There are so many benefits to basic research, where scientists work to uncover new knowledge and develop new technology without any particular commercial application in mind. These are the truly transformative moments in science, because these discoveries unlock possibilities that no one could have predicted.
But there’s another benefit that comes with simply doing basic research: we grow the next generation of trained minds to solve problems in our innovation economy.
“Many of the best entrepreneurs start in the sciences,” says Daniel Debow, CEO and co-founder of Helpful. “My former head of sales was a research scientist. He learned how to solve problems, he learned how to have a situation of deep ambiguity, which is the core of all early start ups, and to not be afraid by that, to not be thrown off.”
In a way, all start ups are working through a series of experiments, says Debow. If they’re carefully constructed, the team can move forward with a better understanding of reality and drive those towards a solution.
“Basic research, curiosity-driven research, isn’t just about the curiosity. It’s also a training ground for people to have a mode of thinking to apply to the rest of the world, that in many cases can turn into great businesses,” adds Debow.
Beyond universities, many companies are also conducting basic research to continue to grow their own operations. Neena Kanwar, co-founder and CEO of KMH Cardiology and Diagnostics Centres Inc., is a pioneer and advocate for medical imaging technology. Her company works to ensure that there’s enough capacity to meet patient demand for technologies like MRI and PET/CT.
“We’re doing research projects in MRI, we’re doing research projects in PET/CT, and better treatment for diseases that currently don’t have treatment,” says Kanwar. “The research that is now being conducted, and that we’re participating in, is critical not only to our growth, but to the growth of the innovation economy.”
Indeed, Canada’s innovation economy is starting to gain attention on a world stage, says Bilal Khan, founding CEO of OneEleven Innovation Hub. One of the areas where Canada has made a big global impact is in artificial intelligence and machine learning.
“China is noticing, the United States is noticing, every major corporation from Google, Uber, Facebook – they’re all launching R&D labs here because of our talent pool,” says Khan.
These are huge opportunities for Canada to retain its best minds as many of the top companies in the world establish their presence in our cities and continue to push boundaries.
“I believe that diversity is our strength,” adds Khan. “The diversity dividend is hard to calculate, and it can get complicated, but it’s our competitive advantage. We’re going to look back on this, and it will be the driving force for our economic growth, our ability to compete globally, but most importantly for us to be truly innovative and transformational.”