How Proof-of-Concepts Fosters Tech Innovation in Canada


April 1, 2024 - 10 min read

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A Proof-of-Concept, or PoC for short, is a prototype of an IT product. Both private and public bodies use PoCs to verify if their ideas are worth implementing, accounting for various financial indicators such as ROI. The major advantage of this approach is that it not only equips you with powerful insights but, in some cases, also lets you close entire funding rounds.

In this article, we look at Canada’s PoC arena and analyze how the state and some of its most prominent business entities have managed to leverage its underlying potential.

Where Proof-of-Concept and Innovation Intersect

Proof-of-Concept (PoC) serves as a pivotal tool in the innovation journey, contributing to both sustaining and disruptive innovation across the entire adoption curve.

For instance, Shopify, a Canadian-born company, changed the e-commerce landscape forever with its initial PoC, demonstrating the feasibility of an easy-to-use online platform. This attracted innovators and early adopters, and as Shopify evolved, sustaining innovations like improved payment gateways and user-friendly interfaces were introduced through PoCs. Those proved instrumental in broadening the adoption curve, appealing to the early and late majorities.

In contrast, BlackBerry, another Canadian company, showcased a disruptive innovation with its never-seen-before smartphones targeting business professionals. The initial PoC attracted innovators and early adopters, but BlackBerry faced challenges as competitors introduced sustaining innovations in touchscreen technology and app ecosystems. The adoption curve shifted away from BlackBerry to newer smartphones, demonstrating the complex interplay between disruptive and sustaining innovations.

PoCs were essential in both cases, serving as the catalyst for initial market acceptance and subsequent evolutionary steps, influencing the trajectory along the adoption curve.

The State of Proof-of-Concept in Canada

Having examined instances of PoC innovation within the private sector, in this section we turn our attention to the initiatives undertaken by the government. While private enterprises supply much of the innovation drive, government agencies play a crucial role in fostering technological advancements, economic growth, and societal progress. This exploration will shed light on how governmental bodies contribute to innovation through various programs, policies, and Proof-of-Concept implementations.

Virtual Cargo Pre-Screening

Between May and November 2022, the collaboration between the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) and United Parcel Service Canada Ltd (UPS) unfolded in a groundbreaking Proof-of-Concept, aiming to revolutionize cargo pre-screening procedures. During this period, Border Services Officers (BSOs) situated in Canada meticulously examined X-ray images of goods destined for the country from a European location, a novel approach preceding the actual arrival of the goods in Canada.

Armed with this pre-arrival intelligence and other shipment data, BSOs made strategic decisions on either releasing the goods or recommending a physical examination upon entry. The primary goals of this initiative were to assess the efficacy of pre-screening technology in pinpointing potentially risky goods and to explore avenues for streamlining the processing of incoming goods to Canada.

The positive outcomes of this Proof-of-Concept extended beyond its objectives, encompassing the testing of an innovative tool for enhancing risk assessment in e-commerce shipments, the modernization of border operations, and the refinement of existing processes within commercial programs.

Noteworthy aspects include the provision of supplementary information for BSOs, the demonstration of the potential for remote targeting of goods, and the establishment of a forward-looking model applicable to future pre-screening operations. Furthermore, the initiative illustrated promise for optimizing business processes, which offered crucial insights required for future modernization endeavors. As a testament to fruitful collaboration, it emphasized the essential nature of strong partnerships between governmental bodies and industry stakeholders, playing a pivotal role in advancing border security and operational efficiency.

Innovative Solutions Canada Grant Program

The Innovation, Science and Economic Development (ISED) department has launched a program aimed to simplify embarking on an innovation journey. The eligibility criteria form the initial checkpoint, ensuring that submissions are exclusively from for-profit small businesses incorporated in Canada with 499 or fewer full-time equivalent (FTE) employees engaged in research and development activities within the country. The multifaceted program urges potential innovators to subscribe for challenge information, review ongoing challenges, and subsequently create a profile to propose solutions. Timing is crucial, as challenges are available for applications at varying intervals, with applicants advised to adhere to deadlines for successful submissions.

Steps toward innovation include:

  • Eligibility Check: Small businesses must adhere to specific eligibility criteria, being for-profit entities incorporated in Canada, engaging in research and development activities within the country, and meeting employee and executive residence criteria.
  • Subscription: Interested parties are encouraged to subscribe to receive information on challenges, a crucial step to stay informed about available opportunities.
  • Proposal Submission: After reviewing ongoing challenges, small businesses can create a profile and propose solutions aligning with the specific challenge requirements.
  • Evaluation and Funding: An extensive evaluation process follows, with selected innovators given the chance to receive funding of up to CA$150,000 for the development of a Proof-of-Concept.
  • Proof-of-Concept Development: Successful applicants proceed to the development of a Proof-of-Concept, a phase that can last up to six months.
  • Prototype Development: Building on a successful Proof-of-Concept, small businesses may be eligible for up to two years and receive up to CA$1 million in funding to support prototype development.
  • Pathway to Commercialization: The culmination involves federal departments or agencies considering procurement of the novel technology or service developed. Phase 3 sees funding from sources other than the set-asides in Phases 1 and 2, emphasizing flexibility in financial support without prescribed minimum or maximum spending limits.

The government’s role extends beyond funding, potentially becoming the first customer or facilitating the transition to the marketplace. With an emphasis on fostering innovation, the program underscores the collaborative journey between the government and SMEs, offering an actionable roadmap from ideation to market entry.

How Do You Take the PoC Route?

For companies seeking to develop a Proof-of-Concept but lacking in-house resources, outsourcing to a specialized team can be a strategic approach. Not every organization possesses the expertise or bandwidth internally to undertake such initiatives. In recognition of this challenge, we’ve prepared the following roadmap:

  1. Before diving into the PoC development process, assess your company’s internal resources and expertise. Identify gaps that may hinder successful PoC execution, prompting the consideration of external assistance.
  2. Clearly articulate the objectives your PoC is designed to achieve. Detail the specific challenges or opportunities it aims to address; this clarity will serve as a foundation for effective communication with the outsourced team.
  3. Conduct thorough research to identify potential outsourced teams or partners with the required skills and experience in PoC development. Consider factors such as past projects, industry expertise, and client reviews as part of the selection process.
  4. Establish clear channels for regular communication between your company and the outsourced team. Define reporting structures, meeting schedules, and key points of contact.
  5. Work closely with the outsourced team to define the scope of the PoC project. Clearly outline deliverables, milestones, and timelines to ensure alignment between expectations and outcomes.
  6. Develop a detailed agreement or contract that outlines the terms of engagement, including project scope, timelines, payment structures, confidentiality agreements, and intellectual property considerations.
  7. Provide the outsourced team with access to relevant information, data, and resources required for PoC development.
  8. Regularly monitor the progress of the PoC development. Set up constructive feedback loops to ensure alignment with your expectations. Address any issues promptly to maintain project momentum.
  9. Upon completion of the PoC, conduct a comprehensive evaluation. Assess whether the goals were met and if the PoC aligns with your company’s strategic objectives. Equipped with insight, refine and iterate.
  10. Depending on the success of the PoC, evaluate potential next steps. This may include further collaboration with the outsourced team, in-house development, or the need to scale the solution for broader implementation.

Ordering PoC in Canada

With a proven track record of more than 70 empowered enterprises, our professional team has been instrumental in crafting compelling Proof-of-Concept solutions that have garnered a remarkable US$10 million in initial funding. Comprising a dedicated group of more than 120 experts, we excel in providing comprehensive product engineering services tailored to assist entrepreneurs not only in validating their innovative concepts but also in rapidly constructing resulting solutions.

Our process begins with the creation of a rapid Proof-of-Concept to speed up the time-to-market. We gather feedback and data from the PoC to evaluate its effectiveness and feasibility, making necessary adjustments as required. Once the optimal solution is determined, we proceed with detailed planning and execution.

Throughout the implementation phase, we closely monitor progress and provide regular reports, collaborating closely with our partners to ensure alignment with their goals. As the solution takes shape, we work together to roll it out to a wider audience, meticulously testing each component to ensure functionality.

Even after the initial rollout, our commitment persists. We revisit the implemented solution based on new inputs, fine-tuning it as necessary to ensure long-term success.

On top of that, a partnership with EA Sports—the market-leading game publisher with a strong presence in Vancouver—has allowed us to gain a nuanced understanding of the Canadian market.

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