Invention to Innovation (i2I)
Invention to Innovation (i2I) is a transformational entrepreneurship program that equips graduate scientists and engineers with the frameworks, perspectives, and techniques to commercialize their inventions and overcome marketplace challenges.
Call to Action:
Professor Elicia Maine pioneered the Invention to Innovation (i2I) program to tackle the challenge of translating scientific research breakthroughs into significant value creation. The Council of Canadian Academies recently published a report titled Improving Innovation Through Better Management: The Expert Panel on Innovation Management Education and Training, which named the i2I program as an exemplar graduate program effectively teaching innovation and entrepreneurship skills to scientists.
The i2I program seeks to unlock the latent innovation potential in Canadian universities through developing an entrepreneurial mindset in scientists, enabling them to make early-stage decisions that enhance their chances for successful commercialization. Maine posits that, with corporate research labs having moved away from basic research, it is university spinoff ventures that will initiate the breakthrough inventions to address pressing global challenges, such as mitigating climate change or curing disease.
There are some notable barriers constraining science innovation, the subject of much of Maine’s academic research. The timeline from discovering breakthrough inventions to developing a viable product is long, and hundreds of millions of dollars may need to be invested while technology and market uncertainties are still high. There is often limited incentive for academic scientists to take on the work and costs involved with commercializing inventions. Even when willing, academic scientists have typically had very little guidance on how to give their inventions the best chance of successful commercialization. The i2I program seeks to overcome this barrier by giving potential scientist-entrepreneurs the tools to commercialize breakthrough inventions throughout their careers.
Invention to Innovation (i2I) is an graduate certificate program delivered part-time over 11 months at the Simon Fraser University (SFU) Segal Graduate School of Business in Vancouver, which houses the Beedie School’s graduate programs. This experiential program, which simultaneously develops the student and the innovation idea, is taught by a mix of SFU Beedie Innovation and Entrepreneurship research faculty, along with experienced marketing, intellectual property, and investment practitioners.
The i2I program develops students through three paths: the Scientist-entrepreneur path, supporting the creation of well-endowed science-based university spinoffs; champions of innovation, helping to increase science-based innovation in industry; and translational scientist/knowledge mobilization, supporting meaningful translational research in academia and health authorities.
Students in the program:
- Develop an entrepreneurial mindset, including capabilities to manage under uncertainty
- Create novel opportunities and recognize existing opportunities
- Learn to create a commercialization strategy that unlocks value through staging investments and effectively managing uncertainties
- Create and validate value proposition, business models, and financial projections
- Develop leadership, team-building, and storytelling capabilities
- Deliver an entrepreneurial pitch
- Develop a network within our regional innovation ecosystem
The program culminates with the Venture Pitch Competition. Graduating students pitch their emerging or product-ready ventures to a judging panel of angel investors, intellectual property experts, and successful serial entrepreneurs, and to mentors and investors from the broader innovation ecosystem. The i2I Venture Pitch helps scientists develop into more business-savvy scientist-entrepreneurs who know how to compellingly articulate the value of both their innovation and their venture, attracting collaborators and investors.
Our innovation ecosystem is now benefiting from scientist and engineers who are championing scientific innovation. Since its first cohort in 2015, 90 scientists have developed an entrepreneurial mindset within the i2I program. i2I graduates are leading translational research, taking on influential business development and product development roles for incumbent scientific firms, or founding their own ventures to commercialize their breakthrough inventions.
One example is the SFU chemistry spinoff venture Ionomr, co-founded by i2I alumnus Ben Britton. Britton, along with his PhD supervisor, developed a polymer membrane that represents a breakthrough invention in renewable energy generation and storage, potentially making the hydrogen economy a viable reality. Without the i2I program, Ionomr would not have been founded, despite world-leading invention. Ionomr won the 2018 Start Up Energy Transition Award, a prestigious global energy competition for ventures addressing climate change through innovation. It was subsequently awarded a 2.3 million USD clean tech grant from the Canadian federal government. Now with 25 employees and global customers, Ionomr is making an impact on a pressing global challenge.
This year, SFU’s Beedie School of Business signed a partnership with Mitacs (a national, nonprofit research and training organization) to provide innovation skills programming based on the i2I curriculum. As of November 1, 2019, SFU Beedie has launched hybrid online programming for Mitacs interns across British Columbia and Alberta. The goal is to provide graduate and post-doctoral STEM researchers across Canada with an entrepreneurial mindset, while advancing commercialization strategy for their inventions.