Stephane Rolland, The Canadian Press
MONTREAL – Why are Quebec companies investing less in innovation? This is the question that haunts the province’s chief innovator, Luc Sirois, who has given himself the mission to inspire the desire to innovate in Quebecers.
Sitting in a walled-down office where a whiteboard wall displays the remnants of a brainstorming session, Mr. Sirois that he is concerned about the fact that business spending on research and development (R&D) is declining in Quebec.
I, I was in a state of shock (when I saw this decline), he says during an interview with The Canadian Press. In Quebec, we are creative, we are entrepreneurs, we are thriving. Yes, I fall asleep and I wake up in the morning thinking that, asking myself: what do we need to do so that, structurally, things will change course.
The Conseil de l’innovation du Québec, of which he is the executive director, has received a mandate from the Ministry of Economy and Innovation to help it achieve this change. The organization, created in December 2020, is at the heart of the Quebec Strategy for Research and Investment in Innovation 2022-2027 (SQRI), announced last week.
Many statistics show the lag that Quebec companies are falling for in terms of innovation, in particular: the decline in R&D spending, the low number of companies developing new products and services or the share of companies that have developed of their digital transformation. “In Quebec, we’re particularly good at academic research, but business innovation is declining,” Mr. Sirois.
The decline in business investment in intellectual property products worries Desjardins Group chief economist Jimmy Jean. In the fourth quarter of 2021, this type of investment dropped 2.8% compared to its level in 2019, i.e., before the pandemic. In Ontario and the United States, they increased by 10.7% and 14.0%, respectively.
Beyond the numbers, these statistics are of real importance for Quebecers, as innovation is a necessary “ingredient” for increasing gross domestic product (GDP) per capita, Mr. Jean explained in an interview. “It decreases the standard of living of a population and its ability to provide effective public services.”
Mr. admitted. Sirois that he does not know what are the reasons that are slowing change in Quebec. This is a mystery that the Conseil team, which consists of a dozen employees, will try to solve. He can also count on the support of the “scholars” of his advisory committee, headed by Laval University rector Sophie D’Amours, whose mission is to advise the government.
The Council is working on launching an “innovation barometer” that will try to paint a grain picture of research and innovation in Quebec by region and by sector. The first version of the barometer will be published this fall, but the chief innovator stressed that the tool will be enriched in its next versions. “The barometer is the economy, social change, the fight against climate change and the question of talent.”
The Council should also lead an R&D funding study to see if public money is effectively used to stimulate change. The mandate will be entrusted to external experts. “As a refundable R&D tax credit, $ 2.5 billion is given to businesses. Despite this, business spending is declining. (Does) it work properly? The question must be asked. ”
The project does not start with a preconceived idea, however, assures Mr Sirois. The goal is not necessarily to reduce public funding for R&D. “Where it works, you don’t want to undo it. It’s delicate. Maybe the answer is to increase it.”
The Council will also play a role in the field by directing entrepreneurs to the right resources among the majority of government, regional, sectoral and university stakeholders, Mr. Sirois explained. “The resources are many. Businesses are mixed. We rest them. We explained it to them calmly and we were able to direct them to these organizations. ”
Mr. also wants. Sirois to create an informal network of 300 economic development professionals working in various organizations. The first group of approximately forty professionals should receive training this fall. “We want to give them training, directories, computer tools. He will have a “red phone” to contact us. ”
The relish of failure
Beyond economic policies, Quebec’s chief innovator hopes for a change in mentality that will encourage change. He believes that the collective psyche is too “afraid” of the idea of suffering failure. He said he notices this reluctance on the part of entrepreneurs when it comes time to consider changes within their company. “There’s a discomfort in the danger that’s present here.”
Frustration is inevitable when you want to change the way things are done. Mr. Sirois draws an analogy to a hockey player trying to score a goal. “If you just take a shot, when you’re sure it will work, eh, let’s see. We know that in hockey you have to shoot a few times to get a goal. This is how it works. ”
We can accept failure while being careful, Mr. nuance. Sirois. The best approach is to go with small, focused testing and put the rubber on the tests that give the best results. “You want to fail quickly to figure out which project to stop and you invest too much (in) a work.”