Category Archives: Business & Commercialization Innovation

Where are they now?: Gwen Kitiwano


Gwen Kitiwano graduated from the Bachelor of Administration (BBA), International Commerce & Global Development program in 2017. She spent two years working on Research & Innovation’s Business & Commercialization Solutions team, first as a Research Associate and then as Research Assistant. Since July 2018, Gwen has served as a Junior Analyst for the Translation Bureau, Public Services and Procurement Canada.

Tell us a little about where you work:

The Translation Bureau is a federal institution within the Public Services and Procurement Canada portfolio. It supports the Government of Canada in its efforts to serve and communicate with Canadians in both official languages.

Describe your role and what you like about it:

In my role as a Junior Analyst, I work on various files doing many different things. Some examples would be, conducting research on international governments, assist in writing reports, prepare presentations, support strategic planning initiatives among other responsibilities. It is my first position in the Canadian Federal Public Service, so I am still taking it day-by-day and learning a lot as I move forward.

How has your experience with Research & Innovation helped prepare you for your current role?

My experience at R&I has helped me tremendously to prepare for my current role. It has helped me refine my research and presentation skills. I have accepted that presentations will never come quite naturally to me, as it does for other people. It will constantly be something that I will seek to improve, however the feedback and positive encouragement from my colleagues during my time at R&I have really helped me in improving those skills.

A memorable applied research project during your time at R&I?

One of my most memorable projects that I was involved in with R&I was working a marketing plan for Planet Bean, a local coffee roasting company. Working on creating a survey, gathering and analyzing the primary data really taught me how meaningful data can be and the impact it can have of important decisions.

Many of the projects that I worked on were in collaboration with small local businesses. Although I was technically “working” for them, it truly never felt that way. I was always so happy to help them because we see first hand the heart and hard work that goes behind these small businesses. I genuinely wanted to see them all succeed and even if my research had a minuscule contribution to that, that was enough for me. My experience at R&I increased (even more so than I had before) the respect that I have for small local business owners. It takes a lot of heart, patience, and perseverance to do what these people do and I really commend them for it. All of this to say: Support your local small businesses whenever you can!

What led you to Niagara College in the first place?

This answer might be a surprise to those who know me well. My friends and family know that I am a very organized person and (for the most part) am a huge planner. But the truth is, after high school, I had nothing planned. I really didn’t know what I wanted to do. I was 17 and fresh out of high school and decided to go with the first thing that I thought made sense – I enrolled in the Computer Programming program at Niagara College. I learned very quickly during my first semester that playing video games and making them were two completely different things. I took some time off to really think about what I wanted to do and to put it simply, I knew two things were certain: I did not want to move, and I loved to travel. Fast forward and I applied for Niagara College’s Bachelor of Business Administration International Commerce & Global Development (aka ICOM) program. I got accepted that same summer and started in the fall and the rest is history!

“I was always so happy to help them because we see first hand the heart and hard work that goes behind these small businesses.”

Most memorable experience at NC?

My most memorable experience at Niagara College honestly is my time at R&I. I had a job that didn’t feel like a job and those are the absolute best.

A faculty member who influenced you?

There were many faculty members who influenced me during my time at Niagara College and R&I. During my time as a student, Professor Dawit Eshetu and Navjote Khara had a huge influence on how to improve my work. Most importantly, they always made time to sit down with students to provide us with the time and advice that we needed for either the class or just life in general. I learned a lot through the many conversations that I had in their offices and will value the advice and knowledge that they shared.

What advice would you impart on current research students or future alumni?

Be open to all opportunities, don’t be afraid to ask for feedback from your professors/mentors, and put in the effort – it shows, and people notice.

After being in the workforce, what have you learned?

I’ve learned that, first and foremost, how important it is to take care of yourself. Work hard, but take care of yourself harder (yes, I just made that up). If you take care of yourself, not only will you be a better employee, but also a better friend, sister, partner, etc. It makes all the difference in the world and only positive things will come from it!

Proudest achievement since graduating?

My proudest achievement since graduating is finally getting winter tires.

Interests outside of work?

Outside of work, I very much enjoy travelling whenever I get the chance, going to the drive-in and trying out local foods with my friends and family. Also, I like to sneak in a few hours of World of Warcraft here and there!

If you could have a billboard message seen by many, what would it say?

“Don’t forget to breathe.”



Innovation in Action

Through applied research activities, Niagara College’s Research & Innovation division is preparing the workforce with the right know–how by providing an array of researcher expertise, supported by leading-edge facilities, technology and equipment. See how graduates and R&I alumni are applying their skills and knowledge in the real world.

Marketing pro Paula Reile on having it all

Breaking through the clutter of our visually dominated world to win brand loyalty takes true creative innovation. So when clever ad campaigns succeed in touching their audience, their emotionally-charged message is held in high regard by marketing professional Paula Reile.

Such connection represents the power of inspired storytelling, says the Research Lead for the Business & Commercialization Solutions team. And it’s a topic she takes great joy in exploring with the students she mentors at the Research & Innovation division.

“I love brands… and I’m known around here for always talking about the Honey Nut Cheerios’ “Bring Back The Bees” commercial – a perfectly executed campaign,” she says. “I compare almost everything to the emotion that evoked.”

The TV and internet campaign that used meaningful visuals and heartwarming music saw more than 100 million wildflower seeds planted, all to help a dying breed of bees. It also served to instill brand love for the iconic cereal brand.

“I am very passionate about the businesses we work with and their success is what’s important to me”

While she appreciates the mastery of these influential campaigns, her reality is working with much smaller, local businesses through the applied research projects at Niagara College. They, too, drive her dedication to delivering thought-provoking marketing strategies to help them grow in today’s market.

“I am very passionate about the businesses we work with and their success is what’s important to me,” she says, adding her empathetic nature fuels her instinct to become invested in every business she helps.

“I want myself and my team to have the same passion for these people that they are putting into their business.”

At any given time, Paula and her team of students (from the Business – Sales and Marketing and Bachelor of Business Administration – International Commerce and Global Development programs) can be found working on an average of three to seven research projects for industry partners, assisting in business and market research, operations, and sales and marketing goals.

Last summer, the group expanded their repertoire by taking on social media projects for 10 businesses at once. Besides auditing their accounts, Paula’s team demonstrated to the business owners, who were not very comfortable with social media, that through personalized strategies they could learn to like the platform. As an example of her caring nature, she still answers questions from businesses who continue to reach out to her many months later.


While brand marketing is one of her favourite things, she hasn’t always been the storyteller she is today. In fact, such creativity was not something she thought she even possessed in the early part of her career in the insurance field.

Something changed for her when her company brought in a marketing professor for a day-long professional development workshop.

“He was so dynamic. I hung on his every word for eight hours and it really ignited something in me,” says Paula, who afterward started spearheading various marketing promotions for her company’s branch. They were successful – and she was hooked.

She utilized a maternity leave for reflection, became a yoga teacher and ultimately left the insurance world. Following her passion, she enrolled in Niagara College’s Sales & Marketing program (graduating in 2016) and then Advanced Marketing Administration (2017).

“Through that, I found that creative bone in myself,” she says. “I joined the marketing competition team at Niagara College, so I owe a lot to the College for bringing that out in me.”

“I’m very lucky to be in a position to pick my life to some degree and I’ve been able to do everything I’m passionate about.”

Besides the public sector, this marketing consultant also has her hand in both the non-profit and private domains. She heads the school breakfast, snack, and nutrition program for Welland schools through the Ministry of Children and Youth Services. And she runs The Reile Marketing Company, where she likes to keep only a few clients at a time so she can provide more personalized service.

Yet, to her friends and colleagues, Paula is known for her relentlessly busy schedule. Aside from her three jobs, she’s on the go with her three children, all in competitive sports (a son in travelling hockey, and two daughters in gymnastics).

Yes people think my husband and I are crazy, but I love everything I do, so nothing is a chore and I don’t feel overwhelmed.” She simply channels her inner yoga teacher and dismisses the adage that you can’t have it all.  She also utilizes every moment of her day – gratefully.

“I’m very lucky to be in a position to pick my life to some degree and I’ve been able to do everything I’m passionate about.”

Part of her positive perspective today comes from an innate optimism, but more profoundly, the experience two and a half years ago of losing her 18-yr-old brother in a plane crash that shook her to the core. 

“It definitely contributed to my outlook on life today,” she explains. “So you try to take that and pull positive pieces from it.”

This includes a renewed perspective on prioritizing what is truly important and what can wait. “At the end of the day, if I missed a social media post for a business, the world is not going to collapse. I remember I get tomorrow and I know it’s going to be okay.”

You also won’t hear her complain about her hectic lifestyle. “My husband and I recognize we only have a number of years with our kids,” she says. “We enjoy watching them pursue their own passions.”

It also helps that her family makes time for fun. A self-confessed “Disney nut,” Paula has taken her kids to the theme park five times and she has gone eight times on her own.

As for a possible tagline to brand her own life, she offers one possible suggestion: “Yes, I can have it all!”

To learn more about the work of the Business & Commercialization Solutions division, visit the web page.

Spreading the gourmet word on social

Local artisan company Lindsay’s Gourmet Compound Butter has seen a rise in customers after spreading the word via social media. And founder Lindsay Rose gives credit to Niagara College’s Research & Innovation division for its help in her success.

The specialty food company wanted to increase promotion of its products to a wider audience. These products, says Rose, are “finishing” butters, infused with fresh herbs, spices, and seasonings, are kept frozen and then used as needed to add gourmet flavours to any dish.

“Social media is a necessary component of my business. I knew I was not utilizing the platforms available to my benefit,” explains Rose, who looked to the Business & Commercialization Solutions team at R&I to help with identifying a specific customer base and establishing a stronger social media presence.

The research team, through a grant from the Ontario Centres of Excellence, undertook several audits to define customers, external competitors, and key performance indicators. The objectives were to establish the target demographic for Facebook and Instagram, create and increase brand awareness and build effective social media content.

The team of students and staff learned that while Lindsay’s Compound Butter already had a Facebook page, it was not performing to its full potential, says Rose.

“I learned how to post effectively, read analytics and to enjoy the process,” explains Rose, adding she was also given training on how to build awareness through a new Instagram account. Rose also posted a five-minute video to her website and YouTube channel introducing new customers to her gourmet butter and offering an array of recipe ideas.

“With more effective posts on both platforms I am realizing an increase in product awareness, engagements and sales,” says Rose. “Most importantly, they gave me the tools to feel confident with my approach to social media applications.”

Since starting Lindsay’s Gourmet Compound Butter in 2015, Rose has been involved with successful partnerships with the College’s R&I division over the years, thanks to government funding. The Canadian Food & Wine (CFWI) Innovation Centre provided guidance and expertise, for production, labelling, and the company’s unique rustic packaging. Lindsay’s also worked with R&I’s Business & Commercialization Solutions team previously for help with website development, along with sales and marketing strategies.

“It is a privilege to partner with Niagara College Research & Innovation. The staff, students, and professors have a goal to help us succeed and their knowledge and experience are invaluable,” says Rose. “If they do not have the answers they have the resources to find the answers. Often they have the answers before you even ask the question!” 


Find more information about the company:

Instagram: lindsays_butter



Creating iconic Lowrey Bros. brand

Ravine Vineyard Estate Winery is a fifth-generation family farm home to a winery, organic vineyard, a restaurant, and retail store. The farm was originally purchased by the Lowrey family in 1867 in the historic village of St. David’s. The current owners, Norma Jane (Lowrey) Harber and Blair Harber, recently relaunched the Lowrey Family’s 1904 canning label, Lowrey Bros.

In keeping with tradition, the family uses only Niagara fruits and vegetables for its jams, pickles, sauces and canned whole fruits as they become available during the growing season. Two new product lines in the form of hard ciders and gourmet food products have been recently introduced and stocked at their Canning House grocery store.

To determine how best to tell the story of sustainable agriculture in the Niagara region, and in preparation of creating and marketing an iconic national brand for the revived Lowrey label, Ravine approached Niagara College’s Business & Commercialization Solutions team to determine how to make that happen.

The team examined other iconic brands, analyzed distribution methods and strategized on how to turn the Lowrey Bros. story into marketing ideas that can help position it as a quintessentially Canadian brand. Recommendations were then provided to Ravine based on findings from the research.

Safari Niagara captures market expertise


The family-owned and operated Safari Niagara offers a one-on-one connection with nature. The Stevensville wildlife park has enjoyed continued growth since it opened in 2002, under the original name of Zooz. While the 150-acre park is home to more than 1,000 animal species, the zoological facility has regularly increased its offerings with educational activities, exhibitions, live concerts, special events, and other features, such as food trucks.

Looking to further expand its operations outside the animal attraction industry, Safari Niagara approached the Business & Commercialization Solutions team at Research & Innovation for expertise on how to diversify. The park management wanted to study the viability of offering a unique wild nature experience while celebrating various occasions, such as seasonal events (Christmas parties), weddings, corporate events/meetings, private on-site catering and special event/conference hosting. They required a feasibility study of opening a full-service, year-round conference/event centre.

The research team at Niagara College conducted both primary and secondary research to identify current societal attitudes towards various animal attractions. In addition, the group of students and staff researched the tourism and hospitality industry of the Niagara region with a specific focus on the conference/event centre industry and also conducted a thorough analysis of the wedding industry and the current wedding trends.

Based on findings from the research, the team created a revenue model for Safari Niagara which calculated four key metrics: break-even point; payback period for the initial investment; out-of-pocket ROI and total cost ROI.

Niagara Research welcomes new project manager

Niagara Research continues to grow its services to the college and community with the addition of a research project manager focused on business. Neil WilkinsonNeil Wilkinson joined Niagara Research Aug. 1 in the position of Project Manager, Business and Commercialization Solutions. This portfolio was previously managed by Nigel Corish, who is also the project manager for Food and Beverage Innovation. Nigel will now be able to focus on the exciting developments in the culinary portfolio, including the opening of the Canadian Food and Wine Institute Research Centre at the Niagara-on-the-Lake campus.

Neil brings with him recent experience as a research project manager with a private company in the Barrie area, as well as a post-graduate diploma in the research analyst program, from Georgian College.

“I like the variety that comes from business and commercialization solutions,” says Neil. “I can be working with a company that makes chocolate products one week, and a company that manufactures precision automotive parts the next.

“This work keeps me on my toes and it makes me think about the commonality amongst all businesses; that is, the smaller businesses will usually need some sort of assistance, whether with their marketing, or product positioning, or a feasibility study, and we have that to offer.”

Neil’s background also includes a BSc (Hon) in biochemistry from his native country of England, several years working in the sciences, including as a franchise operator of Mad Science, a hands-on program bringing science into classrooms and after-school programs.

Neil came to Canada 13 years ago, after meeting his future wife (a Canadian) while travelling. Since his wife relocated to Niagara for work two years ago, he has been doing consulting work and looking after the couple’s two young children. He is now looking forward to joining the same organization that employs his wife; Christine Wilkinson is a professor of recreation therapy and recreation & leisure services, based at the Welland campus.

Neil is also looking forward to growing the business portfolio, meeting and developing partnerships with many of Niagara’s small and medium-size businesses. Those partnerships will also involve student research assistants, giving them experience to improve their resumes in preparation for the job search after graduation.

“When I was a student working on a research project, I found it to be an invaluable part of my education to gain that experience.”

Neil will be based at the Niagara-on-the-Lake campus. He will also be responsible for the administration of the college’s Research Ethics Board. He can be reached at [email protected]

Niagara Research, the Research & Innovation Division of Niagara College, provides real-world solutions for business, industry and the community through applied research and knowledge transfer activities.

Niagara Research conducts projects that provide innovative solutions, such as producing and testing prototypes, evaluating new technologies, and developing new or improved products or processes for small and medium-sized businesses.

For more information visit