Making Basic Science Pay Off for Everyone

Business leaders are realizing that funding scientific research is not just a social good, but an economic advantage for Canada.

 |  Transcript [PDF]

It might seem like a group of entrepreneurs and top senior executives would be nearly exclusively driven by commercial interests, but they recognize that growing their businesses still depends heavily on basic research.

Investigator-led research starts with no particular commercial interest in mind, but by expanding our understanding of how things work, it also leads to innovations that no one sees coming. And that’s how we can continue to make groundbreaking progress.

“The types of things that research scientists who are doing pure curiosity-driven research, the very definition of what they’re doing means they can’t necessarily give an answer to when this turns into a product or service that makes money,” says entrepreneur Daniel Debow, CEO & Co-founder of Helpful.

That means that when it comes time to fund basic research projects, public federal research funding is the biggest resource available to make sure that Canada stays competitive globally.

“Society as a whole still has a huge amount of benefit when a collection of scientists are chasing crazy ideas, and a few of them actually pay off. They come together in strange and unexpected ways,” adds Debow.

Investing in basic research is crucial to maintaining leadership, expertise, and infrastructure in science. It helps Canadian companies hit the ground running when a commercial application does come up.

“The innovative economy is absolutely linked to research and research investment. We need to make sure we stay ahead of the curve on that,” says Judy Goldring, Executive Vice-President & Chief Operating Officer of AGF Management Limited.

The trouble is that innovation takes time, so investing in basic research might not start to pay off in the near term, making it a more difficult sell.

“We have policy makers who need to get out of this four-year mindset and we have to start thinking really disruptive, really meaningful business opportunities,” says Bilal Khan, Founding CEO of OneEleven Innovation Hub. “This is fundamentally, at its core, around bold leadership and driving our economy forward, versus short-term wins, which feel good in the short term but really can be detrimental down the road.”

“We as Canadians have to look at, how are we competitive in the world?” adds entrepreneur Stefan Larson, Venture Partner at Versant Ventures. “For Canada to continue to compete we have to maintain and increase government funding for basic research.”

The good news is that policy makers are listening. The 2018 federal budget gave a large boost to publicly funded science, adding stability and investment dollars that will allow Canada to build and sustain momentum. Advancing scientific knowledge and understanding turns great ideas into real-world applications to improve our everyday lives.

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