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New SAIT lab gives entrepreneurs access to essential services

KICS program manager Peter Zyla (left) and Dr. Kaushik Parmar of Direct-C, the first of many tenant companies setting up shop in the new 2,200-square-foot Kinetica Innovation Centre at SAIT (KICS).

For entrepreneurs, the road from planning to production is rarely smooth.

You've had your "a-ha!" moment. You've done your share of research. But what about building and testing a prototype? Protecting your intellectual property? Finding government grants?

How do you connect with an industry partner? And how do you take that final step into full-scale commercialization?

"For a university research-based startup like ours, that next step after the research stage can be quite difficult," says Dr. Kaushik Parmar, co-founder and technical lead with Calgary's Direct-C Ltd., which is developing leak detection systems for crude oil pipelines.

"You need suitable space, a prototype plan, and proper facilities to validate the commercialization potential of your technology," he adds. "It can be very difficult-and quite expensive-to find such specialized places."

KICS resources support innovation

The Kinetica Innovation Centre at SAIT (KICS), opened last November, is a "one-stop shop" for clean energy technology startups and researchers.

A two-year pilot project, KICS is supported by Western Economic Diversification Canada, in partnership with SAIT, Innovate Calgary and the University of Calgary. SAIT's contribution to KICS includes a 2,200-square-foot, fully functional laboratory in the Applied Research and Innovation Services (ARIS) department, as well as a part-time lab co-ordinator to ensure operational and safety protocols.

"Until KICS opened, a lab like this simply didn't exist in southern Alberta," says KICS program manager Peter Zyla.

"A lot of ARIS clients would say: 'OK, I'm ready to build. Where do I go?' And we wouldn't be able to point them anywhere. Now we can."

Beyond the drawing board

KICS helps entrepreneurs from across industry, as well as U of C researchers, design, prototype and test their proprietary technologies. This wide-ranging suite of services includes:

  • A dedicated wet and mechanical lab, with ample bench space and access to fume hoods;
  • An accelerated  prototype program;
  • Access to world-class, on-campus ARIS services; and
  • Innovate Calgary's entrepreneur development and commercialization services.

Direct-C is the first tenant company to set up shop in the KICS lab.

After conducting extensive research at the U of C, Direct-C is developing a polymer-based leak detection system for new and existing pipelines in the upstream and midstream sectors.

Parmar expects Direct-C will be working at KICS for about a year, and hopes to begin field testing with pipeline industry partners by summer 2017.

"To work on our nanocomposites, we needed a laboratory with fume-hood access, and chemical processing services," he says. "KICS has been able to provide us all of that, and work with us on a prototype plan at the same time. A very good-quality laboratory."

Written by Todd Kimberley
Photographed by Trudie Lee