Academia versus Industry?: Minding the Gap
By Sandra Dyal, Man-U-Lab Coordinator

A recurring and persistent debate within the scientific community is academia versus industry but much like the nature versus nurture debate, the key word shouldn’t be “versus” but rather “plus”. Students of Psychology may remember being taught that we are not a result of either our genetic make-up (nature) or the way we were raised (nurture) but rather a combination and interaction of these two major factors. In much the same way, the scientific community and the community-at-large may best be served through the collaboration of university researchers and private sector partners.

Differences between academia and industry lie in a few key areas. Academics are allowed more freedom to self-direct their research based on their individual interests while industry is much more applied and targeted to finding viable, real world solutions to specific commercial challenges. One area of grievance for most university researchers is that they have to chase down money to support their research whereas private companies have funds allotted to specific research and development projects.

Private companies may be better outfitted for scale-up experiments and have researchers with a more general knowledge base to cater to a broader client base. However, academic researchers tend to be bona fide experts in their specialized fields since they work within more defined scopes for the majority of their careers. Bringing together the expertise of academia with the capabilities of industry seems like a winning combination, and there is both evidence and money to support this view.

The Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), Mitacs, and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CHIR) all have programs that encourage this relationship between industry and academia. The NSERC Engage grant is available to Canadian companies and university researchers who are working together for the first time. The NSERC Engage Plus grant allows continuing collaboration between partners who have worked on a NSERC Engage project together. Mitacs has their Accelerate internship and Elevate fellowship programs, which connects the expertise of graduate students and postdoctoral fellows with companies needing real-world applications of this knowledge. CIHR’s Industry-Partnered Collaborative Research grant supports health-related research and development collaboration between academic and industry partners.

Evidence of the commercial viability of academic research expertise can be found in a number of spin-off companies that have been launched by universities. The University of British Columbia (UBC) boasts 158 spin-off companies as of March 31, 2013, in the areas of life sciences, physical sciences, and information technology. Another example of a successful university spin-off company is Prevtec microbia from the Université de Montréal. They developed the first Canadian licensed live vaccine against swine post-weaning diarrhea in pigs, which offers an alternative to the use of antibiotics.
In the hopes of continuing to foster collaborative relationships between industry, government, and academia, the Richardson Centre for Functional Foods and Nutraceuticals (RCFFN) and University of Manitoba researchers have partnered for a new fee-for-service venture called Man-U-Lab. Man-U-Lab brings together the expertise and capabilities of our researchers across diverse disciplines and combines it with the business know-how of the RCFFN with the goal of customizing your testing, research or product development needs for an ever-changing consumer regulatory or industry landscape.