Overview and FAQs

Information for Startups

Our team offers early advising support to faculty members, graduate students and post-doctoral fellows with the drive to launch a start-up based on their innovative discoveries at Dal. 

We're here to help you explore your commercialization goals, connect you to innovation and entrepreneurship programming at Dalhousie (Dal Innovates), and join other resources who will help you to navigate the larger innovation ecosystem within Atlantic Canada. 

On this page, we cover:

  1. A broad overview of what’s involved with starting a company.

  2. A brief description of Dalhousie’s support for entrepreneurs through Dal Innovates, and other supports available within Atlantic Canada.

  3. Frequently asked questions.

Under the Resources & Funding section, you’ll find:

  • Relevant university policies and information on the Intellectual Property Transfer Agreement (IPTA) for startup companies.

  • Funding sources to help get your startup off the ground.

You’ll also find our Information for Researchers section useful.

Please note: start-up companies that aren’t Dalhousie research spinoffs should instead visit our Information for Companies section.


 Overview: starting a company

Launching a startup to commercialize your invention is a significant endeavour that requires a high-level of time, commitment, and investment. 

Here’s a snapshot of what to consider if you’re thinking about starting a company. Contact us if you’d like to set a meeting to discuss entrepreneurship in more detail. 

Seek Guidance

Once you realize you have an idea that could turn into a business, you’ll benefit from absorbing as much insight as you can about what lies ahead. Since OCIE is the commercialization go-to on campus, we’re happy to act as a resource for those exploring entrepreneurship opportunities based on Dalhousie research. We can provide initial guidance on critical components of entrepreneurship, such as intellectual property, patentability, market research, financing and more. 

Protect your intellectual property

Presumably, it’s your unique IP that will set your future company apart from others. Talking to multiple potential clients (i.e. customer discovery) to determine if your invention might solve a real-world problem should be your first step. If the feedback is positive, you should then explore the existing patent landscape as your next step. This will help determine whether or not your IP is patentable; that no one else already holds a patent for an invention that could be similar to yours. Best practices here would entail involving external patent agents/counsel after you have completed your initial search. Provided your IP is protectable, you’ll want to move quickly to pursue its protection by applying for a patent and avoiding any public disclosure of your invention. The process to acquire a patent is lengthy, but eveb pending patent applications are seen as valuable to potential investors. 

Seek training, skill development, networking & mentorship

Working in the startup space takes many first-time entrepreneurs out of their comfort zone. Prepare yourself as much as possible, just as you did with your research career. Take advantage of training opportunities, look for ways to develop your skills, and always be open to expanding your professional network. Dal Innovates programming offers a wide range of options to help students and faculty members learn the ropes of business ownership (many of which also include mentorship from seasoned entrepreneurs and investors). 

Build a team & make a plan

Surround yourself with like-minded professionals who share your vision and come equipped with the skills and talent your team needs to succeed. Together you’ll develop a strategic business plan that lays out specific milestones to keep  goal oriented.


Support for Dalhousie entrepreneurs

Dal Innovates

  • OCIE is a foundational element of Dal Innovates, the university’s innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystem. Dal Innovates offers programming that helps faculty and students gain the knowledge, skills and contacts necessary for entrepreneurship. We encourage you to learn more at dalinnovates.ca.

Atlantic Canada's Innovation Ecosystem

Dalhousie is located within the Halifax Innovation Districtand Dalhousie maintains strong partnerships with other incubators and accelerators off-campus to facilitate the next stage of startup growth for Dal-based companies ready to take the leap. Partners include:

Apart from partnerships with local incubators and accelerators, Dalhousie also partners with the following:


Frequently Asked Questions

Find a glossary of subject matter terms here.

You may find the FAQs in the Information for Researchers section helpful, too. 

I want to start a company based on my Dal invention. How do I begin?

Contact us to discuss your invention, IP protection, and your idea for a start-up. We’d be happy to help answer questions and point you in the direction of important resources on and off campus. 

You can also explore dalinnovates.ca for more information about entrepreneurship at Dalhousie.  

If I’m thinking about taking the startup route, what should I know about IP and tech transfer in this context?

Dal operates on a creator-owned intellectual property (IP) practice*, meaning the researcher/inventor is usually the owner of the IP unless they’ve transferred ownership to the university for patenting and commercialization purposes, or if there are other limitations on the use of that IP.

Researchers who decide not to assign their IP to the university are free to manage it in any way they wish. OCIE manages all IP that has been assigned to the university. 

In the event that a researcher wishes to have a new startup commercialize their invention, and the inventors will be shareholders in that startup, then the university will use the technology transfer process outlined in the  Intellectual Property Transfer Agreement (IPTA) for Spinoffs. This tool ensures the IP ownership is transferred back to the inventor, which they will in turn assign to the startup. We ask that the startup considers issuing Dalhousie a nominal equity positon in the business of two percent (2%). If a liquidity event occurs in the future, the proceeds of the equity position at the time will be invested back into the OCIE patent legal fund for the benefit of the research community at large.

To avoid a conflict of interest, these dealings would occur between the university and a representative for the start-up that has no affiliation with Dalhousie.

*The university’s creator-owned IP practice has informed the development of an official Dal IP policy, which is expected by the end of the 2020/21 academic year.

Is it possible to launch a startup and maintain my position as a faculty member/graduate student/PDF at the same time?

It’s possible, though not easy. Startups are time intensive endeavours that require committed leaders who can build the company while seeking the ever-critical capital required.

We encourage you to discuss your startup plan with your department chair/dean/supervisor to explore your options.

With faculty, we typically see the researcher/inventor maintain long-term involvement with their startup as a scientific/technical advisor, or through a seat on the board. This seems to strike a reasonable balance between their academic career and their entrepreneurial endeavour.

What are some of the risks associated with innovation-based start-ups?

Typical risks to keep in mind are listed below. Take advantage of Dal Innovates programming for more in-depth training on all aspects of entrepreneurship.

  • Leadership/founder experience – how well you prepare yourself for your entrepreneurial endeavour is an important contributing factor to success. Know what skillsets to look for when you’re building your team to help mitigate team risk.

  • Small or shrinking market – if you’re targeting a small or shrinking market, you may be entering territory that’s actually avoided by other entrepreneurs and investors for a reason. Spend time conducting a thorough market analysis to help mitigate market risk.

  • Fierce competition – are competitors crowding your target market? In addition to a market analysis, you’ll want to examine what your competitors are doing and remain focused on your differentiating assets to help mitigate competitor risk.

  • Financial – a lot of funding is required to get a business off the ground. If the amount of cash needed isn’t adequately forecasted and acquired, a business could run out of money quickly. Develop a strong business plan with a comprehensive funding strategy to help mitigate financial risk.