	media,	software	development	and	so	on.		And	I’m	happy	to	note	that	we	already	do	engage	with	one	another	in	a	variety	of	ways:	so,	for	example,	the	Pacific	Institute	for	the	Mathematical	Sciences,	based	at	UBC,	is	a	consortium	of	universities	that	includes	UW	as	a	member.		And	then	there’s	UBC’s	Applied	Science	Faculty,	which	holds	an	annual	conference	with	the	University	of	Washington	around	the	topic	of	hydrology	and	water	resources—a	conference	that	has	been	going	on	since	the	mid-1970s.		So	there	are	cross-border	connections.	But	we	are	nowhere	close	to	realizing	the	potential	that	lies	in	a	greater	combination	of	our	individual	2		capabilities,	allied	to	coordinated	initiatives	by	government	and	industry.		To	move	that	agenda	forward,	we	need	to	convince	ourselves	and	our	partners	that	the	conditions	are	right:	that	the	necessary	political,	social,	and	economic	factors	are	in	place	to	transform	the	Cascadia	region	into	a	technological	hub	comparable	to	Silicon	Valley	and	Boston.			 We	need	to	remember	that	universities	do	not	operate	in	a	vacuum.	Whether	we	are	talking	about	student	access	and	mobility,	research	priorities,	transportation	links,	or	physical	facilities,	we	are	inextricably	linked	to	the	socio-economic	environments	in	which	we	find	ourselves.		Most	universities,	including	UBC	and	UW,	were	established	to	meet	the	practical	needs	of	a	new	settler	society,	and	that	sense	of	responsibility	to	the	state	or	province	of	their	foundation	remains,	as	indeed	it	should,	a	strong	influence	on	their	mission	and	operation.				In	the	public	realm	especially,	universities	must	also	depend	on	the	support	they	receive	from	regional	and	national	governments,	both	for	research	funding,	whether	basic	or	applied,	and	for	operating.	The	consequence	of	such	arrangements	is	that	decisions	about	the	teaching	and	research	enterprise	are	rarely	made	unilaterally;	university	presidents	in	Canada	spend	a	lot	of	their	time	keeping	a	wary	eye	on	provincial	and	federal	ministers	and	trying	to	influence	the	direction	of	research	and	innovation	policy.				In	Canada,	our	federal	government	has	recently	launched	two	important	initiatives:	a	fundamental	science	review	and	a	consultation	on	Canada’s	innovation	agenda.	Combined,	these	two	initiatives	aim	to	address	how	best	to	foster	an	innovation-based	economy	in	the	21st	Century.	In	doing	so,	they	are	asking	important	questions	about	the	globally	competitive	levels	of	research	funding,	best	practices	for	“big	science”,	and	whether	or	not	Canadian	innovators	and	researchers	have	the	right	supports	to	collaborate	across	borders.	So	this	conference	is	very	timely	within	the	national	discourse	in	Canada.			3		And	as	you	know,	in	British	Columbia,	the	provincial	government	recently	launched	its	Tech	Strategy.	It	is	an	important	acknowledgement	of	the	role	the	tech	sector	is	playing	in	our	provincial	economy	and	a	needed	commitment	to	provide	the	supports	to	ensure	the	sector	flourishes.			Since	1998	the	provincial	government	has	provided	important	matching	funding	to	ensure	universities	attract	Canada	Foundation	for	Innovation	funding	for	research	infrastructure	through	its	Knowledge	Development	Fund.	Through	this	and	other	provincial	programs	such	as	Genome	BC	and	the	Michael	Smith	Foundation	for	Health	Research,	UBC	and	our	sister	institutions	in	BC	have	been	able	to	build	the	kind	of	solid	foundation	that	makes	advanced	research	possible	and	contributes	to	both	provincial	and	national	socio-economic	wellbeing.		BC	is	indeed	a	place	where	research	and	innovation	flourish.		And	as	I	hope	you	know,	UBC	itself	is	a	major	player	in	the	research	enterprise.	After	that	University	in	Eastern	Canada,	we	are	the	second	largest	research	institution	in	Canada.	In	the	past	year	we	garnered	$600	million	in	research	funding,	supporting	almost	9,000	research	projects	across	the	university.		We	conduct	90%	of	the	industry-sponsored	research	in	BC.		In	2015,	UBC	was	in	the	73rd	percentile	for	tech	transfer	among	North	American	universities,	and	in	the	87th	percentile	among	Canadian	universities.			In	2016,	UBC	was	in	the	92nd	percentile	for	start-up	company	creation	among	North	American	universities,	and	in	the	97th	percentile	among	Canadian	universities.		So	UBC	is	and	should	be	a	critical	partner	as	we	discuss	further	strengthening	cross-border	collaborations.			Successful	research	universities	must	be	actively	engaged	along	the	full	range	of	the	innovation	spectrum	–	fostering	and	recruiting	talent,	pushing	the	edges	of	discovery	and	helping	bridge	those	discoveries	to	the	market	place,	the	hospital	bed,	or	to	government	policy.			Large	research	universities	like	Washington	and	UBC	supply	both	the	technical	know-how	and	the	qualified	graduates	to	keep	our	industries	at	the	4		forefront	of	world	markets.		We	contribute	to	the	development	and	evolution	of	new	companies,	products,	and	services,	and	create	the	new	technologies	that	industry	needs	to	remain	productive	and	competitive.	UBC	students	have	the	benefit	of	the	largest	co-op	education	program	in	Western	Canada,	gaining	invaluable	work	experience	before	they	graduate,	and	facilitating	the	exchange	of	knowledge	between	industry	and	academia.				To	further	promote	research-industry	collaborations,	UBC’s	University-Industry	Liaison	Office—the	UILO—helps	start-ups	and	spin-offs,	and	provides	the	kind	of	network	and	know-how	that	enables	researchers	to	bring	their	discoveries	into	the	marketplace.	UILO	is	comprised	of	two	distinct	groups:	the	Sponsored	Research	Group	and	the	Technology	Transfer	Group.	Both	groups	are	recognized	nationally,	negotiating	more	than	2,500	contracts,	issuing	hundreds	of	patents	and	licensing	agreements,	and	spinning	off	new	companies	each	year.					One	of	UBC’s	most	successful	spin-offs	is	Westport	Innovations,	BC's	largest	clean	tech	company.	The	company	engineers	the	world's	most	advanced	natural	gas	engines	and	vehicles,	reducing	emissions	and	fuel	costs,	employing	more	than	450	people	in	BC	and	over	1,000	in	Canada,	all	with	technology	developed	at	UBC.	The	company	was	initially	built	through	close	partnerships	with	UBC	researchers,	grad	students	and	lab	facilities,	and	maintains	extensive	research	partnerships	with	UBC	to	this	day.		I	offer	this	example	to	emphasize	how	UBC	has	already	developed	the	kind	of	expertise	in	university-industry	start-up	and	collaboration	that	could	well	create	a	platform	for	the	kind	of	partnership	that	is	the	theme	of	this	conference.		Not	only	do	we	produce	the	brainpower;	we	also	know	how	and	where	to	apply	it	to	the	greatest	effect.		Success	 in	 joint	 enterprises	 of	 the	 kind	 I’ve	 been	 describing	 is	 predicated	 on	strength	in	local	and	regional	economies.	Partnership	supposes	strengths	on	each	side,	both	in	broad	economic	terms	and	at	the	more	granular	level	of	research	and	manufacturing	capacities.	The	states	and	provinces	that	form	Cascadia	are	in	such	5		a	position.		I	will	speak	only	of	British	Columbia	in	this	context,	to	emphasize	that	the	province	would	be	a	strong	partner	in	the	kind	of	alliance	we	are	contemplating	today,	 an	 alliance	 built	 around	 advanced	 technologies	 and	 their	 associated	industries.			Despite	some	stagnation	in	the	Canadian	economy	and	setbacks	in	resource	investment,	BC	has	continued	to	forge	ahead,	enjoying	a	boom	in	technology-based	industry	and	manufacturing,	along	with	the	lowest	unemployment	rate	in	Canada;	indeed,	the	projections	are	for	BC	to	lead	Canada	in	economic	growth	over	the	2016-2017	economic	period.		And	over	the	last	five	years	Vancouver	has	become	a	technological	hub,	developing	real	strengths	in	film-making,	special	effects,	and	electronic	games.			Part	of	our	region’s	strength	lies	in	the	high	quality	of	its	education	system—a	necessary	precondition	for	the	creation	of	a	tech	corridor.		Our	universities	and	colleges	play	an	increasingly	important	role	in	helping	the	province	maintain	a	strong	position	within	the	Canadian	economy.	The	economic	impact	of	university	research	on	the	provincial	economy	through	knowledge	transfer	has	been	estimated	at	$8	billion	annually.		UBC	alone	engages	in	hundreds	of	research	projects	each	year	that	boost	employment	and	contribute	substantially	to	the	provincial	GDP.		Our	licensed	technologies	are	at	the	heart	of	a	huge	range	of	treatments,	products,	processes	and	services	that	have	generated	an	estimated	$12	billion	in	sales.			 None	of	the	factors	I	have	discussed	so	far—government	funding,	public-private	partnerships,	or	the	role	of	universities	in	contributing	to	regional	economic	strength—mean	much	if	they	are	not	underpinned	by	the	capacity	to	generate	new	ideas—if	they	lack	the	brainpower	and	curiosity	that	sustain	fundamental	research	and	bring	about	innovation.		Research	is	nothing	if	it	is	not	driven	by	a	desire	to	discover	the	unknown,	and	to	turn	that	discovery	into	something	new—whether	a	new	product,	a	new	way	of	thinking,	a	new	solution	to	an	old	problem.		This	is	where	universities	excel:	in	creating	the	conditions	in	which	innovation	can	flourish,	in	which,	with	time	and	financial	support,	people	6		can	dedicate	themselves	to	bring	about	changes	in	the	ways	we	act,	think,	or	create.					Recognizing	this,	industry	is	turning	more	and	to	the	universities	to	find	new	ways	of	solving	their	problems,	to	help	them	develop	new	products	or	improve	quality	and	efficiency.			So,	for	example,	Boeing	and	SkyNRG,	with	support	from	Canada’s	aviation	industry	and	other	stakeholders,	are	collaborating	with	UBC	to	turn	leftover	branches,	sawdust	and	other	forest-industry	waste	into	sustainable	aviation	biofuel.		And	industrial	partners	are	making	more	and	more	use	of	UBC	facilities	such	as	our	Imaging	Lab	or	our	Centre	for	High-Throughput	Phenogenomics,	to	help	them	test	new	products	or	examine	the	causes	of	disease.			Within	Canada,	there	are	more	and	more	such	instances	of	collaborative	enterprise	fostering	innovation.		Provincial	and	federal	governments	are	beginning	to	recognize	the	importance	of	innovation	to	a	healthy	and	thriving	economy.		Our	federal	government’s	innovation	agenda	articulated	last	June	includes	the	creation	of	research	clusters	and	partnerships—the	kind	of	partnerships	within	and	between	universities	and	industry,	between	public	and	private,	and	across	national	borders,	that	we	are	envisaging	here	today.				UBC	and	Vancouver	are	certainly	ready	for	the	kind	of	opportunities	that	a	tech	corridor	would	present.		Microsoft’s	new	presence	in	the	city	in	the	form	of	its	Excellence	Centre	promises	to	act	as	a	spur	to	innovation	in	many	aspects	of	software	development;	and	it	encourages	us	to	think	about	creating	networks	linking	UBC	data	scientists,	Microsoft	Research,	and	software	engineering	scientists	at	UW.		A	number	of	UBC	researchers	in	computer	science	and	electrical	and	computer	engineering	already	have	strong	connections	and	ongoing	projects	with	Microsoft	Research	in	Redmond;	given	the	right	support,	this	could	easily	expand	into	a	much	broader	and	more	comprehensive	relationship.				We	can	and	must	forge	new	alliances;	we	must	learn	how	to	draw	on	one	another’s	strengths;	we	must	develop	a	climate	of	collaboration	and	7		complementarity,	if	we	want	the	region	to	prosper,	if	we	want	to	bring	about	economic	growth	and	social	wellbeing	on	both	sides	of	the	border.			Collectively	we	have	the	brainpower	to	make	this	possible.		What	we	need	is	to	find	a	way	of	unleashing	that	brainpower,	perhaps	by	the	creation	of	a	supra-national	regional	authority	that	could	bring	universities,	governments,	and	the	private	sector	together;	not	to	create	a	new	independent	nation	as	John	Quincy	Adams	believed	might	happen	in	the	Pacific	Northwest,	but	rather	to	enrich	the	lives	of	people	on	both	side	of	the	border	and	contribute	to	the	prosperity	and	wellbeing	of	all	the	citizens	of	Canada	and	the	United	States.				Thank	you.					(http://www.gov.bc.ca/citz/technologyandinnovation/Funding/examples.html)	(https://news.gov.bc.ca/releases/2016MTICS0012-000835)		(http://webometrics.info/en/North_america)		


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