Canadian students are helping SMEs innovate with funding from Mitacs – here’s how

Canadian not-for-profit organization Mitacs is helping small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in Canada solve business challenges with research solutions from Canadian academic institutions that provide technical, academic, vocational or a mix of programs (CEGEPs). 

“Our platform is fuelled by strategic relationships with industry, academic, and government partners. We partner with 78 universities, as well as 77 colleges, CEGEPs, and polytechnics across Canada,” John Hepburn, chief executive officer of Mitacs, told IT World Canada. “We have the tools, connections, and solutions that small businesses need to navigate the current economic challenges, and we’re seeing firsthand how many of those companies that take advantage of working with us are thriving.” 

After the COVID-19 pandemic was declared last year, Mitacs responded to federal and provincial government calls for support to the economy and launched its financial initiative, the Business Strategy Internship Program. As part of this initiative, Mitacs interns are available to support business, not-for-profit, hospital, and municipal innovation in all sectors across the country. Mitacs builds cross-sector and cross-disciplinary collaborations, supporting students’ on-the-job skills development. 

Are you eligible to apply?

Available to SMEs and not-for-profit organizations with fewer than 500 employees, the initiative requires qualifying partner organizations to contribute only 25 per cent of the intern’s $10,000 or $15,000 stipend for the first four months of an innovation project done in collaboration with a post-secondary institution instead of the usual 50 per cent, Hepburn said.

This means Mitacs will cover 75 per cent of the intern’s salary for an SME looking to hire a post-secondary researcher for a four-month internship to help develop COVID-19 solutions.

“For qualifying businesses with COVID-19-related projects during this finite period, the partner organization can contribute as little as $2,500 for a business internship or $3,750 for a four-month research and development internship, with the remaining cost of their stipend covered by Mitacs through government and other funding sources. An intern’s stipend starts at $10,000 for a business strategy internship, or $15,000 for a research-and-development internship, both based upon an initial four-month commitment,” Hepburn explained.

Overall, he says, the funding depends on the size and length of an innovation project, in order to ensure that companies that have multiple interns and engage on projects that last for months and even years are also able to benefit from the initiative. 

How does the program work?

  • Mitacs team starts a conversation with interested companies to identify their business challenges and opportunities.
  • Mitacs’ business development experts then help formulate innovation roadmaps and find precisely the right talent within post-secondary institutes to address those needs.
  • By identifying business needs and pairing them with skilled post-secondary students, Mitacs says it ultimately aims to build a stronger innovation ecosystem in Canada. 

Mitacs has a team of 90 business development experts nationwide to guide SMEs through the process and give them access to the talent and tools needed to recover from the effects of the pandemic and succeed, according to Hepburn.

The interns are selected based upon their specific area of study aligning with the company’s needs. Mitacs says its programmatic offering for interns allows them to acquire professional development skills to complement their hands-on research skills during their studies, so they can successfully enter the workforce. Training courses support core professional competencies including career fundamentals, interpersonal skills, communication, leadership and management. 

“Mitacs has bridged the gap between students and SMEs. Mitacs allowed me to get a job that I otherwise wouldn’t have found. I think it is extremely helpful for start-ups and a great option for students looking for job experience before finalizing their degree,” Adam Davis, a University of Calgary Haskayne School of Business student hired for three semesters by Calgary-based tech startup ParkChamp during the pandemic as part of the Mitacs Business Strategy Internship Program, told IT World Canada.

Davis helped ParkChamp build a digital marketing funnel that uses intelligent algorithms to collect data to better understand customers, engage them throughout their buying journey, and improve conversion rates.

Where is the funding coming from?

The funding comes from the Government of Canada along with the Government of Alberta, the Government of British Columbia, Research Manitoba, the Government of New Brunswick, the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, the Government of Nova Scotia, the Government of Ontario, Innovation PEI, the Government of Quebec, the Government of Saskatchewan and the Government of Yukon, Hepburn said. 

Since the start of the pandemic, more than 2,000 businesses — about 70 per cent of which are SMEs — partnered with Mitacs for the first time. Since 2011, Mitacs has helped more than 8,500 organizations, the majority of which have 500 employees or less. The total value of all industry-related innovation projects funded through its programs nears $1 billion, with businesses contributing about half that amount, according to Mitacs. 


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Pragya Sehgal
Pragya Sehgal
Her characters are bold and smart, but in real life, Pragya is afraid of going upstairs when it is dark behind her. Born and raised in the capital city of India - Delhi - bounded by the Yamuna River on the west, Pragya has climbed the Himalayas, and survived medical professional stream in high school without becoming a patient or a doctor. Pragya now makes her home in Canada with her husband - a digital/online marketing professional who also prepares beautiful, healthy and delicious meals for her. When she isn’t working or writing around tech, she’s probably watching art films on Netflix, or wondering whether she should cut her hair short or not.

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