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Local businesses thrive with OCAD U grad student support

recent graduates from the Centre for Local Innovation and Collaboration (CLIC)

Congratulations to the recent graduates from the Centre for Local Innovation and Collaboration (CLIC). Photo credit: @ichangimath on Instagram.

When local businesses collaborate with OCAD University students, Ontario’s economy benefits.

OCAD University has partnered with the City of Richmond Hill and eCampusOntario to help businesses recover from the effects of the pandemic through a new initiative: the Centre for Local Innovation and Collaboration (CLIC).

Through the CLIC, businesses partner with graduate student researchers from OCAD U’s Strategic Foresight and Innovation (SFI) Master of Design program on a range of supports to enhance their business, such as research and scoping to define their innovation challenge, and onboarding to the Ontario Collaboration Innovation Platform (OCIP). This platform connects Ontario businesses with research and development opportunities at higher education institutions.

Additional CLIC supports for participating businesses include potential funding for research and development, and networking opportunities to widen their pool of connections.

Since its inception in 2021 to the end of 2023, CLIC will have graduated three cohorts of businesses, resulting in 41 City of Richmond Hill businesses that will have completed the program in two years, and 20 SFI graduate student researchers who will have supported the local businesses.

The 12 businesses that have completed the program in 2023 so far have also received a Certificate of Completion and Digital Badge, which is a new addition to the program as of this year.

Graduate student researchers apply the skills, knowledge and frameworks of business and design thinking, strategy, systems and foresight gained in the SFI program to the business problem or challenge,” says Angela Bains, Acting Associate Dean, Faculty of Design.

“They use these frameworks to clarify or develop paths for strategy and direction for businesses to move forward.”

Partnering for progress

Mallory Maynard, CEO at Gibbly –  an online educational tool that uses AI to help teachers create engaging and relevant review material for their students – is one such business owner who has benefitted from the CLIC.

Maynard says she received crucial support from SFI graduate student researcher Nicole Brkic to develop a proposal to collaborate on a research project with a post-secondary institution. The proposal aimed to help teachers discover ways to maximize their time, allowing them to focus more on supporting their students.

Nicole's assistance was vital in refining ideas and defining the research challenge,” says Maynard. “With her expertise, we decided on a research proposal that investigates classroom time demands and explores how AI and educational technology can be used to reduce prep time for teachers creating learning and assessment material.”

As a result, the Adaptive Context Environment (ACE) Lab at OCAD U is now preparing its own proposal to work with Gibbly on this research project.

“Partnering with OCAD University and participating in the CLIC program has been an immensely rewarding experience for Gibbly,” adds Maynard. “This program has provided us with the opportunity to build capacity, expand our network and benefit from fresh perspectives and ideas.”

By finding innovative ways to support teachers, our partnership with OCAD U will move the needle on education and better prepare our youth for the workforce of tomorrow.”

Boosting businesses’ economic standing

Raza Jafri, Founder and CEO at MetaWorldX, worked with grad student Michelle Runch on his application for the OCIP Innovation Challenge. He notes that the collaboration with OCAD U has significantly strengthened his company’s economic standing.

The experts at MetaWorldX use digital twins and data integration for other organizations to gain business insights, supporting these organizations through data-driven simulations and predictive analytics in the metaverse. Jafri launched his business at the Smart City World Expo in Barcelona in November 2022.

The CLIC benefits are already substantial for Jafri, who thanks Runch for helping write and submit the OCIP application.

Through this partnership, we've tapped into a network of design, innovation and technology experts,” says Jafri.

“This collaboration has sparked fresh ideas, facilitated interdisciplinary teamwork and brought user-centered design principles to the forefront of our digital twin solutions. The credibility and exposure gained from this partnership have expanded our market reach, contributing to our growth within the economy.”

While the OCIP team reviews his application, Jafri and his team at MetaWorldX continue to provide businesses with immersive experiences that blend real-world data and virtual reality, empowering industries to gain business insights, make informed decisions and drive innovation.

Real world impact

Runch, who has a 15-year career in marketing wherein she has worked with big brands such as the LCBO and the Los Angeles Rams, saw the real-world impact of her work as an SFI graduate student researcher.

In co-creating compelling innovation challenges and solutions for each of the businesses she partnered with, Runch says that her experience deepened her understanding of how she can make a positive impact on the needs of businesses.

“The overall impact I felt this made was giving the businesses the opportunity to discuss and identify some of the unique challenges they may be facing and having an impartial individual help to uncover and highlight these in order to secure potential future funding and partnership opportunities,” says Runch.

She acknowledges that the program helped to facilitate her career goals, and that the work she did could go on to support the Canadian economy as a whole.

For grad student Colton Schwenk, who worked with KROP Industries and Storeo Inc., supporting the economy through the CLIC involved important conversations.

“Our collaboration consisted of an in-depth interview with the founders of each business to understand more about the history of their organizations, the current state of each business and the key challenges they felt they each faced in growing the business,” says Schwenk. 

“My hope is that onboarding them onto OCIP helped to facilitate access to a resource they would not have otherwise had, ultimately allowing each of the businesses to achieve the next step in growth.”

Schwenk adds that the idea of innovation can be different in the classroom versus in practice.

“I think there’s often a disconnect between how innovation is understood in a classroom or academic setting, and what it looks like to ‘put rubber to road’ and actually innovate in the real world,” he says. 

“By making this opportunity possible, OCAD U has given me a chance to meaningfully examine how innovation unfolds in actual settings and businesses. Seeing this, first-hand, has been powerful, serving to motivate me to want to do more with small businesses, and to reaffirm how excellent a decision it was to enrol in the SFI program.”