Mitacs helps SMEs to grow and innovate post-COVID
October 13, 2021
TORONTO – Small businesses across Canada grappling with the impact of COVID-19 are getting support from an unexpected resource: top post-secondary students.
Thanks to a unique financial initiative recently launched by Mitacs – a national innovation organization that helps solve business challenges with research solutions from universities, colleges, polytechnics, and CEGEPs – students across the country are adding much needed skills for employers looking to manage and grow their operations in an environment disrupted by the pandemic.
What’s more, the Mitacs initiative – available to all small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and not-for-profit organizations with fewer than 500 employees – offers a significant cost reduction. Qualifying partner organizations contribute only 25 per cent of the intern’s $10,000 or $15,000 stipend for the first four months of an innovation project done in collaboration with a post-secondary institution instead of the usual 50 per cent. Mitacs interns are available to support business, not-for-profit, hospital, and municipal innovation in all sectors – everything from manufacturing, agriculture, arts and entertainment, and energy, to healthcare, technology, tourism and utilities.
“Through this effort, we are simultaneously helping Canadian small- and medium-sized businesses to grow and innovate, and our country’s up-and-coming top talent and researchers to secure valuable employment opportunities in spite of a challenging job market caused by COVID-19,” said Mitacs CEO Dr. John Hepburn (pictured). “Both SMEs and academic talent are integral to Canada’s economic recovery, and Mitacs is committed to making the connections needed to help Canadian organizations solve their business issues, remain competitive, and thrive.”
Since the start of the pandemic, more than 2,000 businesses – about 70 per cent of which are SMEs – partnered with Mitacs for the first time. Since 2011, Mitacs has helped more than 8,500 organizations, the majority of which have 500 employees or less. The total value of all industry-related innovation projects funded through Mitacs nears $1 billion, with businesses contributing about half that amount.
“We have the tools, connections, and solutions that small businesses need to navigate the current economic challenges, and we’re seeing firsthand how many of those companies that take advantage of working with us are thriving,” Hepburn added.
Myant Inc., the Toronto-based pioneer of a unique line of connected clothing called Textile Computing™ that can sense and react to changes in the human body, is an example of a small enterprise relying on the expertise of Mitacs interns to support its go-to-market strategy. As the company gears up to provide as many as 10,000 users with cardiovascular monitoring needs in Ontario with first-of-their-kind heart monitoring undergarments this month – underwear based on its revolutionary Skiin intelligent fabric that works like a portable electrocardiogram (ECG) or holter monitor – VP of research, development and partner integration Milad Alizadeh-Meghrazi said the contribution of interns from three Ontario universities was instrumental in making the launch possible.
“Mitacs provided the foundational R&D funding that allowed us to test and validate our products at a time when testing resources were scarce due to the pandemic,” said Alizadeh-Meghrazi, noting that it’s often difficult to find specialized talent through traditional job postings.
“There’s a sense of youth and energy that comes with the interns,” he added. “Not only do they get a chance to apply their academic studies in a real life setting, but they play a crucial role in helping us to translate our technologies into practice.”
More than 20 interns from the University of Toronto, Ryerson University and University of Waterloo worked with Myant over the past few years, helping the company to obtain Health Canada Class II medical device certification for its ground-breaking Textile Computing™ technology. One of the interns is Clarissa Pedrini Schuch, a physiotherapist with a PhD in Neuroscience and postdoctoral fellow at the University of Toronto, who is spending 12 months at Myant helping validate the efficacy of the develop biometric system to monitor for symptoms of cardiovascular disease.
Unlike other portable ECG technologies that can be cumbersome to wear or require patients to input information, Myant’s connected undergarments use biometric sensors that are knitted directly into the fabric itself. The result is the ability to inconspicuously monitor for health and wellness data, including irregular heart rhythms, unsteadiness in a person’s movement, body temperature, heart rate, and changes in breathing patterns. The information is uploaded to the cloud for monitoring by clinicians who receive notifications or alerts when something is out of the ordinary.
For Schuch, “the internship is a tremendous opportunity to learn more about the industry environment and experience firsthand how technology, innovation and scientific advances are evolving to enhance people’s health and wellness,” she said.
Mitacs is a not-for-profit organization that fosters growth and innovation in Canada by solving business challenges with research solutions from academic institutions. Mitacs is funded by the Government of Canada along with the Government of Alberta, the Government of British Columbia, Research Manitoba, the Government of New Brunswick, the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, the Government of Nova Scotia, the Government of Ontario, Innovation PEI, the Government of Quebec, the Government of Saskatchewan and the Government of Yukon. For information about Mitacs and its programs, visit mitacs.ca/newsroom.