Tag Archives: Researcher Forum

Canadian business triumphs again! US company acquires Cananano Technologies

As I have noted on more than one occasion, the ‘success’ model in Canadian technology-based businesses is predicated on a buy-out, i.e. develop and grow your business so you can sell it and retire. The news about Canadian Nano Technologies (Canano) fits very well into this model. From the Jan. 12, 2011 news item on Nanotechnology Now,

Arkansas-based NanoMech, Inc. announced today that it has acquired Canadian Nano Technologies, LLC (Canano).

Canano (www.CanadianNano.com) provides custom engineered nanopowders designed to solve unique problems, adding value to products that span multiple industries including electronics, agriculture, solar energy, and aerospace. The company was founded to develop and commercialize applications of pure metal nanopowders. Using a proprietary gas condensation process partially based on research carried out at Los Alamos National Laboratory, Canano produces a wide variety of high-quality nanoparticles. Their proprietary process is unique and offers significant improvements over other nanoparticle production/collection processes.

NanoMech is a leading designer and manufacturer of nanoparticle-based additives, coatings and coating deposition systems.

Richard Tacker, Founder and CEO of Canano said, “Our customers have seen the value that our custom-engineered nanopowders bring to their products, and as a result the demand for our materials is growing rapidly. By joining NanoMech we can take advantage of their excellent management team, nanomanufacturing expertise, and scale up our production capacity to serve existing and future customers.”

The Canadian technology certainly has some interesting applications,

The nanopowder technology applications include advance methods of improving: nutrient replacement fertilizers and environmentally safe pesticides and conductive inks for printed circuit boards, RFID’s, photovoltaic printed solar cells, solar connectors, surface coatings, new generation ballistics, RF shielding, self-cleaning surfaces, solar heaters, condensers , silicon wafers, solid rocket fuels, and primers. Other applications include textiles, nano fabrics for clothing and car seat covers, odor free materials, cosmetics, sunscreens, deodorants, lip balm, cleansing products, surface protectants, cleaning chemicals, antibacterial coatings, scratch resistant surfaces, thermal barriers, super hydrophobic, dielectrics, wound dressings, lighter, stronger sports equipment, smart materials, air purifiers, water filtration and bio-aerosols, safety, sun and high definition glasses, non-reflective and smart shielding, odor free refrigerators and washing machines, automotive parts, chip resistant paints, non-corrosives, cement, concrete, and fuel savers, and much more.

Meanwhile, the discussion about innovation in Canada continues as we try to figure out why we aren’t better at innovating as per a Jan. 12, 2011 article by John Lorinc for University Affairs. (Thanks to Rob Annan for the tip via Twitter.) Lorinc notes in his article,

In its ninth report on the state of Ontario’s competitiveness, the task force headed by Roger Martin, dean of the University of Toronto’s Joseph L. Rotman School of Management, argues that low productivity in the country’s manufacturing heartland has led to low prosperity, revealing an “innovation gap.” Professor Martin writes that public policy is more concerned with science-driven inventions that, while very important to society, won’t necessarily lead to products and services that consumers want – and thus products and services that could improve Ontario’s innovation capabilities. [emphasis mine]

I am not sure that a focus on ‘science-driven inventions’ is the big problem. Certainly our inventions seem attractive to large foreign companies and corporations as per the Canano experience and many others. The article even points out that Apple is currently pursuing RIM, which is, for now, the largest Canadian technology company.

The perspective from William Polushin from McGill  is closer to my own,

For many years, William Polushin has taught a core international business undergraduate course at McGill University’s Desautels Faculty of Management. Each year Mr. Polushin (who’s also founding director of the Desautels program for international competitiveness, trade and innovation) polls his students about their attitudes towards entrepreneurship and innovation by asking whether they see themselves as the next Bill Gates – in other words, as individuals who will come up with an innovation that could be a game-changer. Year after year, the response rate is consistent: only about 10 percent say they see themselves in this kind of role. By comparison, at a recent conference on North American competitiveness in Mexico City, he asked the students in the audience to raise their hands if they saw themselves running their own businesses in the future. “Well over half put up their hands,” he says.

The results of his straw polls tell a story. Canada has not been especially successful at fostering an innovation mindset among successive generations of business grads and entrepreneurs. Mr. Polushin says, “We don’t have a strong risk orientation in our own country.” [emphasis mine] Most of his students aspire to work in large companies, even though the supply of Canadian-based multinationals continues to shrink due to consolidation. The result, he says, is that much R&D and innovation activity occurs elsewhere.

For a bit of contrast,

Although he’s based at the epicentre of Ottawa’s policy machinery, veteran Statistics Canada economist John Baldwin has a message that runs sharply counter to much of the conventional wisdom that emanates from the capital’s think tanks. “There’s an awful lot of innovation taking place,” says Dr. Baldwin, director of StatsCan’s economic analysis division. The problem is that Canadian policy doesn’t recognize it as such.

I think that’s true too and illustrates the point that discussion about innovation in Canada is complex and nuanced. I recommend reading Lorinc’s entire article.

Todd Babiuk’s article for the Edmonton Journal, Canada failing to create culture of innovation, provides an insider’s perspective from Peter Hackett,

He was, for five years, the president and CEO of a now-shuttered endowment fund called Alberta Ingenuity. The mandate of Alberta Ingenuity, devised to be independent of the provincial government, was to encourage and support innovation in science, technology and engineering. This innovation would lead to spinoff companies that would create fabulous wealth and opportunity for Albertans, attract talented people, and diversify the economy.

Then, all of a sudden, he wasn’t the president and CEO of an independent organization. Alberta Ingenuity has been replaced by Alberta Innovates, and it is operated by the department of Advanced Education and Technology.

“What I take from it, in terms of lessons, is it’s thrilling to watch a group of people take a great product to the market,” said Hackett, in his current office at the University of Alberta’s National Institute for Nanotechnology, where he is a fellow. Before he arrived in Alberta, Hackett did similar work at the National Research Council in Ottawa, spinning Canadian research into businesses.

“But in 15 years of an innovation agenda, honestly,” he said, “governments have accomplished nothing.”

On a YouTube video shot at the Canadian Science Policy Centre in late 2010, Hackett criticizes the Canadian government’s unhelpful and backward interventions into business, through the tax system.

If you’re making a profit, we’re going to help you. But if you’re growing, we won’t. [emphasis mine] In the U.S., it’s completely the other way around. That’s why they have a lot of small companies that grow into big companies.”

In the same video he outlines, briefly and rather devastatingly, the problem with venture capital in Canada. “Government’s intervention into venture capital has ruined the ability for Canadian companies to grow,” he says.

… “We created a tax break for investing in venture capital,” he said, in his office. “So it was about the tax break, not this great company: Facebook, whatever you like. It’s absurd!”

Point well taken regarding the tax break for venture capital. As I recall, there were similar issues with film funding tax breaks. These were addressed and finally, real movies as opposed to ‘tax break’ movies got funded. Part of the problem with government tax programmes such as tax breaks for venture capital funding or film funding is the law of unintended (and counterproductive) consequences and the extraordinarily long time it takes to resolve them.

There was one other point in Hackett’s interview, “If you’re making a profit, we’re going to help you. But if you’re growing, we won’t,” which is well illustrated by Rob Annan’s Nov. 30, 2010 posting (on the Researcher Form blog) where he discusses this phenomenon in the context of Medicago,

Medicago is a Canadian company that produces vaccines in tobacco plants instead of using traditional egg-production techniques. This allows a much more rapid development and deployment of seasonal and pandemic vaccines. Their proprietary technology, currently in phase I and II clinical trials, was developed in Canada thanks in part to government funding …

They’ve been awarded numerous Canadian business and technology awards. They have translated these investments and successes into millions of dollars in private sector investment and a public listing on the TSX. Not bad for a company based out of Quebec City.

So what’s wrong with this obvious success story?

Medicago made the news this week because the US Department of Defense is investing $21-million to build a 90,000 sq ft state-of-the art production facility in North Carolina. The facility will be able to produce 120-million pandemic vaccine doses annually or 40-million seasonal vaccine doses annually. In a news release, the US government recognizes the company’s ability to bolster domestic vaccine supply, respond more rapidly than traditional methods, and bring “hundreds of good paying jobs” to the region.

The 90,000 sq ft facility in North Carolina will dwarf the current estimated 15,000 sq ft dedicated to production in Quebec City, and will inevitably shift the company’s focus south.

The Canadian government’s response?

According to CBC news, Health Canada remains committed to egg-based vaccines …

While it’s discouraging to read about, I like to find hope in the fact that innovation in Canada is being discussed and folks seem to be interested in finding ways to promote and nurture innovation in Canada.

Thoughts on the Canadian science blogging scene and on the FrogHeart blog

I thought the timing was right for a review of the Canadian science blogging scene. At this point there seems to be about 12 of us. I found 4 new (to me) blogs this year:

  • The Bubble Chamber which is maintained by the History of Science programme students at the University of Toronto. As you might expect, it’s very academic at times. You might find a recent posting, How to pursue science from the humanities, an interesting read.
  • CMBR is maintained by Colin Schultz. He’s a science journalist. I haven’t read it often enough to be able to comment on it although I am intrigued by an item he has about science and the movies.
  • PARS3C is maintained by Elizabeth Lowell, a science journalist and editor. She focuses on space exploration (not a very strong interest of mine). Here’s her profile of Rocket Scientista, a PhD student in astrophysics who discusses, amongst other things,  why she thinks science blogging is important.
  • Nicole Arbour, a science and innovation officer in the UK’s Foreign Office in Ottawa, blogs about the science in Ottawa and in Canada regularly on a site maintained by the UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office. One of her latest is titled, Science Policy in Canada, and features a video of Mehrdad Hariri, Chair of the Canada Science Policy Conference, talking about plans to create a science policy centre in Canada.

Colleagues that have stimulated my thinking and opened new vistas include,

  • Rob Annan on a blog that seems to have changed its name recently (glory halleluiah!) to Researcher Forum. (Rob, I will change my blog roll soon.) It was a blog developed as a consequence of a protest letter written to Stephen Harper’s Conservative government a few years back when science budgets were affected. Months after its inception, Rob Annan was asked to take on the job of blogging regularly. His writing on Canadian science policy is always thoughtful and thought-provoking. Here’s his latest one on innovation in Canada and some of the problems. And, here’s one of my favourites from June 29, 2010, Public has a right to influence research policy. It’s about multiple sclerosis and the ‘surgery cure’ that has excited an enormous amount of interest.
  • The Black Hole is a blog about what happens once you graduate from university. It’s mostly aimed at those who have PhDs or Masters degrees although I think anyone could benefit from the insights that Beth Snow and David Kent provide. They certainly opened my eyes up to some of the issues in ways I couldn’t have anticipated. There’s a very interesting and humourous response to a current discussion taking place about whether or not there are too many people getting doctoral degrees, Professionals in High Demand. They ran a series during the summer about work that graduate students can aspire to and that doesn’t involve becoming a professor at a university.
  • Gregor Wolbring, a professor at the University of Calgary, maintains probably one of the longest-running and well-known Canadian science blogs, Nano and Nano- Bio, Info, Cogno, Neuro, Synbio, Geo, Chem…. He doesn’t blog that frequently these days; his site biography indicates that he must be screamingly busy. It’s worth taking a look at his blog as he often features material that no one else does.

Strictly speaking these aren’t science blogs as I think of them but this is a review of the ‘scene’ as much as anything else and these blogs definitely contribute,

  • Jeff Sharom maintains the Science Canada blog whose goal “is to highlight science policy issues in Canada’s political arena and media.” He doesn’t offer any commentary so this site functions more as an aggregator or reader but he picks up just about everything on Canadian science policy and it’s definitely worth a look if you want to know about the latest news.
  • RRResearch is maintained by Rosie Redfield at the University of British Columbia. As she notes, “This is a research blog, not a conventional science blog. Most posts are not about published research or science in the public domain, but about my lab’s day-to-day research into the mechanism, function and evolution of DNA uptake by Haemophilus influenzae and other bacteria.” She’s probably best known for her response to a recent science controversy over arsenic and bacteria.

The rest of these are blogs that haven’t been updated for a few months or more or don’t fit easily into the notion of being a Canadian science blog.

  • Je vote pour la science has been maintained by Pascal Lapointe and his colleague, Josée Nadia Drouin. There hasn’t been a new podcast (yes, a Canadian science podcast blog) since May 2010. These are expensive and time-consuming and both Pascal and his colleague work for Agence Science-Presse (which is being kept current). If you do have the French language skills I do encourage you to check out both sites.
  • David Ng is a professor at the University of British Columbia and he is a member of a group blog (his two partners are both from the US).  One of Dr. Ng’s most recent postings at The World’s Fair was titled, Crickets chirping and Collider Whales. There’s more about Dr. Ng and his various projects here.
  • Jay Ingram, co-host of Discovery Planet, maintained a blog , which featured podcasts, until Oct. 2008. I wonder if he will start it up again now that he’s retiring from Discovery Planet.

As for FrogHeart, I had a banner year bloggingwise. January 2010 statistics (AW stats. package) show the site as have 4225 visits in total and this month the site has clocked over 25,000 visits.That’s an increase of over 600%. In fact, FrogHeart consistently showed over 20,000 visits per month in the last quarter.  Based on this data, I’m going to make the claim that as far as I know,  FrogHeart is the largest, independent Canadian science blog.

Nanocrystalline cellulose is the most searched topic on my blog this year. It may not be the top search in every month but it’s consistently in my top 10. I want to thank Peter Julian, Rainer Becker, Charles McGovern, Richard Berry, Forrest H Bennett III, Leon Chua, Blaise Mouttet, Fern Wickson, Betty J. Morris, and Teri W. Odom who kindly provided answers to my questions (some were full length interviews while others were quick e-mail questions).

Please do contact me if I’ve missed something or someone or got something wrong.

I think 2010 was a better year for Canadian science blogging if you consider the addition of a couple new blogs as evidence (and I do). Many of the bloggers are independent, i.e., they self-fund their blogs and that suggests a big commitment.

I think at this point I’d like to highlight a December 28, 2010 article from the Calgary Herald on  how to pour champagne by Tom Spears (from the article),

It took six French scientists and a lot of free samples to prove this, but the official word says you should pour Champagne down the side of a tall glass to preserve the fizz and the flavour.

Bubbles also last longer when your Champagne is really cold — about 4 C.

I wish a great 2011 for everyone and an even more active year for Canadian science blogging.

ETA Jan.19.11: I found another Canadian science blogger: Nassif Ghoussou, a professor of mathematics at the University of British Columbia. His blog is called Piece of Mind. Thanks to Rob Annan’s blog, Researcher Forum, for this find.

ETA Jan. 24.11: This is great. I found Cool Science today. The blogger, a science communicator and parent located in Ontario,  focuses on something called ‘science parenting.  From the blog’s About page,

This site is about raising a creative rationalist in an age of nonsense. It is about parents getting excited about science, learning and critical thinking. It is about smart parents raising smart kids who can think for themselves, make good decisions and discern the credible from the incredible.

Are there any other Canadian science bloggers I can add to this list? Please, do let me know.