By Dr. Paul Smith, Vice President and Director, Xerox Research Centre Canada
One start-up has developed ground-breaking fiber optic sensors to help industrial companies monitor crucial information in harsh environments. Another start-up has figured out an ingenious way to use cellulose from black spruce trees to create an all-natural alternative to environmentally destructive plastic microbeads and silicates that can be used in a variety of industries.
While the products brought to market by Toronto-based AOMS Technologies and Montreal-based Anomera are vastly different from each other, both Canadian companies share something that has been critical to their success — they turned to the Xerox Research Centre of Canada’s (XRCC) Advanced Materials Innovation Hub to help develop their ideas and research into viable commercial products.
For more than 40 years, we at XRCC have been engineering advanced materials such as inks, toners and photoreceptors for Xerox Corporation. As the advanced materials research and development centre for Xerox’s operations around the globe, hundreds of Xerox products in market today rely on innovations from our research team in Mississauga.
In 2012, XRCC began offering fee-for-service research & development expertise and infrastructure to external companies to help them scale-up and commercialize their technologies. In 2014, together with the RIC Centre, we launched the Advanced Materials Innovation Hub, a one-stop shop where start-ups gain access to a variety of resources and experts to help guide them through every stage of their business journey, from ideation to commercialization. Since then, we’ve formed a partnership with the National Research Council of Canada, been joined by the Ontario Centres of Excellence and gotten involved in the Canadian Advanced Manufacturing Supercluster.
The Hub’s vision is to enable new companies to use their seed funding to develop technologies, rather than spend it on capital expenses. The Hub is credited with helping Toronto earn a spot on Innovation Leader magazine’s Top 10 Cities for Corporate Innovation (2017). Currently the Innovation Hub, which is a Xerox corporate initiative and does not receive any grants or other governmental financial assistance, hosts six promising Canadian start‑ups on site.
In AOMS’ case, the fledgling company came to XRCC in 2015 through the RIC Centre with three employees and an idea to create an integrated platform to support an Industrial Internet of Things (IoT). Three years later, the growing firm has developed fiber optic sensing technology to help industries enhance efficiency, reduce operation cost, increase safety, and improve environmental sustainability. AOMS’ fiber optic sensors are already gaining the attention of potential industrial clients. The company, which expects to grow to 15 employees by the end of 2018, recently signed a contract with a major oil and gas company to use its sensors for the first time in a pipeline monitoring application.
Innovative start-ups turn to @Xerox to help develop their ideas and research into viable commercial products.
AOMS CEO Hamid Alemohammad says XRCC offered the company something critical it couldn’t have afforded on its own — access to a world-class lab to conduct research. While the process of carrying out research at academic institutions can be extremely slow – gaining approvals, scheduling lab space and booking equipment operators – the XRCC is agile and quick.
Equally important, Alemohammad says working with the RIC Centre and Xerox has also given AOMS access to a vast network of prospects and leads, which have helped validate demand for their products and generate sales. Like AOMS, Anomera has carried out fascinating research and product development with the help of the XRCC over the past couple of years. Their work in green chemistry, materials science and sustainable manufacturing promises to change the way a number of industries do business.
Anomera began working with the XRCC two years ago. They leveraged XRCC’s facilities and know-how in process engineering to test and develop a new class of sulphate-free, natural crystalline cellulose microbeads and silicates from black spruce trees to replace environmentally harmful microplastics. While Anomera has initially envisioned its patented DextraCel and ChromaPur Neige for use in cosmetics and skin care ingredients, the products can be used in many industrial applications. The company is currently developing how its celluloistic nano crystal products can be used to improve many other products, including cements, paints, composites, polyurethanes, personal care products and as a delivery system for pharmacology. Howard Fields, CEO & President of Anomera, says XRCC has been critical to the company’s success and growth to date as it continues to utilize the centre’s facilities and expertise.
Both Anomera and AOMS are examples of the type of homegrown innovators Canada needs to foster and encourage. Canada has a long track record of innovation and is one of the heaviest funders of discovery research in the world. We are fortunate to have a highly trained and educated workforce. Not to mention, a wealth of budding entrepreneurs with bright ideas for new technologies. But where innovation and productivity often falter is in the critical stages of moving from research to scale-up and commercialization. That’s where many start-ups fall into the gap and fail to advance their ideas. XRCC is proud of the role we and our partners play in guiding start-ups past the risks threatening to take them down before they have even begun.
Our vision is to drive business growth through the commercialization of breakthrough materials, technologies and solutions. As we look to the future, XRCC will continue to invent and develop new advanced materials for Xerox, support young companies and other enterprises, and help accelerate innovation in Canada.
Dr. Paul Smith is the Vice President and Centre Director of the Mississauga-based Xerox Research Centre of Canada (XRCC), home to a world-class team of scientists and engineers with broad expertise in materials chemistry, formulation design, prototyping, testing, and chemical process engineering.