Ontario Centres of Excellence is aiming to reduce the time it takes to turn around an application for innovation funding by up to 50 per cent through a number of new steps that create a more streamlined and expedited review process.
The changes are in keeping with OCE’s commitment to continuous improvement. They also come at a critical point for the organization when it has experienced a significant increase in the number of new programs it has been entrusted to deliver on behalf of the Ontario government. This, along with the establishment of new partnerships with federal partners and other provinces, has led to an increasing volume of applicants with more growth expected in future. In the previous two years, the number of applications reviewed has grown to 653 in 2013-14 from 326 in 2011-12. In the current fiscal year, OCE is projecting close to 1,000 applications for funding.
“We are both excited by the new opportunities that have come our way and committed to continuously improving our program delivery model to ensure it is highly efficient in meeting the needs of our clients and represents best practices in fairness and transparency when deploying public funds,” says Narinder Dehal, OCE’s Vice President of Finance, Administration and Programs.
The due diligence required to ensure that an OCE investment is a solid one for Ontario taxpayers and meets the objectives of Ontario’s innovation agenda is intense. Investing in the right industry-academic collaborations, start-up companies and students is critically important in driving the growth of the globally competitive knowledge-based economy in Ontario. Proposals for funding pass through both an internal review process as well as an external review. The review panels or committees, which are made up of sector experts from industry and academia, thoroughly assess the merits of applications on OCE’s behalf.
New for 2014-15, OCE has created a college of reviewers to help expedite the review and approval of applications to our core high volume programs. The college has two “wings”. There is an entrepreneurial wing of select entrepreneurs to draw from when evaluating funding applications from start-ups across industries as diverse as information technology, digital media, advance health, environment and advance manufacturing. The academic wing is populated with industrial researchers and academic experts who access applications for industry-academic collaborations, as well as internships and fellowships. Having this steady reserve of expertise that can be tapped as need provides a new level of agility for scaling up operations as review volumes increase.
Previously, applications have taken from 45 to 90 days to process (from date of submission to the date a client is notified of the outcome). The goal now is to keep this to within 30 days for smaller dollar proposals, and 45 days for proposals greater than $100,000.
This is being achieved through a number of new initiatives, including a new online contract that has been significantly streamlined (from 30 to 6 pages) to allow for rapid execution. The condensed form removes the sometimes more involved negotiations related to intellectual property rights from the contract so as not to delay the process. As OCE does not claim or manage IP rights, it made sense to leave those discussions in the hands of the other project participants. OCE also introduced an electronic funds transfer system to expedite disbursement of funds to the applicant once all the terms and conditions of funding are met.
“We want to be operating at the speed of business,” says Dehal.
By streamlining the process and reducing operational costs as much as possible, OCE is acting in the best interest of clients, funders and Ontario taxpayers.
“OCE’s Business Development team welcomes changes that lead to a better designed and more efficient process for our clients, and that ultimately puts the emphasis on advancing innovation and achieving great results for entrepreneurs and start-ups, says Bob Civak, Senior Vice President, Business Development Operations.
Dr. Tom Corr, President and CEO of OCE, notes that the organization has taken seriously the recommendations in both the Drummond and Jenkins reports to create a more efficient, cost-effective and user-friendly system for program delivery.
“The overall impact of our new approach is to more quickly and effectively support companies in producing the innovative products and services that will strengthen our economy, create jobs and contribute to the prosperity of the entire province,” says Dr. Corr.