From Research to Reality

McMaster HeaderBy Meredith Macleod, Hamilton Spectator – March 7, 2012

www.mcmasterinnovationpark.ca

Norjohn Limited is a part of what McMaster Innovation Park has come to symbolize: a future of innovation, science, health, technology and advanced manufacturing. 

Gleaming steel tanks at McMaster Innovation Park will soon freeze hundreds of thousands of blood and urine samples that will be analysed over 20 years as part of an unprecedented national study of aging.

The “biobank” of 32 vessels is in a former loading dock where fridges and stoves were once shipped out from Westinghouse and then Camco.

It’s a small slice of what McMaster Innovation Park (MIP) has come to symbolize: a future of innovation, science, health, technology and advanced manufacturing built on what easily could have been yet another monument to the slow death of Hamilton’s industrial glory days.

MIP’s motto is: Co-locate, connect, commercialize. It’s the notion that if you bring like-minded people together – those bursting with ideas and aspirations who might not otherwise talk to one another – and then nurture them with advice, mentorship and networking, startups can become success stories.

Research can become revenue.

Innovation existed in Hamilton long before MIP, says one of the park’s earliest champions, Mark Chamberlain. He knows something about innovation as chief executive of commercialization firm Trivaris, MIP’s first tenant.

“But MIP has become a lightning rod for conversations that were happening in different corners of the city. It’s amplified those conversations.”

Amplified perhaps, but on a sunny weekday morning, it’s quiet in the Atrium, the converted office of the former Camco, where floors were jackhammered out to bring in loads of light.

Almost every leasable foot of space in the Atrium is now rented, but it’s so still, you can hear the whirring fans of the sophisticated heating system.

Zach Douglas, president and CEO of MIP, says the 15-year vision for the project in 2006 was 10 to 11 buildings housing 3,000 employees.

Heading into six years in, there are two completed buildings: The McMaster Automotive Resource Centre is under way and planning and development has begun for a fourth, a health and life sciences facility. About 400 people are working full-time at MIP and that’s expected to reach 500 by the end of the year.

“Given all the work it was in the beginning, we’re feeling pretty comfortable with the rate of progress,” said Douglas, who was lured to Hamilton from Saskatchewan, where he worked in economic development and corporate finance.

McMaster contributed $13 million for the creation of the park, with the province kicking in $10 million and the city another $5 million. The last five years have seen about $120 million in investment, says Douglas.

Last year was the first the park did better than break even and that was ahead of schedule, Douglas says. But the hunt is on for the next chunk of financing to take MIP to the next stage. Given funding crunches at Mac and the university’s own growth pressures, Douglas expects to have to seek out independent funding.

Ty Shattuck, CEO of high-tech imaging company PV Labs, says MIP has been a critical part of the company’s growth in terms of impressing clients and attracting highly skilled employees who are in demand all over the world. But now PV Labs, which designs and builds stabilized cameras for the film industry, military and law enforcement and for industrial infrastructure projects, has outgrown its space.

PV Labs, which now employs more than 80 and recently won an Academy Award for its camera work, will expand into some spillover space in MIP but will soon have to look elsewhere in the city for an additional facility.

“It’s supposed to be this way,” says Shattuck. “I think MIP is not a destination but a launching pad.”

One of the park’s early launches is Weever Apps, a mobile app and web development company that started between two partners and now employs 13 people in Hamilton.

Andrew Holden, one of the founding partners of Weever, is unequivocal about how MIP, Innovation Factory and collaborations with other park tenants have helped his company’s success.

“I honestly think we’d be a failure without MIP. It’s easy to have a big idea, but to have people guide you through the process of building that into a business and turn it into customers and negotiate all the legal hurdles is crucial.”

Holden says he and his partner would have “exhausted themselves and given up” trying to manage all of it.

Those behind the creation and implementation of MIP say they hope it can be a model for other efforts at urban renewal in Hamilton.

“This is helping to make sure Hamilton takes its place among the great places in Canada, “said Nick Markettos, McMaster’s assistant vice-president of research partnerships.

“This is the shining jewel in the transformation crown.”

CANMET

The federal metallurgical lab relocated to McMaster Innovation Park from Ottawa and opened in November 2010. About 100 people, many scientists and engineers, will eventually work at the lab, including about 40 who made the move from Ottawa.

The 165,000-square-foot steel and glass building was designed and built by MIP and leased to the federal government for 25 years.

“The fit between CANMET and Hamilton and the whole region is an extremely good one. There are a lot of people in this area whose fortunes go up and down depending on an industry that relies on research like ours here,” said director general Jennifer Jackman.

The lab studies new processes in casting, rolling, stamping, forming and welding, researches ways to inhibit corrosion and investigates new methods to manufacture advanced materials for the automotive, building, military, power generation and pipeline sectors.

Norjohn Limited

The company, a division of Walker Industries, is a custom formulator and manufacturer of emulsion chemistry products used in building products such as wood, insulation and drywall. All its research is done in a lab at McMaster Innovation Park.

The research is focused on developing green, sustainable products, said Archie Reynolds, vice-president of Norjohn, which operates a plant in Burlington.

MIP’s proximity to McMaster, a Norjohn research collaborator, and its focus on incubating innovation was a good fit for the company, says Reynolds.

“Bringing together the academics with the practical, applied side of industry is powerful.”

NDE Enterprises

Eric Kivlin followed the CANMET lab to the McMaster Innovation Park.

Kivlin uses ultrasound technology – the NDE in the company’s name refers to non-destructive examination – to examine the integrity of welds in pipelines, refineries and power generation facilities. It’s crucial where welds come under heat and pressure.

He has plenty of experience in the field and is now focusing on consulting and training for companies looking at conducting their own inspections.

“I can do their training, recommend the equipment they should use and write their testing procedures.” said the native of Scotland who came to Hamilton 17 years ago.

Kivlin says he’s already had discussions with other MIP tenants about possible joint research.

Canadian Longitudinal Study on Aging
McMaster researchers involved in an unprecedented study of aging will soon take up a lot of floor space at the McMaster Innovation Park.

About 33 people, including scientists, administrators and support staff, will move into new labs and offices either just completed or under way at MIP.

The CLSA will track the physical, social and mental health of 50,000 people ages 45 to 85 over 20 years. That includes everything from cardiovascular function to bone density, memory and cognitive function, to social interaction or isolation.

Blood and urine samples, collected from study participants at 11 sites across Canada and stored in sophisticated biobank tanks at MIP, will be studied for the basic genetic markers of disease such as Alzheimer’s.

“Our study is the largest in aging in Canada and elsewhere,” said Dr. Parminder Raina, lead principal investigator of the study.

Its results are expected to guide health and social policy as Canada’s population continues to age.

McMaster is the national coordinating site for the study, which has been funded through a $26.5-million grant from the Canadian Foundation for Innovation and $23.5 million from the Canadian Institute for Health Research. About 150 people will work on the study across Canada.

“It’s a great opportunity to develop capacity in this city and provide jobs for highly skilled people.”

McMaster Automotive Resource Centre
Construction has begun in Camco’s former cavernous warehouse space to convert 50,000 square feet into the state-of-the-art McMaster Automotive Resource Centre.

The $26-million facility will focus on research into hybrid technology, new materials for cars and automotive software.

“The most exciting thing is that this is not just a Canadian centre but a global centre for automotive research. A lot of people are paying attention to what is happening in Hamilton, “said Mo Elbestawi, vice-president of research and international affairs at McMaster.

Innovation Factory
Innovation Factory (IF) is an incubation hub that helps innovative companies squeeze dollars out of ideas.

IF has worked with more than 220 companies in about 15 months and brokered about $2 million in investments in startups, says executive director Ron Neumann, a veteran of Waterloo’s journey to a technology giant.

IF links startups with volunteer mentors and executives in residence to offer expert advice on building a “world-class idea.”

IF has also launched a wide variety of innovation-driven events, including demo camps for software developers, innovation nights for those pitching an idea and the Lion’s Lair entrepreneurial contest.

“Innovation and entrepreneurship were happening here before we got here, but they were little sparks, “ says Neumann. “We added them all together and blew some air on them and now we’ve got a bit of a fire going.”

Bringing startups and seasoned veterans under the same roof, and generating events to bring outsiders in, exponentially increases the odds of successful “collisions, “ as Neumann calls them.

“If we didn’t exist, maybe it would still happen, but it would be a one in 100 chance. Here … Someone meets someone at an event and says, ‘I know just the right person for you to talk to.’”

Neumann says the goal is for IF to help five companies grow to 50-plus employees within five years.

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