Category Archives: innovation

Big data in the Cascadia region: a University of British Columbia (Canada) and University of Washington (US state) collaboration

Before moving onto the news and for anyone unfamiliar with the concept of the Cascadia region, it is an informally proposed political region or a bioregion, depending on your perspective. Adding to the lack of clarity, the region generally includes the province of British Columbia in Canada and the two US states, Washington and Oregon but Alaska (another US state) and the Yukon (a Canadian territory) may also be included, as well as, parts of California, Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana. (You can read more about the Cascadia bioregion here and the proposed political region here.)  While it sounds as if more of the US is part of the ‘Cascadia region’, British Columbia and the Yukon cover considerably more territory than all of the mentioned states combined, if you’re taking a landmass perspective.

Cascadia Urban Analytics Cooperative

There was some big news about the smallest version of the Cascadia region on Thursday, Feb. 23, 2017 when the University of British Columbia (UBC) , the University of Washington (state; UW), and Microsoft announced the launch of the Cascadia Urban Analytics Cooperative. From the joint Feb. 23, 2017 news release (read on the UBC website or read on the UW website),

In an expansion of regional cooperation, the University of British Columbia and the University of Washington today announced the establishment of the Cascadia Urban Analytics Cooperative to use data to help cities and communities address challenges from traffic to homelessness. The largest industry-funded research partnership between UBC and the UW, the collaborative will bring faculty, students and community stakeholders together to solve problems, and is made possible thanks to a $1-million gift from Microsoft.

“Thanks to this generous gift from Microsoft, our two universities are poised to help transform the Cascadia region into a technological hub comparable to Silicon Valley and Boston,” said Professor Santa J. Ono, President of the University of British Columbia. “This new partnership transcends borders and strives to unleash our collective brain power, to bring about economic growth that enriches the lives of Canadians and Americans as well as urban communities throughout the world.”

“We have an unprecedented opportunity to use data to help our communities make decisions, and as a result improve people’s lives and well-being. That commitment to the public good is at the core of the mission of our two universities, and we’re grateful to Microsoft for making a community-minded contribution that will spark a range of collaborations,” said UW President Ana Mari Cauce.

Today’s announcement follows last September’s [2016] Emerging Cascadia Innovation Corridor Conference in Vancouver, B.C. The forum brought together regional leaders for the first time to identify concrete opportunities for partnerships in education, transportation, university research, human capital and other areas.

A Boston Consulting Group study unveiled at the conference showed the region between Seattle and Vancouver has “high potential to cultivate an innovation corridor” that competes on an international scale, but only if regional leaders work together. The study says that could be possible through sustained collaboration aided by an educated and skilled workforce, a vibrant network of research universities and a dynamic policy environment.

Microsoft President Brad Smith, who helped convene the conference, said, “We believe that joint research based on data science can help unlock new solutions for some of the most pressing issues in both Vancouver and Seattle. But our goal is bigger than this one-time gift. We hope this investment will serve as a catalyst for broader and more sustainable efforts between these two institutions.”

As part of the Emerging Cascadia conference, British Columbia Premier Christy Clark and Washington Governor Jay Inslee signed a formal agreement that committed the two governments to work closely together to “enhance meaningful and results-driven innovation and collaboration.”  The agreement outlined steps the two governments will take to collaborate in several key areas including research and education.

“Increasingly, tech is not just another standalone sector of the economy, but fully integrated into everything from transportation to social work,” said Premier Clark. “That’s why we’ve invested in B.C.’s thriving tech sector, but committed to working with our neighbours in Washington – and we’re already seeing the results.”

“This data-driven collaboration among some of our smartest and most creative thought-leaders will help us tackle a host of urgent issues,” Gov. Inslee said. “I’m encouraged to see our partnership with British Columbia spurring such interesting cross-border dialogue and excited to see what our students and researchers come up with.”

The Cascadia Urban Analytics Cooperative will revolve around four main programs:

  • The Cascadia Data Science for Social Good (DSSG) Summer Program, which builds on the success of the DSSG program at the UW eScience Institute. The cooperative will coordinate a joint summer program for students across UW and UBC campuses where they work with faculty to create and incubate data-intensive research projects that have concrete benefits for urban communities. One past DSSG project analyzed data from Seattle’s regional transportation system – ORCA – to improve its effectiveness, particularly for low-income transit riders. Another project sought to improve food safety by text mining product reviews to identify unsafe products.
  • Cascadia Data Science for Social Good Scholar Symposium, which will foster innovation and collaboration by bringing together scholars from UBC and the UW involved in projects utilizing technology to advance the social good. The first symposium will be hosted at UW in 2017.
  • Sustained Research Partnerships designed to establish the Pacific Northwest as a center of expertise and activity in urban analytics. The cooperative will support sustained research partnerships between UW and UBC researchers, providing technical expertise, stakeholder engagement and seed funding.
  • Responsible Data Management Systems and Services to ensure data integrity, security and usability. The cooperative will develop new software, systems and services to facilitate data management and analysis, as well as ensure projects adhere to best practices in fairness, accountability and transparency.

At UW, the Cascadia Urban Analytics Collaborative will be overseen by Urbanalytics (urbanalytics.uw.edu), a new research unit in the Information School focused on responsible urban data science. The Collaborative builds on previous investments in data-intensive science through the UW eScience Institute (escience.washington.edu) and investments in urban scholarship through Urban@UW (urban.uw.edu), and also aligns with the UW’s Population Health Initiative (uw.edu/populationhealth) that is addressing the most persistent and emerging challenges in human health, environmental resiliency and social and economic equity. The gift counts toward the UW’s Be Boundless – For Washington, For the World campaign (uw.edu/boundless).

The Collaborative also aligns with the UBC Sustainability Initiative (sustain.ubc.ca) that fosters partnerships beyond traditional boundaries of disciplines, sectors and geographies to address critical issues of our time, as well as the UBC Data Science Institute (dsi.ubc.ca), which aims to advance data science research to address complex problems across domains, including health, science and arts.

Brad Smith, President and Chief Legal Officer of Microsoft, wrote about the joint centre in a Feb. 23, 2017 posting on the Microsoft on the Issues blog (Note:,

The cities of Vancouver and Seattle share many strengths: a long history of innovation, world-class universities and a region rich in cultural and ethnic diversity. While both cities have achieved great success on their own, leaders from both sides of the border realize that tighter partnership and collaboration, through the creation of a Cascadia Innovation Corridor, will expand economic opportunity and prosperity well beyond what each community can achieve separately.

Microsoft supports this vision and today is making a $1 million investment in the Cascadia Urban Analytics Cooperative (CUAC), which is a new joint effort by the University of British Columbia (UBC) and the University of Washington (UW).  It will use data to help local cities and communities address challenges from traffic to homelessness and will be the region’s single largest university-based, industry-funded joint research project. While we recognize the crucial role that universities play in building great companies in the Pacific Northwest, whether it be in computing, life sciences, aerospace or interactive entertainment, we also know research, particularly data science, holds the key to solving some of Vancouver and Seattle’s most pressing issues. This grant will advance this work.

An Oct. 21, 2016 article by Hana Golightly for the Ubyssey newspaper provides a little more detail about the province/state agreement mentioned in the joint UBC/UW news release,

An agreement between BC Premier Christy Clark and Washington Governor Jay Inslee means UBC will be collaborating with the University of Washington (UW) more in the future.

At last month’s [Sept. 2016] Cascadia Conference, Clark and Inslee signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the goal of fostering the growth of the technology sector in both regions. Officially referred to as the Cascadia Innovation Corridor, this partnership aims to reduce boundaries across the region — economic and otherwise.

While the memorandum provides broad goals and is not legally binding, it sets a precedent of collaboration between businesses, governments and universities, encouraging projects that span both jurisdictions. Aiming to capitalize on the cultural commonalities of regional centres Seattle and Vancouver, the agreement prioritizes development in life sciences, clean technology, data analytics and high tech.

Metropolitan centres like Seattle and Vancouver have experienced a surge in growth that sees planners envisioning them as the next Silicon Valleys. Premier Clark and Governor Inslee want to strengthen the ability of their jurisdictions to compete in innovation on a global scale. Accordingly, the memorandum encourages the exploration of “opportunities to advance research programs in key areas of innovation and future technologies among the region’s major universities and institutes.”

A few more questions about the Cooperative

I had a few more questions about the Feb. 23, 2017 announcement, for which (from UBC) Gail C. Murphy, PhD, FRSC, Associate Vice President Research pro tem, Professor, Computer Science of UBC and (from UW) Bill Howe, Associate Professor, Information School, Adjunct Associate Professor, Computer Science & Engineering, Associate Director and Senior Data Science Fellow,, UW eScience Institute Program Director and Faculty Chair, UW Data Science Masters Degree have kindly provided answers (Gail Murphy’s replies are prefaced with [GM] and one indent and Bill Howe’s replies are prefaced with [BH] and two indents),

  • Do you have any projects currently underway? e.g. I see a summer programme is planned. Will there be one in summer 2017? What focus will it have?

[GM] UW and UBC will each be running the Data Science for Social Good program in the summer of 2017. UBC’s announcement of the program is available at: http://dsi.ubc.ca/data-science-social-good-dssg-fellowships

  • Is the $1M from Microsoft going to be given in cash or as ‘in kind goods’ or some combination?

[GM] The $1-million donation is in cash. Microsoft organized the Emerging Cascadia Innovation Corridor Conference in September 2017. It was at the conference that the idea for the partnership was hatched. Through this initiative, UBC and UW will continue to engage with Microsoft to further shared goals in promoting evidence-based innovation to improve life for people in the Cascadia region and beyond.

  • How will the money or goods be disbursed? e.g. Will each institution get 1/2 or is there some sort of joint account?

[GM] The institutions are sharing the funds but will be separately administering the funds they receive.

  • Is data going to be crossing borders? e.g. You mentioned some health care projects. In that case, will data from BC residents be accessed and subject to US rules and regulations? Will BC residents know that there data is being accessed by a 3rd party? What level of consent is required?

[GM] As you point out, there are many issues involved with transferring data across the border. Any projects involving private data will adhere to local laws and ethical frameworks set out by the institutions.

  • Privacy rules vary greatly between the US and Canada. How is that being addressed in this proposed new research?

[No Reply]

  • Will new software and other products be created and who will own them?

[GM] It is too soon for us to comment on whether new software or other products will be created. Any creation of software or other products within the institutions will be governed by institutional policy.

  • Will the research be made freely available?

[GM] UBC researchers must be able to publish the results of research as set out by UBC policy.

[BH] Research output at UW will be made available according to UW policy, but I’ll point out that Microsoft has long been a fantastic partner in advancing our efforts in open and reproducible science, open source software, and open access publishing. 

 UW’s discussion on open access policies is available online.

 

  • What percentage of public funds will be used to enable this project? Will the province of BC and the state of Washington be splitting the costs evenly?

[GM] It is too soon for us to report on specific percentages. At UBC, we will be looking to partner with appropriate funding agencies to support more research with this donation. Applications to funding agencies will involve review of any proposals as per the rules of the funding agency.

  • Will there be any social science and/or ethics component to this collaboration? The press conference referenced data science only.

[GM] We expect, but cannot yet confirm, that some of the projects will involve collaborations with faculty from a broad range of research areas at UBC.

[BH] We are indeed placing a strong emphasis on the intersection between data science, the social sciences, and data ethics.  As examples of activities in this space around UW:

* The Information School at UW (my home school) is actively recruiting a new faculty candidate in data ethics this year

* The Education Working Group at the eScience Institute has created a new campus-wide Data & Society seminar course.

* The Center for Statistics in the Social Sciences (CSSS), which represents the marriage of data science and the social sciences, has been a long-term partner in our activities.

More specifically for this collaboration, we are collecting requirements for new software that emphasizes responsible data science: properly managing sensitive data, combating algorithmic bias, protecting privacy, and more.

Microsoft has been a key partner in this work through their Civic Technology group, for which the Seattle arm is led by Graham Thompson.

  • What impact do you see the new US federal government’s current concerns over borders and immigrants hav[ing] on this project? e.g. Are people whose origins are in Iran, Syria, Yemen, etc. and who are residents of Canada going to be able to participate?

[GM] Students and others eligible to participate in research projects in Canada will be welcomed into the UBC projects. Our hope is that faculty and students working on the Cascadia Urban Analytics Cooperative will be able to exchange ideas freely and move freely back and forth across the border.

  • How will seed funding for Sustained Research Partnerships’ be disbursed? Will there be a joint committee making these decisions?

[GM] We are in the process of elaborating this part of the program. At UBC, we are already experiencing, enjoying and benefitting from increased interaction with the University of Washington and look forward to elaborating more aspects of the program together as the year unfolds.

I had to make a few formatting changes when transferring the answers from emails to this posting: my numbered questions (1-11) became bulleted points and ‘have’ in what was question 10 was changed to ‘having’. The content for the answers has been untouched.

I’m surprised no one answered the privacy question but perhaps they thought the other answers sufficed. Despite an answer to my question, I don’t understand how the universities are sharing the funds but that may just mean I’m having a bad day. (Or perhaps the folks at UBC are being overly careful after the scandals rocking the Vancouver campus over the last 18 months to two years (see Sophie Sutcliffe’s Dec. 3, 2015 opinion piece for the Ubyssey for details about the scandals).

Bill Howe’s response about open access (where you can read the journal articles for free) and open source (where you have free access to the software code) was interesting to me as I once worked for a company where the developers complained loud and long about Microsoft’s failure to embrace open source code. Howe’s response is particularly interesting given that Microsoft’s president is also the Chief Legal Officer whose portfolio of responsibilities (I imagine) includes patents.

Matt Day in a Feb. 23, 2017 article for the The Seattle Times provides additional perspective (Note: Links have been removed),

Microsoft’s effort to nudge Seattle and Vancouver, B.C., a bit closer together got an endorsement Thursday [Feb. 23, 2017] from the leading university in each city.

The University of Washington and the University of British Columbia announced the establishment of a joint data-science research unit, called the Cascadia Urban Analytics Cooperative, funded by a $1 million grant from Microsoft.

The collaboration will support study of shared urban issues, from health to transit to homelessness, drawing on faculty and student input from both universities.

The partnership has its roots in a September [2016] conference in Vancouver organized by Microsoft’s public affairs and lobbying unit [emphasis mine.] That gathering was aimed at tying business, government and educational institutions in Microsoft’s home region in the Seattle area closer to its Canadian neighbor.

Microsoft last year [2016]* opened an expanded office in downtown Vancouver with space for 750 employees, an outpost partly designed to draw to the Northwest more engineers than the company can get through the U.S. guest worker system [emphasis mine].

There’s nothing wrong with a business offering to contribute to the social good but it does well to remember that a business’s primary agenda is not the social good.  So in this case, it seems that public affairs and lobbying is really governmental affairs and that Microsoft has anticipated, for some time, greater difficulties with getting workers from all sorts of countries across the US border to work in Washington state making an outpost in British Columbia and closer relations between the constituencies quite advantageous. I wonder what else is on their agenda.

Getting back to UBC and UW, thank you to both Gail Murphy (in particular) and Bill Howe for taking the time to answer my questions. I very much appreciate it as answering 10 questions is a lot of work.

There were one area of interest (cities) that I did not broach with the either academic but will mention here.

Cities and their increasing political heft

Clearly Microsoft is focused on urban issues and that would seem to be the ‘flavour du jour’. There’s a May 31, 2016 piece on the TED website by Robert Muggah and Benjamin Fowler titled: ‘Why cities rule the world‘ (there are video talks embedded in the piece),

Cities are the the 21st century’s dominant form of civilization — and they’re where humanity’s struggle for survival will take place. Robert Muggah and Benjamin Barber spell out the possibilities.

Half the planet’s population lives in cities. They are the world’s engines, generating four-fifths of the global GDP. There are over 2,100 cities with populations of 250,000 people or more, including a growing number of mega-cities and sprawling, networked-city areas — conurbations, they’re called — with at least 10 million residents. As the economist Ed Glaeser puts it, “we are an urban species.”

But what makes cities so incredibly important is not just population or economics stats. Cities are humanity’s most realistic hope for future democracy to thrive, from the grassroots to the global. This makes them a stark contrast to so many of today’s nations, increasingly paralyzed by polarization, corruption and scandal.

In a less hyperbolic vein, Parag Khanna’s April 20,2016 piece for Quartz describes why he (and others) believe that megacities are where the future lies (Note: A link has been removed),

Cities are mankind’s most enduring and stable mode of social organization, outlasting all empires and nations over which they have presided. Today cities have become the world’s dominant demographic and economic clusters.

As the sociologist Christopher Chase-Dunn has pointed out, it is not population or territorial size that drives world-city status, but economic weight, proximity to zones of growth, political stability, and attractiveness for foreign capital. In other words, connectivity matters more than size. Cities thus deserve more nuanced treatment on our maps than simply as homogeneous black dots.

Within many emerging markets such as Brazil, Turkey, Russia, and Indonesia, the leading commercial hub or financial center accounts for at least one-third or more of national GDP. In the UK, London accounts for almost half Britain’s GDP. And in America, the Boston-New York-Washington corridor and greater Los Angeles together combine for about one-third of America’s GDP.

By 2025, there will be at least 40 such megacities. The population of the greater Mexico City region is larger than that of Australia, as is that of Chongqing, a collection of connected urban enclaves in China spanning an area the size of Austria. Cities that were once hundreds of kilometers apart have now effectively fused into massive urban archipelagos, the largest of which is Japan’s Taiheiyo Belt that encompasses two-thirds of Japan’s population in the Tokyo-Nagoya-Osaka megalopolis.

Great and connected cities, Saskia Sassen argues, belong as much to global networks as to the country of their political geography. Today the world’s top 20 richest cities have forged a super-circuit driven by capital, talent, and services: they are home to more than 75% of the largest companies, which in turn invest in expanding across those cities and adding more to expand the intercity network. Indeed, global cities have forged a league of their own, in many ways as denationalized as Formula One racing teams, drawing talent from around the world and amassing capital to spend on themselves while they compete on the same circuit.

The rise of emerging market megacities as magnets for regional wealth and talent has been the most significant contributor to shifting the world’s focal point of economic activity. McKinsey Global Institute research suggests that from now until 2025, one-third of world growth will come from the key Western capitals and emerging market megacities, one-third from the heavily populous middle-weight cities of emerging markets, and one-third from small cities and rural areas in developing countries.

Khanna’s megacities all exist within one country. If Vancouver and Seattle (and perhaps Portland?) were to become a become a megacity it would be one of the only or few to cross national borders.

Khanna has been mentioned here before in a Jan. 27, 2016 posting about cities and technology and a public engagement exercise with the National Research of Council of Canada (scroll down to the subsection titled: Cities rising in important as political entities).

Muggah/Fowler’s and Khanna’s 2016 pieces are well worth reading if you have the time.

For what it’s worth, I’m inclined to agree that cities will be and are increasing in political  importance along with this area of development:

Algorithms and big data

Concerns are being raised about how big data is being utilized so I was happy to see specific initiatives to address ethics issues in Howe’s response. For anyone not familiar with the concerns, here’s an excerpt from Cathy O’Neal’s Oct. 18, 2016 article for Wired magazine,

The age of Big Data has generated new tools and ideas on an enormous scale, with applications spreading from marketing to Wall Street, human resources, college admissions, and insurance. At the same time, Big Data has opened opportunities for a whole new class of professional gamers and manipulators, who take advantage of people using the power of statistics.

I should know. I was one of them.

Information is power, and in the age of corporate surveillance, profiles on every active American consumer means that the system is slanted in favor of those with the data. This data helps build tailor-made profiles that can be used for or against someone in a given situation. Insurance companies, which historically sold car insurance based on driving records, have more recently started using such data-driven profiling methods. A Florida insurance company has been found to charge people with low credit scores and good driving records more than people with high credit scores and a drunk driving conviction. It’s become standard practice for insurance companies to charge people not what they represent as a risk, but what they can get away with. The victims, of course, are those least likely to be able to afford the extra cost, but who need a car to get to work.

Big data profiling techniques are exploding in the world of politics. It’s estimated that over $1 billion will be spent on digital political ads in this election cycle, almost 50 times as much as was spent in 2008; this field is a growing part of the budget for presidential as well as down-ticket races. Political campaigns build scoring systems on potential voters—your likelihood of voting for a given party, your stance on a given issue, and the extent to which you are persuadable on that issue. It’s the ultimate example of asymmetric information, and the politicians can use what they know to manipulate your vote or your donation.

I highly recommend reading O’Neal’s article and, if you have the time, her book ‘Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy’.

Finally

I look forward to hearing more about the Cascadia Urban Analytics Cooperative and the Cascadia Innovation Corridor as they develop. This has the potential to be very exciting although I do have some concerns such as MIcrosoft and its agendas, both stated and unstated. After all, the Sept. 2016 meeting was convened by Microsoft and its public affairs/lobbying group and the topic was innovation, which is code for business and as hinted earlier, business is not synonymous with social good. Having said that I’m not about to demonize business either. I just think a healthy dose of skepticism is called for. Good things can happen but we need to ensure they do.

Thankfully, my concerns regarding algorithms and big data seem to be shared in some quarters, unfortunately none of these quarters appear to be located at the University of British Columbia. I hope that’s over caution with regard to communication rather than a failure to recognize any pitfalls.

ETA Mar. 1, 2017: Interestingly, the UK House of Commons Select Committee on Science and Technology announced an inquiry into the use of algorithms in public and business decision-making on Feb. 28, 2017. As this posting as much too big already, I’ve posted about the UK inquire separately in a Mar. 1, 2017 posting.

*’2016′ added for clarity on March 24, 2017.

#BCTECH: preview of Summit 2017

The 2017 (2nd annual) version of the BC (British Columvai) Tech Summit will take place March 14 -15, 2017 in Vancouver, BC,  Canada. A Nov. 25, 2016 BC Innovation Council (BCIC), one of the producing partners, news release made the announcement,

Technology is transforming key industries in B.C. and around the globe at an unprecedented pace.

 From natural resources and agriculture to health and digital media, the second #BCTECH Summit returns with Microsoft as title sponsor, and will explore how tech is impacting every part of B.C.’s economy and changing lives.

Presented by the Province and the BC Innovation Council, B.C.͛s largest tech event will arm attendees with the tools to propel their companies to the next level, establish valuable business connections and inspire students to pursue careers in technology. From innovations in precision health, autonomous vehicles and customer experience, to emerging ideas in cleantech, agritech and aerospace, the #BCTECH Summit will showcase high-tech solutions to important local and global challenges.

New to the summit this year is the Future Realities Room, presented by Microsoft. It will be a dedicated space for B.C. companies to showcase their innovative augmented reality, virtual reality and mixed reality applications. From artificial intelligence to the internet-of-things, emerging technologies are disrupting industries and reshaping the path for future generations.

What attendees can expect at #BCTECH Summit 2017:

  •  Keynotes from thought leaders including Shahrzad Rafati of BroadbandTV, Ben Parr, author of Captivology, Microsoft and IBM.
  • Sector-specific deep dives from experts exploring the innovations transforming their industries and every part of B.C’s economy.
  • Opportunities to connect with tech buyers, scouts and investors through B2B meetings and the Investment Showcase.
  • Expanded Marketplace, Technology Showcase including Startup Square and Research Runway, and the Future Realities Room presented by Microsoft.
  • Youth Innovation Day to expose grades 10-12 students to diverse career paths in the technology sector.
  • Evening networking receptions and Techfest by Techvibes, a recruiting event that connects hiring companies with tech talent.

The two-day event is attracting regional, national and international attendees seeking solutions for their business, investment opportunities and talent in the province. The summit builds on the success of the inaugural summit this past January, which attracted global attention and exceeded its goal of 1,000 attendees with more than 3,500 people in attendance.

There is a special deal at the moment where you can save $300 off your $899 registration.  According to the site, the deal expires on Feb. 14, 2017. For the undecided, here’s a listing of a few of the speakers (from the #BCTECH Summit speakers page),

Thomas Tannert
BC Leadership Chair in Tall Wood Construction
University of Northern British Columbia

Thomas joined the University of Northern British Columbia in 2016 as BC Leadership Chair in Tall Wood Construction. He received his PhD from the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, a Master’s degree in Wood Science and Technology from the University of Bio-Bio in Chile, and a Civil Engineering degree from the Bauhaus-University Weimar in Germany.

Before coming to UNBC, Thomas worked on multi-disciplinary teams in Germany, Chile, and Switzerland and was Associate Chair in Wood Building Design and Construction at UBC. He is an expert in the development of design methods for timber joints and structures and the assessment and monitoring of timber structures.

Thomas is actively involved in fostering collaboration among timber design experts in industry and academia, and is a member on multiple international committees as well as the Canadian Standard Association technical committee CSA-O86 “Engineering design in wood”.

Sarah Applebaum
Director, Pangea Spark
Pangea Ventures

Sarah Applebaum is the Director of Pangaea Spark at Pangaea Ventures. Sarah is a member of the Young Private Capitalist Committee of the CVCA, advisory board member for the CIX Cleantech Conference, start up showcase review board for SXSW Eco and mentor to the Singularity University Labs Accelerator. She is the co-founder of TNT Events, a Vancouver-based organization that strives to create a more interconnected and multi-disciplinary innovation ecosystem.

Sarah holds an MBA from the Schulich School of Business and a BSc. from Dalhousie University.

Natalie Cartwright
Co-founder
Finn.ai

Nat is a co-founder of Finn.ai, a white-label virtual banking assistance, powered by artificial intelligence. Nat holds a Master of Public Health from Lund University and a Masters of Business Administration from IE Business School.

Before founding Finn.ai in 2014, Nat worked at the Global Fund, the largest global financing institution for HIV, tuberculosis and malaria programs, where she managed $250 million USD in investment to countries like Djibouti, South Sudan and Tajikistan.

Whether working in international development or in financial technology, Nat likes to act on the potential she sees for improvement and innovation.

Martin Monkman
Provincial Statistician & Director, BC Stats
Province of British Columbia

Since first joining BC Stats (British Columbia’s statistics bureau) in 1993, Martin has built a wide range of experience using data science to support evidence-based policy and business management decisions. Now the Provincial Statistician & Director at BC Stats, Martin leads a dynamic and innovative team of professional researchers in analyzing statistical information about the economic and social conditions of British Columbia and measuring public sector organizational performance.

Martin holds Bachelor of Science and Master of Arts degrees in Geography from the University of Victoria. He is a member of the Statistical Analysis Committee of the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR), and blogs about baseball statistics and data science using the statistical software R at bayesball.blogspot.com.

Loc Dao
Chief Digital Officer
National Film Board of Canada

Loc is a Canadian digital media creator and co-founder of the groundbreaking NFB Digital and CBC Radio 3 studios and their industry shifting bodies of work.

Loc recently became the chief digital officer (CDO) of the National Film Board of Canada, after serving as executive producer and creative technologist for the NFB Digital Studio in Vancouver since 2011. His NFB credits include the interactive documentaries Bear 71, Welcome to Pine Point, Circa 1948, Waterlife, The Last Hunt and Cardboard Crash VR which have been credited with inventing the new form of the interactive documentary.

In December 2011, Loc was named Canada’s Top Digital Producer for 2011 at the Digi Awards in Toronto. In addition, his CBC Radio 3 was one of the world’s first cross media success stories combining the award-winning CBC Radio 3 web magazine, terrestrial and satellite radio, podcasts and 3 user generated content sites that preceded MySpace and YouTube.

Janice Cheam
Co-founder, President & CEO
Neurio Technology Inc.

Janice is an entrepreneurial executive whose vision, commitment, and passion has been the driving force behind Neurio. Coming from over 7 years of utility experience, as the CEO of Neurio Technology, Janice has been working to help businesses promote energy efficiency and engagement among users for over a decade. Having seen a huge unmet need in the smart home market, she and her co-founders answered it by creating Neurio, a smart energy monitoring platform used by over 100,000 homes.

George Rubin
Vice-President, Business Development
General Fusion

George is the Vice-President of Business Development at General Fusion, a company transforming the world’s energy supply by developing the world’s first fusion power plant based on commercially viable technology.

Previously, George was a co-founder, Vice-President and subsequently President of Day4 Energy Inc., where he was instrumental to developing the solar company’s strategic vision and was directly responsible for execution of the corporate development plan. Following his time at Day4, George founded Pacific Surf Partners and served as its Managing Director. In 2016 he joined General Fusion to develop and coordinate relationships in the business and research communities.

A graduate of Moscow State University with a Masters Degree in Quantum Radio Physics, and a British Columbia Institute of Technology graduate with a Diploma in Financial Management and a Bachelor Degree in Accounting, George combines his knowledge of science and business with the experience of over a decade in the cleantech industry.

Gareth Manderson
General Manager, BC Works
Rio Tinto

Gareth is the General Manager of Rio Tinto’s  BC Works. In this role, he leads Rio Tinto Aluminium’s business in British Columbia, incorporating the operations of the Kitimat Smelter, Kemano Power Generation Facility and the Nechako Watershed. Prior to this, he led the Weipa Bauxite Business in Australia comprising of two mining operations, a port and the local town of Weipa.

Gareth has lived and worked in Australia, Canada, the USA and Italy, and completed assignments in a number of other countries. He has held accountability for business and operational leadership, consulting services, administrative and function support, and taken part in strategy development and due diligence work.

Gareth lives in Kitimat, British Columbia, with his wife and two children. He holds an Engineering Degree, a Master of Business Administration and is a Graduate of the Australian Institute of Company Directors.

Stephanie Simmons
Canada Research Chair in Quantum Nanoelectronics & Assistant Professor
Simon Fraser University

Stephanie is an assistant professor in the Department of Physics at Simon Fraser University (SFU), where she leads the Silicon Quantum Technology research group. Stephanie earned a Ph.D. in Materials Science at Oxford University in 2011 as a Clarendon Scholar and a B.Math (Pure Mathematics and Mathematical Physics) from the University of Waterloo. She was a Postdoctoral Research Fellow of the Electrical Engineering Department at UNSW, Australia, and completed her Junior Research Fellowship from St. John’s College, Oxford University.

Stephanie joined SFU as a Canada Research Chair in Quantum Nanoelectronics in fall 2015 and is working to build a silicon-based quantum computer. Her work on silicon quantum technologies was awarded a Physics World Top Ten Breakthrough of the Year of 2013 and again in 2015, and has been covered by the New York Times, CBC, BBC, Scientific American, the New Scientist, and others.

I recently had the pleasure of hearing Simmons speak at the SFU President’s Faculty Lecture on Nov. 30, 2016. You can watch her talk here (the talk is approximately 1 hr. in length).

Getting back to #BCTECH Summit 2017, I’ve provided a small sample of the speakers. By my count there are 103 in total. BTW, kudos to the organizers’ skills and commitment as approximately 35% of the speakers are women. Yes, it could be better but compared to a lot of the meetings I’ve mentioned here, this statistic is a significant improvement. As for diversity, it seems to me that they could probably do a bit better there too.

A European nanotechnology ‘dating’ event for researchers and innovators

A Dec. 13, 2016 Cambridge Network press release announces a networking (dating) event for nanotechnology researchers and industry partners,

The Enterprise Europe Network, in partnership with Innovate UK, the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs, the Netherlands Enterprise Agency, Knowledge Transfer Network and the UK Department of Business Energy & Industrial Strategy invite you to participate in an international partnering event and information day for the Nanotechnologies and Advanced Materials themes of the NMBP [Nannotechnologies, Advanced Materials, Biotechnology and Production] Work Programme within Horizon 2020.

This one-day event on 4th April 2017 will introduce the forthcoming calls for proposals, present insights and expectations from the European Commission, and offer a unique international networking experience to forge the winning partnerships of the future

The programme will include presentations from the European Commission and its evaluators and an opportunity to build prospective project partnerships with leading research organisations and cutting-edge innovators from across industry.

A dedicated brokerage session will allow you to expand your international network and create strong consortia through scheduled one-to-one meetings. Participants will also have the opportunity to meet with National Contact Points (UK and Netherlands confirmed) and representatives of the Enterprise Europe Network and the UK’s Knowledge Transfer Network.

The day will also include an optional proposal writing workshop in which delegates will be given valuable tips and insight into the preparation of a winning proposal including a review of the key evaluation criteria.

This event is dedicated to Key Enabling Technologies and will target upcoming calls in the following thematic fields: Nanotechnologies; Advanced materials

Participation for the day is free of charge, but early registration is recommended as the number of participants is limited.  Please note that participation may be limited to a maximum of two delegates per organization.  To register, please do so via the b2match website using this link: https://www.b2match.eu/h2020nmp2017

How does it work? Once you have registered, your profile will be screened by our event management team and once completed you will receive a validation email confirming your participation. You can browse the participant list and book meetings with organisations you are interested in, and a week before the event you will receive your personal meeting schedule.

Why attend? Improve your chances of success by understanding the main issues and expectations for upcoming H2020 calls based on feedback from previous rounds. It’s a great opportunity to raise your profile with future project partners from industry and research through pre-arranged one-to-one meetings. There is also the chance to hear from an experienced H2020 evaluator to gain tips and insight for the preparation of a strong proposal.

Good luck on getting registered for the event. By the way, the Enterprise Europe Network webpage for this event describes it as an Horizon 2020 Brokerage Event.

Third assessment of The State of Science and Technology and Industrial Research and Development in Canada announced

The last State of Science and Technology and Industrial Research and Development in Canada assessments were delivered in 2006* and 2013 respectively, which seems a shortish gap between assessments, as these things go. On a positive note, this may mean that the government has seen the importance of a more agile approach as the pace of new discoveries is ever quickening. Here’s more from a June 29, 2016 announcement from the Canadian Council of Academies (CCA; received via email),

CCA to undertake third assessment on the State of S&T and IR&D

June 29, 2016 (Ottawa, ON) – The Council of Canadian Academies (CCA) is pleased to announce the launch of a new assessment on the state of science and technology (S&T) and industrial research and development (IR&D) in Canada. This assessment, referred by Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada (ISED), will be the third installment in the state of S&T and IR&D series by the CCA.

“I’m delighted the government continues to recognize the value of the CCA’s state of S&T and IR&D reports,” said Eric M. Meslin, President and CEO of the Council of Canadian Academies. “An updated assessment will enable policy makers, and others, such as industry leaders, universities, and the private sector, to draw on current Canadian S&T and IR&D data to make evidence-informed decisions.”

The CCA’s reports on the state of S&T and state of IR&D provide valuable data and analysis documenting Canada’s S&T and IR&D strengths and weaknesses. New data will help identify trends that have emerged in the Canadian S&T and IR&D environment in the past four to five years.

Under the guidance of the CCA’s Scientific Advisory Committee, a multidisciplinary, multi-sectoral expert panel is being assembled. It is anticipated that the final report will be released in a two-part sequence, with an interim report released in late 2016 and a final report released in 2017.

To learn more about this and the CCA’s other active assessments, visit Assessments in Progress.

The announcement offers information about the series of assessments,

About the State of S&T and IR&D Assessment Series

Current charge: What is the current state of science and technology and industrial research and development in Canada?

Sponsor: Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada (ISED)

This assessment will be the third edition in the State of S&T and Industrial R&D assessment series.

Background on the Series

  • In 2006, the CCA completed its first report on The State of Science and Technology in Canada. The findings were integral to the identification of S&T priority areas in the federal government’s 2007 S&T strategy,  Mobilizing Science and Technology to Canada’s Advantage [the original link was not functional; I found the report on an archived page].
  • In 2010 the CCA was again asked to assess the state of S&T in Canada.  The State of Science and Technology in Canada, 2012 updated the 2006 report and provided a thorough analysis of the scientific disciplines and technological applications where Canada excelled in a global context. It also identified Canada’s S&T strengths, regional specializations, and emerging research areas.
  • In 2013, the CCA published The State of Industrial R&D in Canada. This report provided an in-depth analysis of research and development activities in Canadian industries and is one of the most detailed and systematic studies of the state of IR&D ever undertaken in Canada.

I wrote three posts after the second assessment was delivered in 2012. My Sept. 27, 2012 posting was an announcement of its launch and then I offered a two-part critique: part 1 was in a Dec. 28, 2012 posting and part 2 was in a second Dec. 28, 2012 posting. I did not write about the 2013 report on Canada’s industrial research and development efforts.

Given the size of the 2012 assessment of science and technology at 232 pp. (PDF) and the 2013 assessment of industrial research and development at 220 pp. (PDF) with two expert panels, the imagination boggles at the potential size of the 2016 expert panel and of the 2016 assessment combining the two areas.

Given the timing for the interim report (late 2016), I wonder if they are planning to release at the 2016 Canadian Science Policy Conference, which is being held in Ottawa from Nov. 8 – 10, 2016 (for the second year in a row and, I believe, the third time in eight conferences).

*’2012′ changed to ‘2006’ on Oct. 17, 2016.

Cities as incubators of technological and economic growth: from the rustbelt to the brainbelt

An April 10, 2016 news article by Xumei Dong on the timesunion website casts a light on what some feel is an emerging ‘brainbelt’ (Note: Links have been removed),

Albany [New York state, US], in the forefront of nanotechnology research, is one of the fastest-growing cities for tech jobs, according to a new book exploring hot spots of innovation across the globe.

“You have GlobalFoundries, which has thousands of employees working in one of the most modern plants in the world,” says Antoine van Agtmael, the Dutch-born investor who wrote “The Smartest Places on Earth: Why Rustbelts Are the Emerging Hotspots of Global Innovation” with Dutch journalist Fred Bakker.

Their book, mentioned in a Brookings Institution panel discussion last week [April 6, 2016], lists Albany as a leading innovation hub — part of an emerging “brainbelt” in the United States.

The Brookings Institute’s The smartest places on Earth: Why rustbelts are the emerging hotspots of global innovation event page provides more details and includes an embedded video of the event (running time: roughly 1 hour 17 mins.), Note: A link has been removed,

The conventional wisdom in manufacturing has long held that the key to maintaining a competitive edge lies in making things as cheaply as possible, which saw production outsourced to the developing world in pursuit of ever-lower costs. In contradiction to that prevailing wisdom, authors Antoine van Agtmael, a Brookings trustee, and Fred Bakker crisscrossed the globe and found that the economic tide is beginning to shift from its obsession with cheap goods to the production of smart ones.

Their new book, “The Smartest Places on Earth” (PublicAffairs, 2016), examines this changing dynamic and the transformation of “rustbelt” cities, the former industrial centers of the U.S. and Europe, into a “brainbelt” of design and innovation.

On Wednesday, April 6 [2016] Centennial Scholar Bruce Katz and the Metropolitan Policy Program hosted an event discussing these emerging hotspots and how cities such as Akron, Albany, Raleigh-Durham, Minneapolis-St.Paul, and Portland in the United States, and Eindhoven, Malmo, Dresden, and Oulu in Europe are seizing the initiative and recovering their economic strength.

You can find the book here or if a summary and biographies of the authors will suffice, there’s this,

The remarkable story of how rustbelt cities such as Akron and Albany in the United States and Eindhoven in Europe are becoming the unlikely hotspots of global innovation, where sharing brainpower and making things smarter—not cheaper—is creating a new economy that is turning globalization on its head

Antoine van Agtmael and Fred Bakker counter recent conventional wisdom that the American and northern European economies have lost their initiative in innovation and their competitive edge by focusing on an unexpected and hopeful trend: the emerging sources of economic strength coming from areas once known as “rustbelts” that had been written off as yesterday’s story.

In these communities, a combination of forces—visionary thinkers, local universities, regional government initiatives, start-ups, and big corporations—have created “brainbelts.” Based on trust, a collaborative style of working, and freedom of thinking prevalent in America and Europe, these brainbelts are producing smart products that are transforming industries by integrating IT, sensors, big data, new materials, new discoveries, and automation. From polymers to medical devices, the brainbelts have turned the tide from cheap, outsourced production to making things smart right in our own backyard. The next emerging market may, in fact, be the West.

about Antoine van Agtmael and Fred Bakker

Antoine van Agtmael is senior adviser at Garten Rothkopf, a public policy advisory firm in Washington, DC. He was a founder, CEO, and CIO of Emerging Markets Management LLC; previously he was deputy director of the capital markets department of the International Finance Corporation (“IFC”), the private sector oriented affiliate of the World Bank, and a division chief in the World Bank’s borrowing operations. He was an adjunct professor at Georgetown Law Center and taught at the Harvard Institute of Politics. Mr. van Agtmael is chairman of the NPR Foundation, a member of the board of NPR, and chairman of its Investment Committee. He is also a trustee of The Brookings Institution and cochairman of its International Advisory Council. He is on the President’s Council on International Activities at Yale University, the Advisory Council of Johns Hopkins University’s Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations

Alfred Bakker, until his recent retirement, was a journalist specializing in monetary and financial affairs with Het Financieele Dagblad, the “Financial Times of Holland,” serving as deputy editor, editor-in-chief and CEO. In addition to his writing and editing duties he helped develop the company from a newspaper publisher to a multimedia company, developing several websites, a business news radio channel, and a quarterly business magazine, FD Outlook, and, responsible for the establishment of FD Intelligence

A hard cover copy of the book is $25.99, presumably US currency.

UK’s National Graphene Institute kerfuffle gets bigger

First mentioned here in a March 18, 2016 posting titled: Tempest in a teapot or a sign of things to come? UK’s National Graphene Institute kerfuffle, the ‘scandal’ seems to be getting bigger, from a March 29, 2016 posting on Dexter Johnson’s Nanoclast blog on the IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) website (Note: A link has been removed),

Since that news story broke, damage control from the NGI [UK National Graphene Institute], the University of Manchester, and BGT Materials, the company identified in the Times article, has been coming fast and furious. Even this blog’s coverage of the story has gotten comments from representatives of BGT Materials and the University of Manchester.

There was perhaps no greater effort in this coordinated defense than getting Andre Geim, a University of Manchester researcher who was a co-discoverer of graphene, to weigh in. …

Despite Geim’s recent public defense, and a full-on PR campaign to turn around the perception that the UK government was investing millions into UK research only to have the fruits of that research sold off to foreign interests, there was news last week that the UK Parliament would be launching an inquiry into the “benefits and disbenefits of the way that graphene’s intellectual property and commercialisation has been managed, including through research and innovation collaborations.”

The timing for the inquiry is intriguing but there have been no public comments or hints that the NGI kerfuffle precipitated the Graphene Inquiry,

The Science and Technology Committee issues a call for written submissions for its inquiry on graphene.

Send written submissions

The inquiry explores the lessons from graphene for research and innovation in other areas, as well as the management and commercialisation of graphene’s intellectual property. Issues include:

  • The research obstacles that have had to be overcome for graphene, including identifying research priorities and securing research funding, and the lessons from this for other areas of research.
  • The factors that have contributed to the successful development of graphene and how these might be applied in other areas, including translating research into innovation, managing/sharing intellectual property, securing development funding, and bringing key stakeholders together.
  • The benefits and disbenefits of the way that graphene’s intellectual property and commercialisation has been managed, including through research and innovation collaborations, and the lessons from this for other areas.

The deadline for submissions is midday on Monday 18 April 2016.

The Committee expects to take oral evidence later in April 2016.

Getting back to the NGI, BGT Materials, and University of Manchester situation, there’s a forceful comment from Daniel Cochlin (identified as a graphene communications and marketing manager at the University of Manchester in an April 2, 2015 posting on Nanoclast) in Dexter’s latest posting about the NGI. From the comments section of a March 29, 2016 posting on the Nanoclast blog,

Maybe the best way to respond is to directly counter some of your assertions.

1. The NGI’s comments on this blog were to counter factual inaccuracies contained in your story. Your Editor-in-Chief and Editorial Director, Digital were also emailed to complain about the story, with not so much as an acknowledgement of the email.
2. There was categorically no ‘coaxing’ of Sir Andre to make comments. He was motivated to by the inaccuracies and insinuations of the Sunday Times article.
3. Members of the Science and Technology Select Committee visited the NGI about ten days before the Sunday Times article and this was followed by their desire to hold an evidence session to discuss graphene commercialisation.
4. The matter of how many researchers work in the NGI is not ‘hotly contested’. The NGI is 75% full with around 130 researchers regularly working there. We would expect this figure to grow by 10-15% within the next few days as other facilities are closed down.
5. Graphene Lighting PLC is the spin-out company set up to produce and market the lightbulb. To describe them as a ‘shadowy spin-out’ is unjustified and, I would suggest, libelous [emphasis mine].
6. Your question about why, if BGT Materials is a UK company, was it not mentioned [emphasis mine] in connection with the lightbulb is confusing – as stated earlier the company set up to manage the lightbulb was Graphene Lighting PLC.

Let’s hope it doesn’t take three days for this to be accepted by your moderators, as it did last time.

*ETA March 31, 2016 at 1530 hours PDT: Dexter has posted response comments in answer to Cochlin’s. You can read them for youself here .* I have a couple of observations (1) The use of the word ‘libelous’ seems a bit over the top. However, it should be noted that it’s much easier to sue someone for libel in England where the University of Manchester is located than it is in most jurisdictions. In fact, there’s an industry known as ‘libel tourism’ where litigious companies and individuals shop around for a jurisdiction such as England where they can easily file suit. (2) As for BGT Materials not being mentioned in the 2015 press release for the graphene lightbulb, I cannot emphasize how unusual that is. Generally speaking, everyone and every agency that had any involvement in developing and bringing to market a new product, especially one that was the ‘first consumer graphene-based product’, is mentioned. When you consider that BGT Materials is a newish company according to its About page,

BGT Materials Limited (BGT), established in 2013, is dedicated to the development of graphene technologies that utilize this “wonder material” to enhance our lives. BGT has pioneered the mass production of large-area, high-quality graphene rapidly achieving the first milestone required for the commercialization of graphene-enhanced applications.

the situation grows more peculiar. A new company wants and needs that kind of exposure to attract investment and/or keep current stakeholders happy. One last comment about BGT Materials and its public relations, Thanasis Georgiou, VP BGT Materials, Visiting scientist at the University of Manchester (more can be found on his website’s About page), waded into the comments section of Dexter’s March 15, 2016 posting and the first about the kerfuffle. Gheorgiou starts out in a relatively friendly fashion but his followup has a sharper tone,

I appreciate your position but a simple email to us and we would clarify most of the issues that you raised. Indeed your article carries the same inaccuracies that the initial Sunday Times article does, which is currently the subject of a legal claim by BGT Materials. [emphasis mine]

For example, BGT Materials is a UK registered company, not a Taiwanese one. A quick google search and you can confirm this. There was no “shadowy Canadian investor”, the company went through a round of financing, as most technology startups do, in order to reach the market quickly.

It’s hard to tell if Gheorgiou is trying to inform Dexter or threaten him in his comment to the March 15, 2016 posting but taken together with Daniel Cochlin’s claim of libel in his comment to the March 29, 2016 posting, it suggests an attempt at intimidation.

These are understandable responses given the stakes involved but moving to the most damaging munitions in your arsenal is usually not a good choice for your first  or second response.

Tempest in a teapot or a sign of things to come? UK’s National Graphene Institute kerfuffle

A scandal-in-the-offing, intellectual property, miffed academics, a chortling businessman, graphene, and much more make this a fascinating story.

Before launching into the main attractions, those unfamiliar with the UK graphene effort might find this background informal useful. Graphene, was first isolated at the University of Manchester in 2004 by scientists Andre Geim* and Konstantin Novoselov, Russian immigrants, both of whom have since become Nobel laureates and knights of the realm. The excitement in the UK and elsewhere is due to graphene’s extraordinary properties which could lead to transparent electronics, foldable/bendable electronics, better implants, efficient and inexpensive (they hope) water filters, and more. The UK government has invested a lot of money in graphene as has the European Union (1B Euros in the Graphene Flagship) in the hope that huge economic benefits will be reaped.

Dexter Johnson’s March 15, 2016 posting on his Nanoclast blog (on the IEEE [Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers] website) provides details about the situation (Note: Links have been removed),

A technology that, a year ago, was being lauded as the “first commercially viable consumer product” using graphene now appears to be caught up in an imbroglio over who owns its intellectual property rights. The resulting controversy has left the research institute behind the technology in a bit of a public relations quagmire.

The venerable UK publication The Sunday Times reported this week on what appeared to be a mutiny occurring at the National Graphene Institute (NGI) located at the University of Manchester. Researchers at the NGI had reportedly stayed away from working at the institute’s gleaming new $71 million research facility over fears that their research was going to end up in the hands of foreign companies, in particular a Taiwan-based company called BGT Materials.

The “first commercially viable consumer product” noted in Dexter’s posting was a graphene-based lightbulb which was announced by the NGI to much loud crowing in March 2015 (see my March 30, 2015 posting). The company producing the lightbulb was announced as “… Graphene Lighting PLC is a spin-out based on a strategic partnership with the National Graphene Institute (NGI) at The University of Manchester to create graphene applications.” There was no mention of BGT.

Dexter describes the situation from the BGT perspective (from his March 15, 2016 posting), Note: Links have been removed,

… BGT did not demur when asked by  the Times whether it owned the technology. In fact, Chung Ping Lai, BGT’s CEO, claimed it was his company that had invented the technology for the light bulb and not the NGI. The Times report further stated that Lai controls all the key patents and claims to be delighted with his joint venture with the university. “I believe in luck and I have had luck in Manchester,” Lai told the Times.

With companies outside the UK holding majority stakes in the companies spun out of the NGI—allowing them to claim ownership of the technologies developed at the institute—one is left to wonder what was the purpose of the £50 million (US $79 million) earmarked for graphene research in the UK more than four years ago? Was it to develop a local economy based around graphene—a “Graphene Valley”, if you will? Or was it to prop up the local construction industry through the building of shiny new buildings that reportedly few people occupy? That’s the charge leveled by Andre Geim, Nobel laureate for his discovery of graphene, and NGI’s shining star. Geim reportedly described the new NGI building as: “Money put in the British building industry rather than science.”

Dexter ends his March 15, 2016 posting with an observation  that will seem familiar to Canadians,

Now, it seems the government’s eagerness to invest in graphene research—or at least, the facilities for conducting that research—might have ended up bringing it to the same place as its previous lack of investment: the science is done in the UK and the exploitation of the technology is done elsewhere.

The March 13, 2016 Sunday Times article [ETA on April 3, 2016: This article is now behind a paywall] by Tom Harper, Jon Ungoed-Thomas and Michael Sheridan, which seems to be the source of Dexter’s posting, takes a more partisan approach,

ACADEMICS are boycotting a top research facility after a company linked to China was given access to lucrative confidential material from one of Britain’s greatest scientific breakthroughs.

Some scientists at Manchester University working on graphene, a wonder substance 200 times stronger than steel, refuse to work at the new £61m national institution, set up to find ways to exploit the material, amid concerns over a deal struck between senior university management and BGT Materials.

The academics are concerned that the National Graphene Institute (NGI), which was opened last year by George Osborne, the chancellor, and forms one of the key planks of his “northern powerhouse” industrial strategy, does not have the necessary safeguards to protect their confidential research, which could revolutionise the electronics, energy, health and building industries.

BGT, which is controlled by a Taiwanese businessman, subsequently agreed to work with a Chinese manufacturing company and university to develop similar graphene technology.

BGT says its work in Manchester has been successful and it is “offensive” and “untrue” to suggest that it would unfairly use intellectual property. The university say there is no evidence “whatsoever” of unfair use of confidential information. Manchester says it is understandable that some scientists are cautious about the collaborative environment of the new institute. But one senior academic said the arrangement with BGT had caused the university’s graphene research to descend into “complete anarchy”.

The academic said: “The NGI is a national facility, and why should we use it for a company, which is not even an English [owned] company? How much [intellectual property] is staying in England and how much is going to Taiwan?”

The row highlights concerns that the UK has dawdled in developing one of its greatest discoveries. Nearly 50% of ­graphene-related patents have been filed in China, and just 1% in Britain.

Manchester signed a £5m “research collaboration agreement” with BGT Materials in October 2013. Although the company is controlled by a Taiwanese businessman, Chung-ping Lai, the university does have a 17.5% shareholding.

Manchester claimed that the commercial deal would “attract a significant number of jobs to the city” and “benefit the UK economy”.

However, an investigation by The Sunday Times has established:

Only four jobs have been created as a result of the deal and BGT has not paid the full £5m due under the agreement after two projects were cancelled.

Pictures sent to The Sunday Times by a source at the university last month show that the offices at the NGI [National Graphene Institute], which can accommodate 120 staff, were deserted.

British-based businessmen working with graphene have also told The Sunday Times of their concerns about the institute’s information security. Tim Harper, a Manchester-based graphene entrepreneur, said: “We looked at locating there [at the NGI] but we take intellectual property extremely seriously and it is a problem locating in such a facility.

“If you don’t have control over your computer systems or the keys to your lab, then you’ve got a problem.”

I recommend reading Dexter’s post and the Sunday Times article as they provide some compelling insight into the UK situation vis à vis nanotechnology, science, and innovation.

*’Gheim’ corrected to ‘Geim’ on March 30, 2016.

US Science and Technology Policy Office wants some nanotechnology commercialization success stories

The US Science and Technology Policy Office published a notice on Feb. 2, 2016 on the US Federal Register, ‘Requests for Information: Nanotechnology Commercialization Success’ (PDF request).

 

For anyone who’d like a little more information before clicking onto the PDF link, here’s more from the US Federal Register notice titled: Nanotechnology Commercialization Success Stories,

The purpose of this Request for Information (RFI) is to seek examples of commercialization success stories stemming from U.S. Government-funded nanotechnology research and development (R&D) since the inception of the National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) in 2001. The information gathered in response to this RFI may be used as examples to highlight the impact of the Initiative or to inform future activities to promote the commercialization of federally funded nanotechnology R&D. Depending on the nature of the feedback, responses may be used to shape the agenda for a workshop to share best practices and showcase commercial nanotechnology-enabled products and services. Commercial entities, academic institutions, government laboratories, and individuals who have participated in federally funded R&D; collaborated with Federal laboratories; utilized federally funded user facilities for nanoscale fabrication, characterization, and/or simulation; or have otherwise benefited from NNI agency resources are invited to respond.

The deadline is Feb. 29, 2016 and they would prefer contact via email,

 Email: NNISuccessStories@nnco.nano.gov. Include [NNI Success Story] in the subject line of the message.

Mail: Mike Kiley, National Nanotechnology Coordination Office, ATTN: RFI0116, 4201 Wilson Blvd., Stafford II, Suite 405, Arlington, VA 22230. If submitting a response by mail, allow sufficient time for mail processing.

They also have guidelines for the submission,

Submissions are limited to five pages, one of which
we strongly recommend be an overview slide using the template provided at www.nano.gov/NNISuccessStories. Responses must be unclassified and should not contain any sensitive personally identifiable information (such as home address or social security number), or information that might be considered proprietary or confidential). Please include a contact name, e-mail address, and/or phone number in case clarification of details in your submission is required.

The PDF is five pages and you may wish to review the entire document before making your submission.

#BCTECH: being at the Summit (Jan. 18-19, 2016)

#BCTECH Summit 2016*, a joint event between the province of British Columbia (BC, Canada) and the BC Innovation Council (BCIC), a crown corporation formerly known as the Science Council of British Columbia, launched on Jan. 18, 2016. I have written a preview (Jan. 17, 2016 post) and a commentary on the new #BCTECH strategy (Jan. 19, 2016 posting) announced by British Columbia Premier, Christy Clark, on the opening day (Jan. 18, 2016) of the summit.

I was primarily interested in the trade show/research row/technology showcase aspect of the summit focusing (but not exclusively) on nanotechnology. Here’s what I found,

Nano at the Summit

  • Precision NanoSystems: fabricates equipment which allows researchers to create polymer nanoparticles for delivering medications.

One of the major problems with creating nanoparticles is ensuring a consistent size and rapid production. According to Shell Ip, a Precision NanoSystems field application scientist, their NanoAssemblr Platform has solved the consistency problem and a single microfluidic cartridge can produce 15 ml in two minutes. Cartridges can run in parallel for maximum efficiency when producing nanoparticles in greater quantity.

The NanoAssemblr Platform is in use in laboratories around the world (I think the number is 70) and you can find out more on the company’s About our technology webpage,

The NanoAssemblr™ Platform

The microfluidic approach to particle formulation is at the heart of the NanoAssemblr Platform. This well-controlled process mediates bottom-up self-assembly of nanoparticles with reproducible sizes and low polydispersity. Users can control size by process and composition, and adjust parameters such as mixing ratios, flow rate and lipid composition in order to fine-tune nanoparticle size, encapsulation efficiency and much more. The system technology enables manufacturing scale-up through microfluidic reactor parallelization similar to the arraying of transistors on an integrated chip. Superior design ensures that the platform is fast and easy to use with a software controlled manufacturing process. This usability allows for the simplified transfer of manufacturing protocols between sites, which accelerates development, reduces waste and ultimately saves money. Precision NanoSystems’ flagship product is the NanoAssemblr™ Benchtop Instrument, designed for rapid prototyping of novel nanoparticles. Preparation time on the system is streamlined to approximately one minute, with the ability to complete 30 formulations per day in the hands of any user.

The company is located on property known as the Endowment Lands or, more familiarly, the University of British Columbia (UBC).

A few comments before moving on, being able to standardize the production of medicine-bearing nanoparticles is a tremendous step forward which is going to help scientists dealing with other issues. Despite all the talk in the media about delivering nanoparticles with medication directly to diseased cells, there are transport issues: (1) getting the medicine to the right location/organ and (2) getting the medicine into the cell. My Jan. 12, 2016 posting featured a project with Malaysian scientists and a team at Harvard University who are tackling the transport and other nanomedicine) issues as they relate to the lung. As well, I have a Nov. 26, 2015 posting which explores a controversy about nanoparticles getting past the ‘cell walls’ into the nucleus of the cell.

The next ‘nano’ booths were,

  • 4D Labs located at Simon Fraser University (SFU) was initially hailed as a nanotechnology facility but these days they’re touting themselves as an ‘advanced materials’ facility. Same thing, different branding.

They advertise services including hands-on training for technology companies and academics. There is a nanoimaging facility and nanofabrication facility, amongst others.

I spoke with their operations manager, Nathaniel Sieb who mentioned a few of the local companies that use their facilities. (1) Nanotech Security (featured here most recently in a Dec. 29, 2015 post), an SFU spinoff company, does some of their anticounterfeiting research work at 4D Labs. (2) Switch Materials (a smart window company, electrochromic windows if memory serves) also uses the facilities. It is Neil Branda’s (4D Labs Executive Director) company and I have been waiting impatiently (my May 14, 2010 post was my first one about Switch) for either his or someone else’s electrochromic windows (they could eliminate or reduce the need for air conditioning during the hotter periods and reduce the need for heat in the colder periods) to come to market. Seib tells me, I’ll have to wait longer for Switch. (3) A graduate student was presenting his work at the booth, a handheld diagnostic device that can be attached to a smartphone to transmit data to the cloud. While the first application is for diabetics, there are many other possibilities. Unfortunately, glucose means you need to produce blood for the test when I suggested my preference for saliva the student explained some of the difficulties. Apparently, your saliva changes dynamically and frequently and something as simple as taking a sip of orange juice could result in a false reading. Our conversation (mine, Seib’s and the student’s) also drifted over into the difficulties of bringing products to market. Sadly, we were not able to solve that problem in our 10 minute conversation.

  • FPInnovations is a scientific research centre and network for the forestry sector. They had a display near their booth which was like walking into a peculiar forest (I was charmed). The contrast with the less imaginative approaches all around was striking.

FPInnovation helped to develop cellulose nanocrystals (CNC), then called nanocrystalline cellulose (NCC), and I was hoping to be updated about CNC and about the spinoff company Celluforce. The researcher I spoke to was from Sweden and his specialty was business development. He didn’t know much about CNC in Canada and when I commented on how active Sweden has been its pursuit of a CNC application, he noted Finland has been the most active. The researcher noted that making the new materials being derived from the forest, such as CNC, affordable and easily produced for use in applications that have yet to be developed are all necessities and challenges. He mentioned that cultural changes also need to take place. Canadians are accustomed to slicing away and discarding most of the tree instead of using as much of it as possible. We also need to move beyond the construction and pulp & paper sectors (my Feb. 15, 2012 posting featured nanocellulose research in Sweden where sludge was the base material).

Other interests at the Summit

I visited:

  • “The Wearable Lower Limb Anthropomorphic Exoskeleton (WLLAE) – a lightweight, battery-operated and ergonomic robotic system to help those with mobility issues improve their lives. The exoskeleton features joints and links that correspond to those of a human body and sync with motion. SFU has designed, manufactured and tested a proof-of-concept prototype and the current version can mimic all the motions of hip joints.” The researchers (Siamak Arzanpour and Edward Park) pointed out that the ability to mimic all the motions of the hip is a big difference between their system and others which only allow the leg to move forward or back. They rushed the last couple of months to get this system ready for the Summit. In fact, they received their patent for the system the night before (Jan. 17, 2016) the Summit opened.

It’s the least imposing of the exoskeletons I’ve seen (there’s a description of one of the first successful exoskeletons in a May 20, 2014 posting; if you scroll down to the end you’ll see an update about the device’s unveiling at the 2014 World Cup [soccer/football] in Brazil).

Unfortunately, there aren’t any pictures of WLLAE yet and the proof-of-concept version may differ significantly from the final version. This system could be used to help people regain movement (paralysis/frail seniors) and I believe there’s a possibility it could be used to enhance human performance (soldiers/athletes). The researchers still have some significant hoops to jump before getting to the human clinical trial stage. They need to refine their apparatus, ensure that it can be safely operated, and further develop the interface between human and machine. I believe WLLAE is considered a neuroprosthetic device. While it’s not a fake leg or arm, it enables movement (prosthetic) and it operates on brain waves (neuro). It’s a very exciting area of research, consequently, there’s a lot of international competition.

  • Delightfully, after losing contact for a while, I reestablished it with the folks (Sean Lee, Head External Relations and Jim Hanlon, Chief Administrative Officer) at TRIUMF (Canada’s national laboratory for particle and nuclear physics). It’s a consortium of 19 Canadian research institutions (12 full members and seven associate members).

It’s a little disappointing that TRIUMF wasn’t featured in the opening for the Summit since the institution houses theoretical, experimental, and applied science work. It’s a major BC (and Canada) science and technology success story. My latest post (July 16, 2015) about their work featured researchers from California (US) using the TRIUMF cyclotron for imaging nanoscale materials and, on the more practical side, there’s a Mar. 6, 2015 posting about their breakthrough for producing nuclear material-free medical isotopes. Plus, Maclean’s Magazine ran a Jan. 3, 2016 article by Kate Lunau profiling an ‘art/science’ project that took place at TRIUMF (Note: Links have been removed),

It’s not every day that most people get to peek inside a world-class particle physics lab, where scientists probe deep mysteries of the universe. In September [2015], Vancouver’s TRIUMF—home to the world’s biggest cyclotron, a type of particle accelerator—opened its doors to professional and amateur photographers, part of an event called Global Physics Photowalk 2015. (Eight labs around the world participated, including CERN [European particle physics laboratory], in Geneva, where the Higgs boson particle was famously discovered.)

Here’s the local (Vancouver) jury’s pick for the winning image (from the Nov. 4, 2015 posting [Winning Photographs Revealed] by Alexis Fong on the TRIUMF website),

Caption: DESCANT (at TRIUMF) neutron detector array composed of 70 hexagonal detectors Credit: Pamela Joe McFarlane

Caption: DESCANT (at TRIUMF) neutron detector array composed of 70 hexagonal detectors Credit: Pamela Joe McFarlane

With all those hexagons and a spherical shape, the DESCANT looks like a ‘buckyball’ or buckminsterfullerene or C60  to me.

I hope the next Summit features TRIUMF and/or some other endeavours which exemplify, Science, Technology, and Creativity in British Columbia and Canada.

Onto the last booth,

  • MITACS was originally one of the Canadian federal government’s Network Centres for Excellence projects. It was focused on mathematics, networking, and innovation but once the money ran out the organization took a turn. These days, it’s describing itself as (from their About page) “a national, not-for-profit organization that has designed and delivered research and training programs in Canada for 15 years. Working with 60 universities, thousands of companies, and both federal and provincial governments, we build partnerships that support industrial and social innovation in Canada.”Their Jan. 19, 2016 news release (coincidental with the #BCTECH Summit, Jan. 18 – 19, 2016?) features a new report about improving international investment in Canada,

    Opportunities to improve Canada’s attractiveness for R&D investment were identified:

    1.Canada needs to better incentivize R&D by rebalancing direct and indirect support measures

    2.Canada requires a coordinated, client-centric approach to incentivizing R&D

    3.Canada needs to invest in training programs that grow the knowledge economy”

    Oddly, entrepreneurial/corporate/business types never have a problem with government spending when the money is coming to them; it’s only a problem when it’s social services.

    Back to MITACS, one of their more interesting (to me) projects was announced at the 2015 Canadian Science Policy Conference. MITACS has inaugurated a Canadian Science Policy Fellowships programme which in its first year (pilot) will see up up to 10 academics applying their expertise to policy-making while embedded in various federal government agencies. I don’t believe anything similar has occurred here in Canada although, if memory serves, the Brits have a similar programme.

    Finally, I offer kudos to Sherry Zhao, MITACS Business Development Specialist, the only person to ask me how her organization might benefit my business. Admittedly I didn’t talk to a lot of people but it’s striking to me that at an ‘innovation and business’ tech summit, only one person approached me about doing business.  Of course, I’m not a male aged between 25 and 55. So, extra kudos to Sherry Zhao and MITACS.

Christy Clark (Premier of British Columbia), in her opening comments, stated 2800 (they were expecting about 1000) had signed up for the #BCTECH Summit. I haven’t been able to verify that number or get other additional information, e.g., business deals, research breakthroughs, etc. announced at the Summit. Regardless, it was exciting to attend and find out about the latest and greatest on the BC scene.

I wish all the participants great and good luck and look forward to next year’s where perhaps we’ll here about how the province plans to help with the ‘manufacturing middle’ issue. For new products you need to have facilities capable of reproducing your devices at a speed that satisfies your customers; see my Feb. 10, 2014 post featuring a report on this and other similar issues from the US General Accountability Office.

*’BCTECH Summit 2016′ link added Jan. 21, 2016.

#BCTECH: funding and strategy

Yesterday, Jan. 18, 2016, British Columbia’s premier, Christy Clark ,announced the second and third pillars of the #BCTECH strategy:  talent and markets [ETA Jan. 21, 2016: the announcement was made at the #BCTECH Summit, Jan. 18 – 19, 2016]. It was one of a series of announcements about the province’s interest and investment in technology under the #BCTECH banner. The first announcement (first pillar) was the $100M BC Tech Fund in December 2015. Before moving on to pillars two and three, here’s a BC Technology Industry Association (BCTIA) Dec. 8, 2015 news release about the fund,

The Province of British Columbia is creating a $100-million venture capital fund as it builds the foundation for a comprehensive technology strategy aimed at stimulating growth in the fast-moving sector, creating jobs and strengthening a diverse economy.

Premier Christy Clark today announced the new BC Tech Fund as part of the first of three economy-building pillars in the B.C. government’s multi-year #BCTECH Strategy that will drive growth and job creation in the multi-billion dollar tech sector.

“B.C.’s technology sector is consistently growing faster than the overall economy making this the perfect time to catch the wave and help smaller companies join in the ranks of economy builders,” said Premier Clark. “With this fund we’re creating a stronger foundation for B.C.’s technology sector, which is a major employer in communities across the province, to shine on the global stage while creating well-paying jobs back at home for British Columbians.”

The BC Tech Fund will help promising tech companies in B.C.’s tech sector by creating an avenue for capital funding, enabling them to take the next step towards joining the ranks of other job-creating tech companies.

The new fund will also help develop a sustainable venture capital system in the province, building on the success of the B.C. Renaissance Capital Fund (BCRCF), the province’s well developed Angel investment community, and responding to current funding needs.

Capital is one of three pillars in the forthcoming #BCTECH Strategy. This first pillar, announced today, also includes continuing to support B.C.’s competitive tax system and research environment.

The remaining two pillars, talent and markets, include actions to deepen the B.C. technology talent pool by developing and attracting the highest quality talent, and actions to make it easier to access new markets. The complete #BCTECH Strategy will be announced in January.

The BC Tech Fund will be in operation in 2016 following an open procurement process to secure a private sector fund manager to administer it. [emphasis mine] The process for identifying a fund manager begins today with a posting for a Negotiated Request for Proposal (NRFP).

B.C.’s technology sector, a key pillar of the BC Jobs Plan, is consistently growing faster than the economy overall. Its continued growth is integral to diversifying the Province’s economy, strengthening B.C.’s business landscape, and creating jobs in B.C. communities. The BC Jobs Plan builds on the strengths of B.C.’s key sectors and its educated and skilled workforce, keeping the province diverse, strong and growing.

In partnership with the BC Innovation Council, the province is hosting B.C.’s first #BCTECH Summit, Jan. 18-19, 2016, where the #BCTECH Strategy will be released in full. The summit will showcase our tech industry and offer opportunities to connect to this growing sector. To register or learn more, go to: http://bctechsummit.ca/

Quotes:

Amrik Virk, Minister of Technology, Innovation and Citizens’ Services –

“We’ve seen phenomenal growth in the technology sector in recent years. The B.C. Tech Strategy will further increase that growth by giving early-stage companies greater access to the venture capital they need to start off their business on the right footing. The access to capital is the boost entrepreneurs need to build their companies, commercialize and create high-paying, skilled jobs.”

Teresa Wat, Minister of International Trade and Minister Responsible for Asia Pacific Strategy and Multiculturalism –

“Venture capital is a critical building block to stimulating innovative ideas in the marketplace and this new fund reflects our commitment to creating an investment environment that stimulates new economic growth.”

Shirley Bond, Minister of Jobs, Tourism and Skills Training and Responsible for Labour –

“The technology sector is one of eight key sectors identified in the BC Jobs Plan and it is a crucial job creator, supporting innovation and productivity across all industries. All British Columbians stand to benefit from the sector fulfilling its potential.”

Greg Peet, chair, Premier’s Technology Council –

“Government gained a better understanding of what was needed to support growth of the technology sector by speaking with its leaders and influencers. Putting those needs into action has resulted in a strategy that provides promising tech companies with access to the capital they need, and reaffirms government’s commitment to help researchers and innovators succeed in building world class new businesses that create high paying jobs in B.C.”

Bill Tam, president and CEO of the BC Technology Industry Association –

“B.C. is already home to an amazing technology sector, and today’s announcement provides needed support for business development and growth. Government’s venture capital investment is a great start in terms of helping companies expand, and will solidify what many already know: B.C. is the best place to grow a tech company.”

Igor Faletski, chief executive officer, co-founder, Mobify –

“Increasing access to venture capital in British Columbia will be a major boost to many growing technology companies here. At Mobify we know from personal experience how useful early stage programs like the BC Venture Acceleration Program are to startups. The $100 million investment by the B.C. government into the BC Tech Fund will help our companies grow and achieve global leadership even faster.”

Mike Woollatt, chief executive officer, Canadian Venture Capital and Private Equity Association –

“Like B.C., governments around the world recognize that being a strong partner of the venture community reaps rewards for the economy and productivity. This new venture capital fund will be a source of innovations and jobs.”

Paris Gaudet, executive director, Innovation Island –

“Working closely with tech startups delivering the Venture Acceleration Program, I know how venture capital significantly increases a company’s chance of success. That is why I’m thrilled about this announcement as it will propel growth, increase jobs in the tech sector, and expand the number of opportunities available to entrepreneurs.”

Yesterday’s (Jan. 18, 2016) announcement focused largely on the other two pillars of the #BCTECH Strategy, although remarkably few details about any of these pillars have been shared.

Technical briefing or stonewalling?

Four BC government officials were answering questions at the technical briefing but not of them wanted (or was allowed?) to be identified as a specific source for information (i.e., quoted). Since they didn’t have much information to give, it wasn’t much of a problem. Here are the names of the four BC government officials: Bobbi Plecas, Associate Deputy Minister, Corporate Inititiatives; John Jacobson, Deputy Minister, Technology, Innovation, and Citizens’ Services; Shannon Baskerville, Deputy Minister, Deputy Minister’s Office; and Bindi Sawchuk, Executive Director, Investment Capital (job titles are from the BC Government online directory as of Jan. 18, 2016).

Let’s start with the money.  Apparently, the $100M fund will be ‘evergreen’ (somehow the money that goes out will be replenished) but no real details were offered as to how that might be achieved. Perhaps they’re hoping for a ‘return on investment’? They weren’t clear. Also, this fund will be in existence for 15 years. No reason was given for the fund’s end date. The government did consult with industry and the $100M amount was considered the optimal size for the fund, not big enough to scare away private investment but enough to ensure adequate government capitalization. Apparently, the plan is to start disbursing funds in 2016 (?) but they have yet to “secure a private sector fund manager to administer it.”

The second pillar is talent. The BC government is trying to make it easier for companies to bring talent from elsewhere (immigrants) while training more people here. No mention was made of the Syrian refugees currently settling here (other jurisdictions such as the UK and Germany, in their distinctive ways, are extending a special welcome to Syrian scientists as I noted in a Dec. 22, 2015 posting). [ETA Jan. 21, 2016: Arizona State University (US) has established an education fund for Syrian refugee students who want to complete their undergraduate or graduate programmes as per a Dec. 31, 2015 posting on the 2020 Science blog.]

Back to talent and training here, the government wants to embed  computer coding into the education system for K-12 (kindergarten to grade 12). One determined reporter (Canadian Press if memory serves) attempted to find out how much this would cost. No answer was forthcoming although there were many words expended. Whether this failure was due to ignorance (disturbing!) or a reluctance to share (also disturbing!) was impossible to tell. Another reporter (Georgia Straight) asked about equipment (coding can be taught with pen and paper but hardware is better). It seems the BC school system is beginning to resemble school systems in the US where districts with parents who can afford to fundraise have an advantage over other districts. Getting back to the reporter’s question, no answer was forthcoming although the speaker was loquacious.

Another reporter asked if the government had found any jurisdictions doing anything similar regarding computer coding. It seems they did consider other jurisdictions although it was claimed that BC is the first to strike out in this direction. Oddly, no one mentioned Estonia, known in some circles as E-stonia, where the entire school system was online by the late 1990s in an initiative known as the ‘Tiger Leap Foundation’ which also supported computer coding classes in secondary school (there’s more in Tim Mansel’s May 16, 2013 article about Estonia’s then latest initiative to embed computer coding into grade school.) There was a review of various countries’ efforts in a March 31, 2012 article for the Guardian; notice what they had to say about South Korea and there’s a more recent and brief mention of the international situation in an Aug. 31, 2015 article on CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) news online.

Returning yet again to the #BCTECH Strategy, there was a question about BC teachers being able to teach coding (I think it was Canadian Press again). It doesn’t seem the government has thought that aspect through. The speaker who answered most of these questions talked about the coding camps (another initiative with trainers who have specific skill sets [?]) and also noted there would be professional days to help BC teachers figure how to teach coding in the regular classes. No details were given as to how much training and support the teachers would receive. By contrast, the Estonians trained 60 teachers before implementing the initiative.

Hopefully, BC will take notice and adopt the policy although it is  currently embroiled in a dispute with teachers which has reached Canada’s Supreme Court, from a Jan. 14, 2016 article by Ian Bailey for the Globe and Mail,

Canada’s highest court has agreed to hear an appeal in a dispute that has fuelled the volatile relationship between British Columbia teachers and the provincial government in a case that could affect labour relations across the country.

B.C. Premier Christy Clark was education minister [14 years ago] when the province first stripped the teachers’ contract.

This week’s developments come after a bitter, months-long teachers’ strike in 2014 that ended with a six-year contract that included a 7.25-per-cent raise and a $400-million fund to hire bargaining unit members to address class size and composition issues.

Despite past battles, both Mr. Iker [Jim Iker, president of the BC Teachers’ Federation] and Mr. Bernier [current B.C. Education Minister Mike Bernier] insisted there was a good relationship between teachers and the government.

Mr. Iker said teachers are working well with the Liberals on revisions to curriculum, but it was up to teachers to advocate for more funding to address student needs.

Now, the third pillar of the #BCTECH strategy, new markets. The BC government has decided it is one of the best markets for new technology. I am intrigued but not convinced that the average government bureaucrat is going to make any decisions about adopting new technologies as that requires confidence and risk-taking abilities. Looking at those four bureaucrats none of whom was to be quoted in any story about the #BCTECH Strategy that they are charged with implementing, it seems unlikely that any one of those four (or others of their ilk) would make that kind of decision. To be fair, there are reasons why you don’t want bureaucrats to jump on every new idea as these people are the guardians of public welfare and public monies. The question then becomes, how do you get bureaucrats to take some risks without going overboard? As well, bureaucratic systems are not designed for risk-taking. So the next question is, how do you redesign your bureaucratic system to encourage some risk-taking? It’s not fair to ask people to do this sort of thing if you’re not going to support them. On the plus side, they are eliminating some of the red tape. For projects under $250K, requests for proposals are just two pages.

Disappointingly, the emphasis was largely on data and computer coding. There was some talk about life sciences but no larger vision of science and culture was offered. Creativity was mentioned, which seems odd since the presentations were markedly lacking in that quality. (The presentations at the opening were well done and, at times, even I was stirred [mildly] but no creative ground was broken or even hinted at.) The #BCTECH strategy 2016 document does mention creativity (sort of) on page 25 of the print document,

Promote creative thinking as a core competency across the entire curriculum including technical and business education

As part of this move to embed computer coding classes and creativity into the curriculum, they are introducing (from page 25),

New Applied Design, Skills and Technologies education: an experiential, hands-on learning through design and creation that includes skills and concepts from Information Technology Education

The applied design is being offered from K-9 (from page 25),

Students will have the opportunity to specialize in Information Technology, Technology Education or emerging disciplines.

Interestingly, Emily Carr University of Art + Design was not present at the Tech Summit (no presentation, no keynote address, no booth, no mention in the documents). It should be noted that the Council of Canadian Academies included visual and performing arts in its State of Science and Technology in Canada, 2012 (link to full PDF report).

Hole in the strategy and final comments

Don Mattrick is well known locally as a BC technology success story and he was the Industry Chair for this summit. He is one of the province’s pioneers in the field of video games and, according to Premier Clark, he’d achieved enough financial success that by grade 11 (he was probably 16), he went out to buy a Ferrari for which he had the funds.  He was unsuccessful in his quest to purchase a Ferrari or his next quest to get a loan from the bank. Despite these setbacks, he did found one of the first video games companies in BC, which he later sold to Electronic Arts, a US games and entertainment giant.

In the early 1980s when Mattrick started out, he had very little support there wasn’t a video game industry n Canada. (Hard to believe now but games were leading/bleeding edge.) That lack of support for new, emerging fields can be seen even with this new #BCTECH strategy where Premier Clark announced very clearly that education in the new technology sectors had to be tied to jobs. Sensible but problematic. A ‘Don Mattrick’ type wouldn’t have had a job since the industry wasn’t yet established.

The truly groundbreaking, new technologies are highly disruptive and risky which Clark acknowledged and dismissed (she exhorted people not to give up) in her speech.

With an international race to ‘innovate’, all governments face the issues of disruption and risk taking. Bureaucracies are not designed to engage in those activities. To a large extent, they’ve been designed to control and minimize disruption and risk taking.

I’m sympathetic to the problem, I just wish the BC government had been more forthcoming about the issues and about the details of how they are going to implement this new strategy.

I’m also curious as to whether the government is interested in changing the ‘found a start-up company and sell to a corporate giant’ culture which reigns here in BC. That’s what Don Mattrick and a century or more’s worth of innovative BC entrepreneurs have done.

Finally, I gather Clark wants to commercialize our data further. She talked about opportunities to do that although no details were forthcoming nor was there any mention of privacy issues.