Category Archives: Research & Innovation

Students and business reap benefits of RBC program

Business and Commercialization Solutions teams

Just as businesses impacted by the global pandemic need to navigate a new economy and reimagine their offerings creatively, graduates entering this new workforce need to be prepared for this ever-changing landscape.

A Canadian-wide initiative called the RBC Future Launch program aims to provide opportunities to help students gain practical, real-world experience to help prepare them for this shifting environment.

RBC Foundation announced a $150,000 corporate gift (over three years) in December 2019 to Niagara College’s School of Business and Management to support NC’s Productivity Innovation Lab (PiLab). The gift was funded through RBC’s Future Launch, a 10-year $500-million commitment to help Canadian youth prepare for the jobs of tomorrow.

And, through Research & Innovation’s Business & Commercialization Solutions (BCS) centre at Niagara College, both the students and small- and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) are reaping the benefits of this program. In collaboration with the BCS, the RBC Future Launch program helps connect students with SMEs who require support for market research, go-to-market strategies and to steer or creatively pivot their business model.

Student researchers, paid through the program for a qualifying project, receive invaluable real-world experience to help prepare them for the workforce, while the business gains instrumental market research and strategies to help them evolve.

“Canada has a collective responsibility to help prepare young people for the opportunities of the future,” says Steve Nixon, regional vice-president, Niagara Market, RBC. “Through RBC’s partnership with Niagara College we’re enabling students to gain real world experience in solving social and business problems that will ensure they are career-ready and feeling prepared for their future.”

If you are a registered small- or medium-sized business with a proof of concept or have existing products/services and need assistance in exploring new revenue streams or business direction, you may be eligible to receive business research support within the RBC Future Launch project.

For information on the RBC Future Launch project visit their website here.

To discover if your business could be a candidate to receive assistance by the research students at Business & Commercialization Solutions through the RBC Future Launch program, contact project manager Paula Reile at [email protected]

To learn more about the capabilities offered by the Business & Commercialization Solutions team or discover how initial feasibility research is helpful prior to engaging with Research & Innovation for applied research projects, visit the website.

A passion for inspiring, helping others

Call it an entrepreneurial spirit or the “it” factor. Karla Perez-Islas was seemingly born with it. The rest – a drive for independence and a devoted student of life – has empowered her along the way.

As a child, she sold trending toys to classmates, and in high school, she marketed and sold skincare products. During a university class project in her home country of Mexico, Perez-Islas started her own business selling customized T-shirts, mugs and laptop bags.

And while her long-term goal is to open her own business, for now, her passion lies in helping current companies flourish. In her role as a business research assistant with Research & Innovation’s Business & Commercialization Solutions (BCS) team, the Niagara College student gets to do just that.

“I honestly see myself doing both. Since I started working as a research assistant, I became more passionate about helping businesses from different industries thrive.”

“I feel very happy when I’m walking down grocery store aisles and see products from the brands I’ve worked for or whenever they post an exciting announcement on their social media channel.”

In her capacity with BCS, Perez-Islas works with industry partners – mainly small- and medium-sized businesses – to solve problems related to operations management, sales and marketing. Projects include market research, competitive analysis, marketing plans and target market identification.

“I feel very happy when I’m walking down grocery store aisles and see products from the brands I’ve worked for or whenever they post an exciting announcement on their social media channel.”

Wanting to broaden her horizons and improve her language skills, Perez-Islas moved to Canada at age 19. Less than a year later, she completed NC’s English for Academic Preparation program. Today, she’s in her third and final year of the Business Administration-Marketing program.

Working on real-world projects with BCS, Perez-Islas puts into practice what she’s learning in her class studies.

“Most importantly, I get to help businesses achieve their goals, make an impact and learn valuable lessons from my research leads who have an amazing work ethic and are very knowledgeable.”

Perez-Islas says she was grateful for the opportunity to work remotely during the pandemic since joining the BCS team in March 2021. In fact, she completed her first research project while in hotel quarantine after returning to Canada from a six-month stay visiting family in Mexico last year. 

“The work we do at the Business & Commercialization Solutions department is so impactful because we are helping brands grow.”

“This first project will always have a special place in my heart because I realized that the work we do at the Business & Commercialization Solutions department is so impactful because we are helping brands grow,” says Perez-Islas, describing the project as an environmental scan, competitive and target market analysis and creating the pricing and promotions strategies for a pasta sauce brand.

Following that project, Perez-Islas worked on market research for a notable Canadian chef looking to start a root vegetable chips brand.

“What I liked about this project was the chef’s passion for connecting with consumers from various communities such as Caribbean, African, Latino, and Asian through her brand image, flavours and marketing messages,” she says. “As a person who loves cultural diversity, this was an exciting and valuable project.” 

She also describes herself as someone who is easily bored, so learning from different areas in a field like business and marketing is a perfect fit for her curious nature.

“I like how this field allows you to explore your creativity while putting into practice a set of multiple skills,” she notes. “You learn a little bit of everything, from accounting, business law, international commerce, marketing and even psychology because you have to understand consumer patterns and behaviours.

“All the skills I am acquiring can later be transformed into something big like a brand or product.”

Her appetite for learning new things was evident at her previous employment with a local Japanese restaurant. The company has what they call a “roll test” in which the server would learn the ingredients used to make 82 different sushi rolls – among other things – on the menu. 

After acing the quiz, Perez-Islas then wanted to learn about the marketing side of the restaurant. She contacted the human resources manager and asked if she could join the marketing team as an apprentice.

“I knew they were not hiring, but I did not care about the pay; I genuinely wanted to learn more about my program,” notes Perez-Islas. “When the marketing director saw my passion, he decided to give me a chance.” 

“I like how this field allows you to explore your creativity while putting into practice a set of multiple skills.”

As a marketing apprentice, she learned customer data management, market mapping and how to create promotional materials. Although she left that job to accept her current position at BCS, Perez-Islas is now learning the Japanese language online in her spare time.

Reflecting on the past few years, Pere-Islas says she was not expecting to stay in Canada after her English course was completed, although “deep down,” she always wanted to pursue a career here to have a better quality of life and gain her independence.

“I didn’t have the chance to be as independent as I am now because of the lack of opportunities,” she says. “And with the level of violence, primarily in my city, I couldn’t even go out by myself – which is something everyone should be able to do without fear.”

Looking to future goals, Perez-Islas vows to help empower other women, particularly those living in her home country.

“Although Mexico is a beautiful country, there is a surge in violence against women and gender inequality. There is so much talent that has been overshadowed by the lack of opportunities for women,” she adds.

“I want to inspire them to fight for their happiness, to believe that they can achieve anything, and to take the reins of their life.”

Go-to-market research for new agriculture product

Researchers Christine George and Derek Schulze with AETIC are shown evaluating the performance of hydrangeas at Kamps Hydrangea farm in Vineland. These blue-flagged hydrangeas have been amended with varying levels of zeolite as part of a trial with International Zeolite Corp. 

Zeolite is one of nature’s more multifaceted minerals. With its microporous honeycomb structure, the volcanic mineral acts as both a natural filter used in water and air purification and an absorbent utilized by the agriculture industry to modulate water and nutrients.

Toronto-based International Zeolite Corp., which operates its own zeolite mine in British Columbia, is a supplier and marketer of natural zeolite and zeolite-infused products for environmental, livestock and agriculture industries.

International Zeolite’s newest venture entails creating a Canadian and North American market for the Cuban product Nerea, a proprietary, environmentally friendly technology that embeds nutrients directly into the zeolite. According to the University of Havana Foundation research, when used as a substrate or a soil amendment in agriculture, Nerea produces higher yields of crops and uses less water.

The company has partnered with Niagara College’s Research & Innovation division to conduct two equally significant research projects. One project comprises a comprehensive market analysis of the greenhouse environment in Canada to determine the industry where Nerea fits best. The other involves hands-on trials to test and validate the product’s technical performance.

“The challenges are to verify that the benefits obtained in Cuba can be replicated in Canadian conditions,” explains Ray Paquette, CEO, International Zeolite, “and also to determine how to promote commercial adoption of Nerea-based substrates and soil-based media.”

If validated, Paquette says the benefit to southern Ontario is that growers will gain access to an innovative technology that substantially improves greenhouse production systems’ environmental performance while enabling yields and costs of production that are competitive with existing production systems.

“Working with the Business & Commercialization research team has been both a pleasure and professional. The team was great, and their market research report is a valued guideline.”
~ Ray Paquette, International Zeolite

In addition to potentially contributing to enhanced plant productivity, and therefore grower profitability, Nerea differs from conventional greenhouse hydroponic systems, says Paquette, in that the plants access the nutrients and water only as they are required, rather than continual cycling of soluble nutrients.

“This product has significant potential to improve greenhouse agriculture in southern Ontario in the production of vegetables, berries and floriculture,” adds Paquette.

Researchers from R&I’s Business & Commercialization Solutions (BCS) team took up the challenge of understanding the markets and analyze where the company could potentially focus on commercialization.

Throughout the project, the BCS team performed comprehensive research on a number of markets in the Canadian greenhouse industry: horticulture, floriculture, organic, tropical plant and vertical indoor farm production.

The research experts also provided an extensive breakdown of the substrate industry, including the materials used in substrates, their various properties and common uses. An analysis of the COVID-19 pandemic and its effect on these industries was completed to better understand relevant trends in the industry.

Results of the market research suggest Nerea would be an ideal candidate for growing lettuce in the greenhouse hydroponic market, a soil amendment within the horticultural industry, and also as a retail plant or home-growing solution.

“Working with the Business & Commercialization research team has been both a pleasure and professional,” says Paquette. “The team was great, and their market research report is a valued guideline.”

International Zeolite is also currently engaged with R&I’s Agriculture & Environmental Technologies Innovation Centre for an applied research project to conduct trials of Nerea.

Both projects have received funding through the Niagara College-led Greenhouse Technology Network (GTN), through the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario (FedDev Ontario).

To learn more about the capabilities offered by the Business & Commercialization Solutions team or discover how initial feasibility research is helpful before engaging with Research & Innovation for applied research projects, visit the website.

Salon business achieves new revenue stream

Salon owner Paola Girotti still finds it emotional to talk about the early days of the pandemic. Specifically, the point when she knew everything had changed and her business faced a long road of lockdowns.

Girotti has operated the Toronto-based SugarMoon Salon for more than 20 years. With three locations, the business offers their clientele body sugaring, skin care and spray tanning. The business model was successful and by January 2020, Girotti’s company – a living wage employer with dedicated staff – had big plans in the works for franchising the business within Canada and the United States.

That all changed in the spring of 2020 when it gradually became clear to Girotti that her business would likely never be the same.

“We had to unwind our mindset because we went from building an entire franchise model to, ‘How can we support ourselves?'”
– Paola Girotti, SugarMoon Salon

“We went from preparing for a franchise expansion to me writing records of employment for my staff,” Girotti explains, visibly choked up. “We had to unwind our mindset because we went from building an entire franchise model to, ‘How can we support ourselves?’”

While it was a difficult time, Girotti says that things started to turn the corner when she decided to make a drastic pivot. In the face of continued lockdowns, in which her salon could not accept in-person clientele, Girotti decided to bring her sugaring products and skin care line directly to people’s homes.

Ultimately, the one thing that offered optimism for the future, she says, was working on a plan for this new revenue stream with Niagara College’s Business & Commercialization Solutions (BCS) team, part of the Research & Innovation division.

 

 

“Working with the research team kept us hopeful,” says Girotti. “And it kept us committed because we knew we could learn how to take this product to a new level.”

The Sugaring Take Home Kit includes everything used by professionals but is made easy to use at home. Sugaring is different than hair waxing in that it is made with all-natural sugar, water and lemon juice and is much gentler on the skin for hair removal.

Even though the business already had developed at-home kits, they needed a better understanding of this new market and who and how to target this market. They also needed in-depth knowledge of navigating the world of social media and online sales, says Cailey Ward, the salon’s marketing manager.

“We went to school to learn how to take care of people, not about social media; that’s really a specialized skill and it’s prohibitively expensive to pay for that expertise.”

The research team at BCS conducted an environmental scan to uncover key trends of the hair removal industry, looking at consumer perceptions and hesitations. They then did a comprehensive competitive analysis, target market identification and outlined potential markets in both business-to-business and business-to-consumer channels and their behaviours.

“We learned an exceptional amount from the Niagara College team. The research was invaluable to a small business like ours.”
– Cailey Ward, SugarMoon Salon

In a final report, researchers presented the company with a range of promotion strategies on how to best reach the identified target markets. A detailed understanding of social media strategies and how to successfully execute these campaigns were shared, along with branding and distribution ideas.

As part of the recommendation, SugarMoon has since implemented a separate e-commerce-based website to sell the at-home boxed kits, along with skin and body care products.

“We learned a lot about how people behave online,” explains Ward. “The team strongly suggested we have a stand-alone Instagram account, to complement our website, and we are so glad we followed that advice.

“We learned an exceptional amount from the Niagara College team. The research was invaluable to a small business like ours.”

Today, SugarMoon Salon is in the process of opening a fourth location, in Girotti’s hometown of Thorold. As more revenue from this new location streams in, the goal is to expand their online store and incorporate more key strategies outlined in the BCS report.

“We are so grateful for Niagara College’s help… we would work with them again in a heartbeat,” adds Girotti.

Alongside providing essential assistance to a small business, the research project also provided practical, real-world experience for the business research assistants with BCS, whose hours were funded through the RBC Future Launch program –a $500-million Canadian initiative aimed at helping young people access meaningful employment through practical work experience, skills development, networking and access to mental well-being supports and services. 

Through the BCS at Niagara College, the RBC Future Launch program is being used to connect students with businesses who require support for market research, go-to-market strategies and steer or creatively pivot their business model.

Kaitlyn Jonker, a former research assistant with BCS, credits working on research projects like these with helping her become career ready. The 2021 graduate of NC’s Business – Sales & Marketing program was recently hired locally as a sales & marketing representative at Martek Supply.

“It was working on projects like SugarMoon that provided me with the knowledge and experience that I take with me into my new career,” says Jonker, who was on the research team providing market research and promotions strategies for the business.

“For me, the Research & Innovation centre at Niagara College was a foundational part of my college career,” adds Jonker. “It helped me gain personal confidence in my abilities, while learning new skillsets that will benefit me in my future endeavours.”

To discover if your business could be a candidate to receive assistance from the research students at Business & Commercialization Solutions through the RBC Future Launch program, contact project manager Paula Reile at [email protected]

To learn more about the capabilities offered by the Business & Commercialization Solutions team or discover how initial feasibility research is helpful before engaging with Research & Innovation for applied research projects, visit the website.

 

Partnering with Research & Innovation on Applied Research Projects

Niagara College’s Research & Innovation division is currently offering small- and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) a way to advance their product development, improve their performance or take an innovative leap forward, thanks to government funding from various sources, and service opportunities available with our Innovation Centres.

These FAQs may help answer some questions about how we engage with industry: 

 

Who is involved?

Niagara College works with companies from key sectors to access college resources to facilitate research projects in food and beverage; advanced manufacturing; agriculture/greenhouse and environmental technologies; and business & commercialization.

What is involved?

Small- to medium-sized businesses (SMEs) partner with our research teams of students, graduates and expert faculty, to:

  • •  develop new prototypes, products, process
  • •  improve manufacturing production processes
  • •  assist with design & creation of technology applications (Internet of Things, Industry 4.0)
  • •  increase food safety & explore shelf-life extension technologies
  • •  bring products closer to market
  • •  enhance greenhouse operations
  • •  advance horticultural practices
  • •  gain market research, marketing plans and/or social media plans

Visit the web pages of our innovation centres to learn what we do in each area:

What are the results?

Industry partners take away new prototypes; products; processes; and test results that validate their products and services, bringing them ever closer to market.

Who owns the IP developed?

In all cases, the intellectual property developed during the project belongs to the partner.

Do these projects cost anything to the SME?

It depends on the funding being leveraged, but there is usually a requirement for some cash and/or in-kind contribution from the partner company. For example, the in-kind contribution can be equipment, use of company facilities, or time from company experts. Part of the in-kind commitment is the involvement of staff from the company in the project to ensure thoughtful communication throughout the project and facilitate the transfer of technology at the end.

What programs are available now?

Our research teams of students, graduates and expert faculty are either working in labs or on-campus – following health and safety protocols – or working remotely on R&I applied research and technical services. 

We are still available to speak with you about your potential project ideas, and how we may be able to put our research centres to work as partners in solving your applied research challenges. For information on current opportunities for those projects can be found here. 

How can I learn more?

Visit ncinnovation.ca, or contact Elizabeth Best, Business Development Coordinator: [email protected]

Celebrating the Class of 2021

What an exciting time! This week, during the Spring Virtual Convocation ceremonies, we have the honour of celebrating all graduating Niagara College students. I’d like to give special recognition to those, from a variety of Niagara College programs, who have spent part of their journey with us at Research & Innovation, whether as junior or senior co-op students or part-time research assistants. Some of you were able to work in labs on campus, following health and safety protocols, while others were able to work on projects with R&I remotely from your homes.

R&I graduates, we are especially proud of the resiliency you have shown during this past year, as you shifted to a new College life. We are grateful to you for having enriched our lives, while also helping our community businesses thrive. It has been our privilege to watch you grow, both personally and professionally. Wishing you all success for a healthy and prosperous future.

Krystle Grimaldi
Director, Research & Innovation

 

Research & Innovation congratulates our graduates for Spring 2021:

 

Business – Sales & Marketing

Kaitlyn Jonker

International Business Management

Roger De Oliviera Prado

Honours Bachelor of Business Administration (International Commerce & Global Development

Angela Walsh

Computer Programmer Analyst (Co-op)

Brian Culp
Max Cashmore
Nate Spilka
Scott Stratton

Computer Programmer

Bruno Vidal
Danylo Kukanov
Fabio Lopes
Felix Pozojevic
Priya Kaur

Culinary Innovation & Food Technology

Chloe Huang
Thao Nguyen

Brewmaster & Brewery Operations Management

Geoffrey McLellan
Ricardo De Araujo

Mechanical Engineering Technology (Co-op)

Scott Leuty