XRCC Helps Startups Navigate Canada’s Valley of Death

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Dr. Paul Smith is the Vice President and Centre Director of the Mississauga-based Xerox Research Centre of Canada (XRCC)

The Valley of Death – it sounds more fitting as a title for a western movie than as a nickname for the ominous obstacle facing many innovative Canadian companies.

But when you consider the treacherous path startups have to navigate to commercialize ideas in Canada, the Valley of Death has a ring of truth to it.

Canada has a long track record of innovation. We are one of the heaviest funders of discovery research in the world. We’re fortunate to have a highly trained and educated workforce. We also have a wealth of budding entrepreneurs with no shortage of bright ideas for new technologies.

But where we often falter is in the critical stages of moving from research to scale-up and commercialization. For startups in the advanced materials space, the effort required to scale-up, pilot test, and supply promising technologies to potential customers is too often prohibitive. It requires large capital and resource investments, for which funding is often unavailable until after demonstration.

That’s where the Xerox Research Centre of Canada (XRCC) in Mississauga can help. With a stable of scientists who are as comfortable in corporate boardrooms as they are in research labs, the XRCC has a strong track record of helping companies make it through the Valley of Death unscathed.

The Centre’s vision is to enable new companies to use their seed funding to develop technologies, rather than spending it on capital expenses. As a result, the Centre recently undertook two important initiatives – in 2012 the XRCC began offering its expertise and infrastructure to external clients on a fee-for-service basis, and in 2013 XRCC began forming partnerships and co‑locating like-minded organizations which also provide support to the startup community.

Today, the XRCC houses a thriving Advanced Materials Innovation Hub, which serves as a one-stop shop for startups, providing them with a value chain where they have access to a variety of resources and experts to help guide them through every stage of their business journey from ideation to commercialization.   

Currently, the Hub hosts eight promising Canadian startups on site which are supported by the ecosystem. This is a corporate initiative and Xerox does not receive any grants or other government financial assistance for the Hub. In addition, the XRCC also houses the Peel RIC Centre – a not-for-profit organization that helps clients make connections which are critical in taking their business to the next level of growth; green chemistry innovators GreenCentre Canada and representatives from the Ontario Centre of Excellence’s Advanced Manufacturing Sector.

One resident start‑up estimated that by working with XRCC, their process was accelerated by 18 to 24 months compared to a traditional venture capital journey and that they had saved at least $2.5 million by having access to the depth of XRCC as a whole, tapping into the Centre’s strong chemical engineering and process design capabilities as needed, without having to create and maintain their own. The company’s pilot-scale demonstration unit, designed, built, and commissioned by XRCC in its pilot plant, was used to generate the real data required to demonstrate the technology to potential clients and investors.

Continuing its commitment to building a strong Canadian foundation for supporting materials innovation and commercialization initiatives, XRCC was a strong supporter and active participant in the shaping of the successful Ontario Advanced Manufacturing Supercluster Bid.

As we look to the future, our vision is to help drive innovation in Canada and to help businesses navigate pitfalls of the Valley of Death and grow through the commercialization of break­through materials, technologies, and services.

Dr. Paul Smith is the Vice President and Centre Director of the Mississauga-based Xerox Research Centre of Canada (XRCC), home to a world-class team of scientists and engineers with broad expertise in materials chemistry, formulation design, prototyping, testing, and chemical process engineering. To learn more about how XRCC can help accelerate your path to commercialization email engage@xerox.com.