CIRC – Allowing Small Business to Compete with Big Business

Running a small business is not easy! Entrepreneurs have to navigate through many hurdles, prioritize efforts and take risks. All of this at a breakneck pace and on a shoe string budget. Among the most significant barriers is competition from large enterprise, which has deeper pockets and seasoned teams. In today’s market, which requires continuous evolution to change with the times, this can be a challenge.

The agility of small businesses can give them an edge over large enterprise. However, the lack of resources is often daunting. Among the foremost is the lack of access to a cross-functional and capable product development team.

How CIRC Helps

Experts skilled in the art of product development are often beyond the means of small businesses. This is where CIRC, a research centre based at McMaster University, comes in. It offers R&D services that can match the expertise and discipline of those housed at large companies, act with the agility of small businesses, and be available for hire on demand and at non-profit rates.

“We leverage the latest technologies, along with the brains and energy of some of Canada’s most advanced engineering researchers and students, to help ambitious emerging companies solve their problems,” explains Suvojit Ghosh, CIRC’s co-founder and managing director, who named this Innovation-as-a-Service. “IaaS packages these assets into a fast-paced professionally managed service.” The pioneering offering evolved out of Ghosh’s experiments with various models of university-industry collaborations, and won him the McMaster President’s award, the highest award at the University.

IaaS has been on offer in pilot scale for less than two years years, and has attracted a steady stream of clients. Twenty clients have been served so far from four different countries.

“CIRC is a storefront for the world to use the University’s intellectual and physical assets,” says Ty Shattuck, the CEO of the McMaster Innovation Park where CIRC is located. “The IaaS offering provides small businesses with access to the cutting-edge technologies that are transforming the economy, while engaging students in experiential, problem-based learning.”

How it Works

Projects are managed by CIRC’s principal research engineers and professional technologists, who often recruit capable students for short-term “gigs”, typically spanning two weeks to six months, to work on carefully-curated elements of the client’s real-world problem.

It’s a form of “teaching laboratory” that McMaster’s Dean of Engineering Ishwar K. Puri believes best prepares students for future success. “Students learn about emerging technologies and market trends, and use design thinking to develop solutions that provide value for a real-world client,” he says. “They also practice interdisciplinary cooperation, creativity and communication – all skills that today’s employers demand.”

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