A government program opens up university research labs to help new businesses find their way to market.
Cadmar Larson is the first to admit it: he doesn’t know a thing about electronics. He sure does know hockey, though. A father of seven, Larson has logged a lot of rink time shepherding his flock through hockey practice at North Vancouver’s Karen Magnussen Community Recreation Centre. In the process, the part-time Vancouver schoolteacher was inspired to develop a unique treadmill designed to improve skating skills.
Ten years into his work on it, Larson’s StrideDeck has won some promising reviews. Olympic figure skating silver medallist Karen Magnussen liked it, as did a Vancouver Canucks trainer, and the Swedish, Australian and German women’s Olympic hockey teams, he says. Even the CBC’s notoriously tough Dragons flew him out to Toronto to have a closer look. But everyone had the same comment: while StrideDeck was good, it would be better if users could track personal progress and connect with gaming platforms for an interactive experience. Larson agreed. “As they say in marketing, you don’t sell the steak; you sell the sizzle,” he says. “I’m just a Vancouver schoolteacher; I don’t know what to look for.”
Enter Mark Salopek, manager of technology transfer and commercialization with Graphics, Animation and New Media Canada (which goes by GRAND), a federally funded member of Canada’s Network of Centres of Excellence (NCE) – collaborative hubs dedicated to seeing university research projects applied in the real world.
Salopek is essentially a matchmaker. He spends his days scouring western Canada, looking for entrepreneurs and companies who could benefit from the technology being developed at any of NCE’s 25 member universities, which include UBC, SFU, UVic and Emily Carr. “Basically, it’s technology for the asking,” says Salopek.
Established in 2009, GRAND has a five-year, $23-million federal mandate to find commercial markets for technologies in five “cross-pollinating” themes: new media; games and interactive simulation; animation, graphics and imaging; social, legal, economic and cultural perspectives; and enabling technologies and methodologies.
Salopek has developed a keen eye for potential pairings. A technology that simulates movement in fabric developed at UBC, for example, may find a commercial application in special effects for film and TV through Vancouver-based studio, Image Engine Design Inc. And research from the University of Toronto is adding oomph to an animated guitar-training program developed by Victoria-based 3D Simulation Solutions, which could find a market in schools or with guitar manufacturers. In the case of StrideDeck, Salopek saw a connection with technology in the works at the University of Calgary, where researchers have developed special sensors to help speed skaters improve their technique.
Involvement in GRAND requires no money up front for entrepreneurs or startups, Salopek adds, though the possibility for licensing or revenue-sharing exists if products go to market. The project’s immediate aim, he says, is debunking the stigma that university research is inaccessible.
As for Larson, whose prototype StrideDeck is being fixed with cutting-edge technology, GRAND represented an unexpected boon to what is suddenly a promising business venture. “It was like a gift from heaven,” he says.