Five R&D projects granted $14 M from feds

Daniel MacEachern
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The federal government Wed-nesday announced nearly $14 million in five projects in Newfoundland's ocean technology, information technology and medical research sectors.

Conservative MP Peter Penashue, regional minister for Newfoundland and Labrador, announced the funding in St. John's at the headquarters of fraud detection software company Verafin, which received about $3 million Hugo develop advanced analytics to combat increasingly sophisticated money laundering and fraud.

Also receiving funding Wednesday:

•    Bluedrop, a St. John's e-learning firm, which will receive about

$3 million to develop mobile products targeted at organizations with employees using smartphones and tablets;

•    Fisheries and Marine Institute of Memorial University, getting about $3 million for a project that aims to prove safety and efficiency for oil and gas operations in icy environments;

•    Memorial University, getting

$3 million for a microfluidic sensor technology project to measure contaminants in harsh marine environments, especially oil in water; and another $2.9 million for a project that will develop and commercialize a genetic test for better detection of certain genetic disorders.

Emad Rizkalla, CEO of Bluedrop, compared strategic investment of tax dollars to infrastructure spending.

“You need to get a critical mass. You need to help,” he said. “You’re not going to have full successes, which is the big thing that people focus on if one of them goes wrong, but you need to invest to get companies to a certain stage. We have gotten funds from all kinds of sources, but this is a way for us to keep a lot of our ownership here in Newfoundland, which is an important thing, and get it to a certain stage.”

Government involvement and investment in research and development is crucial to help develop business, he added.

“Research and development is risk money, and companies, big and small, they won’t do as much without the assistance,” he said. “The question is, do we want to have a society or an economy that’s got a lot of innovation and research and development, and if we do, every major jurisdiction that wants to do that, invests in this kind of work.”

Funding repayable

Rizkalla noted that the funding is repayable, as was all the government funding Bluedrop has received — and paid back — starting with its initial grant of $13,000, without which, he said, Bluedrop wouldn’t be around today, let alone have grown into a company that employs more than 300 people.

“Without that funding, we couldn’t have started. We wouldn’t have existed. No one would give us the money,” he said. “We’ve gotten subsequent funding that we’ve leveraged along the way and we paid it all back.”

Penashue said it’s important to help companies in their early stages.

“It’s important for the technology. It’s important for job creation, it’s important for training, and I think we have to be supportive of our region and make sure that the resources are getting to the right people so we can do the type of training and type of technology development that they’re doing here,” he said.

The funding comes from the Atlantic Innovation Fund of the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, a portion of $49 million in funding announced Wednesday in 21 research and development projects in Atlantic Canada. The funding announcement comes on the heels of news that regional economic development boards in Atlantic Canada will not have their funding renewed beyond May 2013.

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Organizations: Fisheries and Marine Institute of Memorial University, Atlantic Innovation Fund of the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency

Geographic location: St. John's, Newfoundland, Atlantic Canada

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