Industry-Sponsored Research Week

Industry advisory board launched to strengthen engagement initiative

By David Schwartz
Published: December 21st, 2021

A detailed article on the University pf New Brunswick’s Fulcrum initiative and its industry advisory board appears in the December issue of University-Industry Engagement Advisor. For subscription information, click here. 

The University of New Brunswick has brought together a diverse group of industry leaders into an industry advisory board as part of its “Fulcrum” corporate engagement initiative. The goal is to offer industry insights to the university’s Research & Innovation Partnerships group and to help “spread the word” about UNB’s desire to partner with industry.

The board includes Denis Caron, President and CEO of the Belledune Port Authority; Duncan Gallant, Research and Evaluation Coordinator at JEDI (the Joint Economic Development Initiative); Alicia Roisman Ismach, head of Atlantic Fintech (powered by Venn Innovation); Beth Webster, Vice-President, Populus Global Solutions; and Pat Whalen, Chairman and CEO of LuminUltra Technologies.

“In thinking about the board’s composition, my directive to the group was that they needed to be players within the ecosystem in [artificial intelligence], and we wanted it to be regionally diverse; New Brunswick is bilingual, with 35% having French as their mother tongue,” says David MaGee, PhD, UNB’s vice president of research and a main driver in creation of the Fulcrum initiative. “We also wanted gender diversity and indigenous representation.”

The focus on AI reflects the fact that Fulcrum’s initial “Conversion Hub” centers on advanced manufacturing. “We always support [a variety of] research at UNB, but we wanted to start off with our existing strengths,” explains Hart Devitt, director of the research & innovation partnerships group and lead for the Fulcrum initiative. “Fulcrum will be the convener of discussion within certain sectors, and advanced manufacturing was chosen as its first Conversion Hub. We have an offsite construction research center, a marine additive center, the Canadian Institute for Cyber, human-computer interaction labs — all of which touch on the many challenges advanced manufacturing has. We’ve started to do outreach in different ways and present ourselves in a more accessible way to more traditional manufacturing companies who might want to move forward in more advanced techniques but do not necessarily know how to get there. We present ourselves by saying, ‘We can help you get there.’”

As the new advisory board is part of the Fulcrum initiative, the “cart” could not have come without the Fulcrum “horse.” How did the initiative come about?

“Universities are terribly complex — especially if you’re not used to the university environment,” notes MaGee. “The feedback we heard for a very long time, especially from private sector partners we have, is that they did not know who to go to if they had a question; it was too complicated to get help. We took that to heart, and when I stepped into this role in 2018 I had as one of my objectives us having the ability to provide a much easier interface with outside organizations — to make their engagement as easy, as painless, and as seamless as possible. That meant becoming more outward-looking.”

MaGee says the Research & Innovation Partnerships group was the logical unit to spearhead the launch of Fulcrum. “My position as Vice President of Research means that all the research endeavors at the university fall under my direction; as part of my office, we have not only the administrative side, but also the side which is part of a group to help researchers at various stages in their programs. The Research & Innovation Partnerships group used to be called the Industry Liaison group. Their group’s responsibility is really about relationship building and partnership building — to get to know [companies] and see how we can help address their questions in research, policy, or advancement within a specific industry like AI. We have the expertise to help in that instance.”

Fulcrum, adds Devitt, was officially launched in May. “It stems from wanting to do things differently,” he says. “When our new president came onboard and wanted to double research revenues by 2030 and increase our amount of support for graduate students, we realized we couldn’t do things the way we always did.” The Fulcrum initiative, he says, represents that innovative approach, a move to make the university more outward facing and to de-mystify it from industry’s perspective.

Industry, he continues, needs a reason to work with universities. “If we can present researchers in a different way, present new ways to connect — that’s part of our challenge,” he says. “That’s why we need to rely on existing research strengths.”

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Posted under: University-Industry Engagement Week

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