Networks of Centres of Excellence of Canada
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Networks of Centres of Excellence Annual Meeting

Panel: Lessons from the Trenches Strategies for Competition Success

The process of applying for NCE funding is lengthy and intensive, requiring prospective leaders of networks or centres to prepare detailed proposals that demonstrate their potential to achieve excellence. Senior leaders from the NCE portfolio and NCE Secretariat staff can offer valuable advice on how to increase the chance of success at the different competition stages of the NCE suite of programs. The mandates of the different NCE programs can also offer existing grantees opportunities to develop their work in directions that could allow them to transition into other funding sources at the end of their term.

Key points

  • Update on the Centres of Excellence for Commercialization and Research (CECR) program
    • An evaluation of the program, advice from the Private Sector Advisory Board, changes to the program’s terms and conditions, and the experiences of the funded centres provided an opportunity for clarifying and focussing the program’s objectives. The core criteria have remained, but with stronger focus on specific elements such as appropriate business plans, critical areas of capacity.
    • In defining the expectations for centres to become sustainable, efforts were made to keep enough breadth and flexibility to allow for support from other government sources, but to balance that with the need for support and long-term commitment from all sectors.
    • The NCE recognizes that a five-year window may be too short for centres to achieve sustainability, therefore now allows for longer mandates and the opportunity to apply for additional funding.
  • Update on the Networks of Centres of Excellence (NCE) program
    • Applications for traditional NCEs are almost always highly rated on the quality of their research, but may fall short on management and governance, pointing out an area where some applicants need to improve. The full application process will emphasize the importance of the management and governance criteria by placing this section of the application first followed by the networking and partnership aspect.
    • The requirements for NCEs to be funded in a third five-year term are being finalized, with the focus to be on knowledge mobilization and transferring technology to partners.
  • Update on the Business-Led Networks of Centres of Excellence (BL-NCE) program
    • With the program being made permanent, it now offers the potential for networks to apply for renewed funding at the end of their first term. A maximum 10 years of support could be obtained.
    • The selection process for new networks will look for those that are driven by the needs of business and demonstrate effective models for sharing knowledge among private sector partners.
    • While still supporting commercialization objectives, the focus of the grant will be on the competitive advantage to be gained by the private sector partner as a result of participation in the network. Commercialization will be considered an asset rather than a required outcome.
  • Prepare thoroughly for applications, mid-term reviews and renewals
    • The competition experiences of other networks can be a valuable source of information.
    • It is very important to start early. The Allergen NCE began its successful process for renewal 18 months beforehand. This included obtaining video testimonials from former students, consulting their community on its priorities, and assembling an international team to review their renewal application.
    • The results of the mock review included identifying the need to focus more closely on certain aspects of their proposal, rather than adopting the “more is better” approach. A dry-run of all presentations helped smooth the network’s appearance before the expert review panel.
    • A system of monthly reports allows AllerGen to monitor progress being made on all aspects of the network’s work.
  • Build on existing strengths
    • Work done by the Stem Cell Network (SCN) helped lay the groundwork for the Centre for Commercialization of Regenerative Medicine’s (CCRM) successful application. For example, a culture of collaboration already existed, and ethics issues had been addressed. It was also easier to recruit a strong Board of Directors and identify opportunities for collaboration.
    • Because of the reality of the regenerative medicine industry and the goal of becoming sustainable, CCRM’s governance is strongly industry focussed, including having a venture capitalist as Board Chair.  
    • The industry focus led to a strong private-sector presence when the expert panel conducted its site visit during the review process. This focus is also reflected in CCRM’s business plan.
  • Learn from past experiences
    • The Graphics, Animation and New Media Canada NCE made two unsuccessful attempts for funding, which helped refine and evolve the proposal that succeeded. Much of the groundwork had been done, and errors and gaps were identified.
    • The successful application also benefited from the evolution of digital media and an increased recognition of its strategic, social and economic importance.
    • GRAND’s management requirements call for a multidisciplinary approach to be built into each project. This helps ensure that social issues, for example, are addressed in tandem with technical ones.
    • Successful applicants have often been previously involved with the NCE or other network-style programs. The GRAND applications drew on the Scientific Director’s previous experiences with several NCE and NSERC networks.
    • A renewal application should reflect an evolution of a network’s mandate. If it does not demonstrate growth and change, it will not show progress.