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The New Innovations

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Maximizing the impact of technology research

Flexibility. Vision. Patience. Dr. George Adams, new president of the Innovations Foundation, says these virtues are the key to success at the revamped organization, which has been dubbed "U of T's technology opportunity company."

"The Foundation's goal," says Adams, "is to maximize the impact of the more than $2 million we spend on research every day at U of T and the hospitals affiliated with the university." With a re-engineered business plan and an energetic new president, the Foundation is well on its way to meeting this objective.

Established in 1980, the Innovations Foundation is an important bridge between the university and the business world. Originally focused on licensing university technology to private sector companies, the new Foundation will also help university researchers create spin-off companies, develop strategic alliances, find venture capital funds, and seek mentors to guide them in managing their new businesses.

"Flexible service is the key," insists Adams, whose background in mechanical engineering and medical sciences, along with three patents and three spin-off companies under his belt, makes him an ideal leader for the new Foundation. "We're willing to do whatever it takes to maximize the potential of the innovative research happening at U of T."

He also points out that starting a business today is different from even a year ago. "The rules of the game don't change that much, but the processes are always changing," says Adams, "and we have to keep on top of that."

"The challenge now," says Adams, "is to capture more technology opportunities to constantly be in touch with what's going on in the labs across campus, at the hospitals and research centres, and in the business world beyond."

But the Foundation's new goals won't change its highly selective process. While some licensing offices are required to accept all inventions that come their way, the Innovations Foundation carefully evaluates each technology, selecting only the most promising ones. The result is a high-quality selection of technology opportunities for licensees and investors.

A recent example of the Foundation's work is the licensing of an innovative new product called "biodiesel." Made from waste food grease, this organic diesel fuel offers an economical and environmentally friendly alternative to regular diesel. Unlike other alternative fuels, biodiesel can be used in any regular diesel engine, and will potentially cut fossil fuel reliance while reducing harmful emissions. Biodiesel's creator, Professor David Boocock of chemical engineering and applied chemistry, has licensed the product to California's Biodiesel Development Corporation with the help of the Foundation. Canadian partners are currently being sought.

Finding the true gems of innovation takes foresight and a keen ability to estimate the future value of an idea. "What you need," he says, "is a great deal of vision and faith in a new invention. It'll take years to pan out, so you've got to be able to look down that road and see something really great at the end of it."

- Althea Blackburn-Evans

University of Toronto Office of the Vice-President, Research and Associate Provost