Research summit brings together great thinkers
"Together Towards Tomorrow" was the theme of the Research, Innovation, Scholarship, and Entrepreneurship Summit (RISES), the annual showcase of ingenuity at Toronto's Centennial College. On June 6, RISES boasted the college's best and brightest, showing just how we got to be ranked among Canada's Top 10 Research Colleges. The day-long event, sponsored by Applied Research, Innovation and Entrepreneurship Services (ARIES), The Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) and the Ontario Centres of Excellence (OCE), drew nearly 150 attendees representing staff, students, community and industry, to the Event Centre at Progress Campus. The summit featured compelling keynote talks that would rival any TED, as well as 28 rapid-fire breakout sessions with Centennial researchers using the PechaKucha presentation style (slideshow and description lasting just 6 minutes and 40 seconds) as a platform for their work.
There was also a Marketplace, where Strategic Initiatives and External Relations (SIER), the Centre for Global Citizenship, Education & Inclusion (GCEI), ACCEL, the campus-linked youth accelerator program for entrepreneurs, Enactus, Wearable Interactive Mobile Technologies Access Centre in Healthcare (WIMTACH) representatives offered information about their services.
"We're the kind of college that this country and the world needs right now," said Centennial President Ann Buller in her opening remarks, reaffirming the College's commitment to driving innovation and entrepreneurship. Dr. Deepak Gupta, ARIES Executive Director, highlighted the significant changes to this year’s event, including the rebranding, the newly opened Event Centre venue and a mobile app. Taylan Tatli, Acting Associate Vice President, Research and Corporate Planning at Centennial, called the day's presentations "unbelievably diverse" and leading edge. Featured research projects included: the next generation of electric landing gear for energy-efficient aircraft, solutions for colourblind microbiology students, a mobile app to support breastfeeding mothers, novel food allergen detectors, airbags to protect hockey players from concussions, solar absorption cooling system models, improving international students' classroom learning, and creating positive space training for marginalized communities, to name just a few.
To launch the day, mathematician and technical Oscar winner Dr. Karan Singh, of the University of Toronto's Dynamic Graphics Project lab, blew away the audience with an engaging talk about where the Internet is headed – an "immersive" space, a fusion of users with technology – all by way of virtual reality (VR). Singh's proud parents were in the audience, having just arrived from India, as Singh explored augmented reality and what a digital world will soon look like. It was apropos given the summit theme.
The attendees then split up into different rooms to take in Centennial staff and student presentations each representing a letter in the 'RISE' acronym – research, innovation, scholarship and entrepreneurship. Some of these projects were undertaken in partnership with industry, while others were funded by our essential funding agencies, NSERC and OCE, members of whom were on hand to represent their respective organizations.
In her remarks, Dr. Kate Withers, Business Development Manager at Ontario Centres of Excellence, praised Centennial's WIMTACH, saying that the digital health centre consistently offers "high quality deliverables." WIMTACH student researchers, who have impressed the likes of industry partners Scarborough General Hospital and the award-winning digital media firm, Shaftesbury Films, were well represented during the rapid-fire presentations.
Dr. Eric Blaise, ARIES' Innovation Program Manager for Aerospace and Surface Transportation, offered more details about the NSERC-funded electric aircraft landing gear project, which will be taking flight once Centennial's new Aerospace centre opens (interested readers can follow the progress of construction at the Downsview Aerospace Innovation & Research hub) and other presenters covered a range of intriguing subject matter too numerous to detail here.
The crackling post-lunch panel of impressive industry experts focused on how education and innovation dovetails with commerce. Ravi Seethapathy, former research head at Hydro One, chemistry professor and entrepreneur Dr. Cynthia Goh, Dr. Darin Graham of the Vector Institute, and Strategic Life Science's Dr. Alison Symington tackled a broad range of subjects including how postsecondary institutions are organized, technology revolutionized the energy grid, scientists become entrepreneurs, and DNA sequencing can be done at home.
Vicki Saunders closed the show. Saunders, who has run multiple business ventures in Europe, Toronto and Silicon Valley, was named one of the 100 most influential leaders of 2015 from "EBW – Empowering a Billion Women," alongside the likes of Melinda Gates and Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg. In Canada, female entrepreneurs represent the fastest-growing segment in the small business sector, and Saunders founded SheEO, a global initiative to radically transform how we support, finance and celebrate female entrepreneurship. It's women entrepreneurs, Saunders pointed out, who presently receive only about 4% of total venture capital funding. Saunders hopes to change that, and outlined details of her "Perpetual fund for five women entrepreneurs that is paid back over five years and once again made available to five new women."
Event feedback included positive comments such as: "the wealth of knowledge was amazing," and that it featured "an eclectic mix of presentation formats." Next year's summit promises to be just as impressive and inspiring, with another outstanding array of special guests, industry representatives and committed Centennial staff and students.