STEMs at Polytechnique Montréal to gain award winning Mitacs i2I Skills Training Program

by Nicolas Sacchetti

Dr. Elicia Maine, the W.J. VanDusen Professor of Innovation & Entrepreneurship at Simon Fraser University (SFU) has built an important pillar for science to entrepreneurship by founding in 2015 the Invention to Innovation (i2I) program, which will be offered in French at Polytechnique Montréal starting next fall semester.

i2I is dedicated to STEM graduate students (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) and postdoctoral fellows who want to create greater impact from their research through innovation & entrepreneurship. It is a program that has won international recognition for the transformative change it creates. 

In collaboration with Mitacs, a national research and innovation organization, and in partnership with Queen's University in Eastern Canada, Memorial and Dalhousie universities in the Atlantic, the i2I has spread across Canada over the past three years at more than 20 universities. The organization has co-created a hybrid version of the program for interns and graduates nationwide: Mitacs i2I Skills Training program.

Now translated into French, and with the national leadership of i2I Academic Director Sarah Lubik, and the regional leadership of Prof Fabiano Armellini of École Polytechnique Montréal, it will be offered starting next fall across Québec. I had the opportunity of interviewing the founder of i2I, Elicia Maine.

“It’s all about graduated students, post-docs, and faculty members,” says Professor Maine. This interdisciplinary and experimental program helps scientist innovators to take their ideas to the market, developing both the person and the innovation idea as it breaks down boundaries between fields. 

First of its kind in Canada, the Mitacs i2I skill training program provides entrepreneurial skills training to STEM researchers. People like Janis Kan. A neuroscientist PhD candidate that cofounded Dynamiris Inc. A company engineering an eye-tracking technology tool to enable earlier flagging of patients with onset Parkinson. Or Morgan Lehtinen, Founder and CEO of Micellotech. A clean-tech start-up engineering a filter to recycle industrial wastewater. 

STEM Entrepreneurship

Professor Elicia Maine talks about the motivations behind i2I: “Believe me, it’s not a money winner for the business school. It’s not something you do as ‘we want to create a lot of revenue and therefore we’re going to target starving scientists as our source.’ We’ve created it because we see universities have a moral obligation to try to use their education and research competencies to solve some of the world’s major problems.” 

For the founder of i2I, teaching business to STEMs is not common: “These programs are coming from the Business School but are focused on scientists and engineers, and on the ecosystem level. And that is unusual. I think that university presidents understand that it’s hard to do. It’s a big picture play and it’s not a short term or motivated by money,” she goes on to explain. 

Most highly qualified personnel are pursuing careers that do not utilize their advanced training. Indeed, according to the 2021 report of The Expert Panel on the Labour Market Transition, a staggering number of Canadian doctoral graduates are not getting permanent jobs or positions commensurate with their skills level.

A Lifework Commitment  

Elicia Maine receiving the Innovation Policy CSPC Award 2022

Professor Maine was recently awarded the Innovation Policy Trailblazer Award at the 2022 Canadian Science Policy Conference (CSPC) for pioneering and growing the i2I program. 

The Canadian Science Policy Center conference underline: "Dr. Maine recognized key gaps in our Canadian science innovation ecosystem: Canadian STEM researchers being underutilized, Canadian science breakthroughs being underdeveloped and scientists needing additional support to translate discoveries into value-creating products and companies. This program nurtures a pipeline of talent within the wider Canadian innovation ecosystem and is recognized globally because of its distinct approach to unleashing the innovation potential of STEM researchers."

Elicia Maine has made it her life’s work to ensure that highly qualified Canadian inventors are set up for success in a receptive Canadian system and that their inventions are put to work on solving important societal challenges. She has been involved at every level of the i2I program development and evolution, including establishing it as a part of SFU’s curriculum, teaching the introductory coursework, recruiting and developing faculty, raising financing for scholarships and mentoring students.  

WURI Ranking

“The i2I program has a ranking now of the 1st in the world on the entrepreneurial spirit, which is the whole ecosystem piece, from the three years this ranking exists, we have gone from number 7 in the world, to 3, and now first,” underline Elicia Maine. Therefore, Polytechnique Montréal will henceforth benefit from this world-class program. 

SFU has been ranked first place in the Top 50 Entrepreneurial Spirit 2022 of the World Universities with Real Impact (WURI). An organization that evaluates universities’ real contributions to society. SFU is also ranked 18 on the WURI Top 100 Innovative Universities 2022, surrounded by Oxford (17th) and Cambridge (19th). It is to be noted that Queen’s University is the other Canadian one on that Top 100. The i2I program is part of making this happen along SFU Innovates ecosystem. 

i2Academic Lead at Polytechnique Montréal

The Mitacs i2I Skill Training program at École Polytechnique Montréal will be under the academic lead of Prof Fabiano Armellini of the Department of Mathematics and Industrial Engineering. “We want to begin recruiting STEM researchers it by March,” says Professor Maine. 

Since his start at the technological university in 2014, Professor Armellini has been involved in developing the entrepreneurial spirit of students attending the institution. With the academic team, they have developed a strategic plan, created the Entrepreneurship Support Office, improved course offerings, and implemented trainings and workshops accessible to both students and entrepreneurs not affiliated with Polytechnique Montréal. 

This content has been updated on 2023-03-28 at 21 h 43 min.