The Northern College initiative aims to help local industries solve problems and help students gain experience in the industries that will be their employers
A pretty small college is able to do pretty big things, says the vice president of Academic and Student Success.
“Anybody who’s a fledgling entrepreneur or looking at some innovative technology or just wanting to think about creating ideas, that’s what we’re here for. Any businesses, any industry people that are out there — we want them to know we’re open for business and we’re looking for projects,” said Aaron Klooster at the opening of Northern College’s Innovation Hub today (Sept. 22).
Over $2 million was invested to create the 24,000-square-foot learning space at the Porcupine campus of the college.
It’s located in the wing of the college that used to house the firefighter and paramedic programs. After the Integrated Emergency Services Building opened in 2018, the college had empty space that has been retrofitted.
The wing features labs for manufacturing, prototyping, virtual reality, alternative energy and mining exploration, as well as a welding shop.
“The Innovation Hub is designed to really meet the requirements we would have for each of those areas. Any applied research projects that require a little bit of incubation space, meetings with some key individuals just to have some ideation sessions — we have space for that. If your project requires a bit of rapid prototyping — we have space for that,” he said.
The goal, said Klooster, is to help local industry while helping students gain experience in the industries that will be their employers.
“As a college, Northern has the applied learning environment and technical expertise to bring ideas to life,” said Audrey Penner, Northern College president and CEO, in a news release.
“When the industry has a problem, we want to be there to help them solve it. This space will help us do exactly that.”
So far, the college has worked with a couple of local businesses.
The hub has tested an impact glove for Mine Safety Solutions (MSS) and recently completed a project for The Bucket Shop.
“We worked on a project with them to 3D print essentially a tooth that would be part of one of their larger bucket designs. They can take that to trade shows now instead of lugging around a 300-pound metal carbide tooth they take this thing that weighs a couple of pounds, they can put it in a suitcase and bring it on a plane,” said Klooster.
The ideas for Innovation Hub projects can come from anywhere.
Klooster said a lot of research projects are with small businesses that have an idea and need help testing, designing or printing a piece.
“We’re full service when it comes to that. We have consultants here who work with us, faculty work with us greatly. One of the most rewarding things about having a facility like this is when you see faculty embedding it into their courses,” he said.
The department can also help guide entrepreneurs and help them access grant money.
The community partners for the project include Agnico Eagle Mines, IAMGOLD, Orica, Levert, and ACCES. FedNor, the Canadian Foundation for Innovation and the Ministry of Economic Development, Job Creation and Trade also contributed.