Crossing borders for collaborations

Sunday June 5, 2016
By Andrew Carroll, Gazette Editor
Fostering connections in research and innovation, and raising awareness about Queen’s were the aims of a recent visit to Boston by Vice-Principal (Research) Steven Liss.

During the visit, Dr. Liss met and spoke with a number of key groups and stakeholders, including members of the New England-Canada Business Council (NECBC), Queen’s alumni and Canadian Consul General to New England David Alward. In these conversations, his message was clear: the importance of international and cross-border relationships in advancing research as well as the opportunities for Queen’s and its potential partners.

“That’s always the point, reaching out and connecting with people, and an opportunity to really talk about Queen’s and perhaps a Queen’s that they are not as familiar with as they could be,” Dr. Liss says. 

Another key aspect of the visit was to promote Enviro Innovate, a cleantech accelerator based at Innovation Park, which, in collaboration with Queen’s, is seeking to attract start-ups and established enterprises looking to commercialize or acquire innovative technologies. 

As Dr. Liss explains, Boston, along with Palo Alto, Calif., is one of the main hubs for innovation in the United States, and internationally. With leading institutions such as Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), the area has also become a draw for leading researchers and entrepreneurs. However, they are not only limited to the universities.

“So this means there is a cluster of very smart people. And not just in the universities, but people who have moved there to be part of that scene, to take advantage of the synergies and the connections, the large available legal expertise and financial capital as well as access to expertise supporting accelerators and incubators. The communities themselves that have formed in the area have been self-propagating and grow around the innovation culture that’s been created there,” Dr. Liss says.

While still in the early stages, Queen’s is following a similar path. His presentations on the strategic goals for Queen’s and its efforts in innovation and entrepreneurship in the areas of cleantech and the environment struck a chord with many of those who attended the presentations, especially alumni and other Canadian expats, Dr. Liss says.

“There were many people I spoke with who were excited by the conversation around partnerships, research collaboration, industry engagement, technology transfer and so forth,” he says. “So they were very pleased with that and it was a very positive reception.”

In a presentation to the NECBC, Dr. Liss turned to a historic link between Queen’s and the United States. In 1938, President Franklin Roosevelt visited the university to receive an honorary doctorate. During his speech, Roosevelt spoke about the importance of free trade to global prosperity and security and the role of universities in this, even at a time when tensions were nearing a breaking point in Europe. 

Later in the day, President Roosevelt took part in the official opening of the Thousand Islands Bridge, providing a physical link over the border.

“This was a particularly interesting perspective for an American president to talk about in 1938 − what it meant for universities to be the sources of knowledge and ideas, but the idea that this knowledge needs to be traded freely in the world,” Dr. Liss says, adding that the message continues to resonate today.

Dr. Liss also provided updates on the current political climate for funding research and innovation and found that there was great interest in the ongoing developments at Queen’s, especially from alumni.

It’s a conversation that is certain to continue, he says.

There will be more connections to develop between Canada and the United States, and opportunities to build on the initiative led by Tom Thompson, Chairman and CEO of Enviro Ambient (a Boston-based cleantech venture), who, in collaboration with Queen’s, has been the driving force behind the establishment of Enviro Innovate.