Reuters: U of T is Canada’s most innovative university
High marks for research and entrepreneurship no surprise to innovation experts
The University of Toronto is Canada’s most innovative university and among the top 50 innovative universities in the world, according to a recent Reuters report.
The ranking reflects the results of the annual innovation survey of the Association of University Technology Managers (AUTM), in which U of T led all Canadian institutions for issued patents and for startups formed in 2014.
U of T’s good name doesn’t surprise Derek Newton, executive director of the university’s Innovations & Partnerships Office. “U of T has an impressive reputation for bringing cutting-edge discoveries to the world. And we’ve also done an impressive job turning ideas and intellectual property into new companies and accelerating them into the marketplace.”
Nor does it surprise Assistant Professor Shiri Breznitz of U of T's Munk School of Global Affairs. Breznitz, an expert on the role of universities in innovation, says the Reuters results “indicate something that we all know, that U of T is one of the top universities in scientific research.” And that research is often translated into practical benefits, she says. “U of T patents extensively and our patents are used by industry.”
And it doesn’t surprise Stewart Aitchison. The former vice-dean of research for the Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering benefited from U of T’s innovation policies and initiatives in 2009 when he and his colleagues James Dou and Rakesh Nayyar got their company ChipCare off the ground.
“U of T kept the ChipCare project moving,” Aitchison says. “They made partnership connections, they supported us with funding for prototype development and they provided us with office space.”
ChipCare is a great example of U of T innovation, Newton says. The founders included both faculty and students. They developed a product – a handheld blood laboratory device – that provides results in minutes without having to transport samples to a hospital or laboratory. (Below: Aitchison holds the device/photo by Terry Lavender)
“This is a company using technologies developed at U of T that will be helping people in the developing world,” Newton says.
The objective is not only to foster great ideas and inventions but to benefit society. “So many U of T technologies can help make the world a cleaner, healthier, safer place,” he says. “Our goal is to see these ideas have an impact.”
U of T is successful because of its ecosystem of innovation support, Newton says. “We don’t believe in a single approach to innovation, particularly at a comprehensive university with excellent research programs in nearly every discipline. So we have the Innovation & Partnerships Office, MaRS Innovation and the Banting & Best Centre for Innovation & Entrepreneurship, which supports nine campus-linked accelerators and helps students and faculty create successful companies.”
Breznitz agrees. “U of T promotes innovation through its many incubation programs, its technology transfer office, innovation and partnership office, through its innovative teaching programs that combine social science with engineering, and its extensive and innovative work in community engagement, policy and advocacy.”
U of T placed 38th in the Reuters rankings, which are based on published academic papers and patent filings. Stanford was first, followed by MIT and Harvard. Besides U of T, only one other Canadian university made the top 100: the University of British Columbia, in 68th place.