Executive director of Industry Liaison and Innovation and assistant vice-president of industry relations
Before joining the Industry Liaison and Innovation (ILI) office in 2011, Stephen Hartlen spent eight years at Innovacorp, where he served as vice president of mentoring and, for the final year, as interim president and CEO. Prior to Innovacorp, Mr. Hartlen worked in the private sector for 14 years, where he was involved in a range of activities including sales, business development and the development of “go-to-market” strategies for various products and services.
Since taking the ILI position, Mr. Hartlen’s focus has been on ways to link Dalhousie researchers to industry, with the goal of seeing more of Dal’s research efforts reaching the market and thus boosting the university’s reputation while having a positive impact on the local economy.
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While vice president of mentoring at Innovacorp, Stephen Hartlen was keenly aware of Dalhousie’s contributions to local industry. Given that Dalhousie is “the largest research university in Atlantic Canada,” he thought it could be contributing even more and gain additional research funding by expanding its relationship with the private sector.
“Dalhousie is a world-class institution and has a huge role to play in helping grow the Nova Scotia economy” by boosting industrial research and development. A desire to help improve Dal’s role was one reason he accepted the position as assistant vice-president industry relations and executive director in Dalhousie’s Industry Liaison and Innovation (ILI) office.
One of his first efforts was to modify the process of getting research results to market. In his view, the traditional technology transfer model isn’t nearly as effective as industry engagement.
Consequently, Mr. Hartlen has encouraged more direct interaction with industry. “We’re constantly talking to companies to see how we can help them be more productive.” The next step is bringing companies’ requirements back to Dal’s research community, so “research aligns with what companies wants to achieve or so products are created for existing markets,” he explains.
“ILI’s business model now has three areas of focus,” says Mr. Hartlen. “The traditional technology transfer, which is an important service offering to our research community. Industry engagement helps to effectively grow the research enterprise at Dalhousie – in fact, we are now sixth in the nation when measured by private sector sponsored research. And finally entrepreneurship, which has typically pertained to supporting Dalhousie spin-off ventures based on technologies developed by our researchers. However, as we continue to evolve, we will also be placing an increased emphasis on our student body.”
Mr. Hartlen notes that Computer Science and Engineering are already “heavily engaged in start-up or spin-off activities. Oceans is excellent, too,” he says. “Dal has a lot of power in helping to grow the oceans sector in Nova Scotia. And on the medical side, we’re proficient in developing medical devices, among other things.”
Though he recognizes the importance of ongoing “tri-council” funding, especially for industrial research chair positions, he sees that “that pot of money is not growing in any appreciable way.” Instead, significant growth will have to come from the private sector, provincially and beyond, with the help of the deans and researchers in various faculties.
He also believes it’s important for Dal to promote research efforts by regularly “telling its own stories” on Dal News and other media sources. To ensure these success stories are generated, Hartlen says the ILI must continue to promote “Dal as an asset to the business community, in helping grow their business and the economy. We have to reinforce the message that we’re part of the innovation ecosystem in Atlantic Canada.”
Almost at the end of year three, Hartlen is excited about moving forward with a couple of projects. One is something he calls “sandboxes”: the ILI will help set up “ideation spaces where students can come together, to work on their own start-up idea, to work closely with faculty” and access external mentoring opportunities. From this, Hartlen hopes to see spinout/startup activities greatly increase in the coming years.
In general, he aims to continue promoting Dalhousie throughout the private sector. “It’s the mostly logical way to increase our research funding, provide exciting opportunities for our researchers and students with the added benefit of contributing to the economic development of the province and Atlantic Canada,” he says. “It’s just the right thing to do – it will be a ‘win-win’ scenario in the long term.”