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ON: New College network helps small business

By Mario Cywinski |

A new college-based innovation network has been created to help small to medium sized businesses (SMSB) improve their performance, problem solving and be able to stay competitive.

The provinces top 10 colleges (Algonquin, Centennial, Conestoga, Fanshawe, George Brown, Humber, Niagara, St. Clair, Seneca and Sheridan) are helping SMSB access expertise which they might not otherwise be able to use. The network is called the Colleges Ontario Network for Industry Innovation (CONII).

"This is a completely new way of reaching out to our small business community," says Katharine Janzen, Chair of the CONII Steering Committee and Vice-President, Research and Innovation, at Toronto’s Seneca College. "Colleges have always maintained close contact with business and industry. With CONII, we’re expanding that relationship to include applied research, development and commercialization services."

The program is funded by the Ontario Ministry of Research and Innovation, by way of their Ontario Research Commercialization Program (ORCP). A total of $3.5 million has been allotted for the program.

We spoke to Gail Bergman of Gail Bergman PR to ask her how the program actually works.

Bergman mentioned that the top reasons that companies will use the program are: low productivity, low work efficiency, improper work in process (WIP), improper space utilization and improper production scheduling.

Next, once the company is involved in the program, they will work with a college, in this case Sheridan College and try to solve the problems mentioned above.

"The company will work with Sheridan students and faculty through the School of Applied Computing and Engineering Sciences Engineering Industry Project. Sheridan engineering technology programs include a 12-week Engineering Industry Project course in which senior students apply their developed knowledge and skills in an industrial environment," said Bergman. "Students from the School of Applied Computing and Engineering Sciences work in small groups with a local manufacturing company to identify and resolve manufacturing and engineering issues by researching and analyzing the issues and performing engineering, design and/or implementation work."

According to Bergman, the projects are supervised by faculty and industry supervisors and are defined by the Host Company and Sheridan college professors and students.

"In small groups, students work with a host company to identify and resolve manufacturing problems," said Bergman. "Students complete weekly progress reports and a final report with their recommendations and solutions, which are presented to both the company and Sheridan."

The program differs from others, simply because it focuses on solving problems and meeting community goals, as opposed to simply pushing research.

Twenty companies are part of the network. An example is Tertec Enterprises Inc. in Markham, which is paired up with Seneca College. The students are involved with the company on many levels, including working on a robotic arm that allows a blind person to operate many household items, such as a microwave.

Another company using the network is one run by Len Crispino. He runs a vineyard in the Niagara region and is paired up with Niagara College.

"Niagara College researchers have given vineyard owners like me an important decision-making tool," says Crispino. "They have been a tremendous resource in helping me to address my business challenges as a small operator."

CONII member colleges each have an innovation centre which was created as a place for the business owners to go for assistance. The member schools also have access to the Ontario Centres of Excellence (OCE) program.

CONII is tapping into many sectors in its network, some of these include energy, environment, digital media, health, hospitality, communications, manufacturing, and agri-business.

"The idea behind CONII is to turn a competitive college culture into a collaborative one," said says Katharine Janzen, Chair of the CONII Steering Committee and Vice-President, Research and Innovation, at Toronto’s Seneca College.

For more information about CONII visit

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