Bruce Ralston, Minister of Jobs, Trade and Technology, with recent BCIC Ignite awardees, Dr. Stephanie Willerth (UVIC) and Aspect Biosystems.
Funding helps as innovative ideas progress toward practical use
There were times when Simon Pickup, co-founder and CEO of Hydra Energy, felt like his company was wandering in the wilderness.
Being one of the recipients of the BCIC Ignite Awards from the BC Innovation Council helped give his company direction and validation.
“As a young technology team, in a way you are in the wilderness, chasing your way through the idea maze,” says Pickup. “You are running through this maze of which partner or which company. It’s an endless combination of variations.”
Last February, while working with professors Dr. Steven Rogak and Dr. Patrick Kirchen of UBC’s department of mechanical engineering, Hydra received a BCIC Ignite Award to assist in their work to develop innovations in Hydrogen Internal Combustion Engine (HICE) technology. Using ultra low-cost waste hydrogen, the technology will increase fuel efficiency, reduce carbon emissions and decrease operational costs in dual-fuel heavy-duty truck fleets.
“We had done years of technological and market development, but in order to go to the next level, we needed to both validate the performance data that we were seeing internally with a third party so we could better prove the benefits to our commercial partner,” says Pickup. “The stars really aligned for us. We got really excited about the possibility of working closely with UBC, especially given their deep experience with alternative fuels.”
Pickup’s sentiments are echoed by Dr. David Wilkinson, of the UBC’s department of chemical and biological engineering. Wilkinson, working with NORAM Engineering & Constructors Ltd, received a BCIC Ignite Award for developing an adaptable, electrochemical cell platform with industrial applications that include processing minerals, removing carbon-dioxide emissions and cleaning up waste water so it can be reused.
The awards are a step in turning cutting-edge science into commercial products that benefit society, says Wilkinson.
“It’s addressing issues in the innovation chain,” he says. “We have a very difficult time translating innovation into real commercial products that benefit Canada.
“Here is a specific program that’s helping to address that issue. Canada is very strong at the front end of innovation but weaker in translating that into commercial success.”
Pickup is excited his company can advance its work while remaining in British Columbia. “I don’t think we could have done what we did in many other jurisdictions,” says the North Vancouver native. “It was particularity powerful to do it here.”
Receiving a BCIC Ignite Award can help open the door to future funding, as it did for Jetti Resources, a Vancouver-based natural resources tech startup and previous BCIC Ignite Awards winner that has raised about $24 million in a Series A financing.
The BC Innovation Council is a provincial Crown agency focused on driving B.C.’s economic engine through the advancement of technology and market-driven innovation. The BCIC Ignite Awards were introduced in 2016 to help provide funding to accelerate commercialization of new technologies and innovations in the natural resources and applied sciences in the province.
Kailyn Skuban, Program Manager for BCIC Ignite, says the awards focus on innovative research projects that show promise to solve real, market-driven challenges.
“It’s really about supporting strategic collaborations within industry and academia to help them move their innovative research out of the lab and into commercial markets,” she says.