Cairns complex holds Niagara's future
14 Aug 2012

Brock University’s Cairns Family Health and Bioscience Research Complex has been dubbed a “game changer.”

Not because of its cluster of renown researchers. Not because of the cutting-edge 15,840-square-metre facility. And not because of its Biolinc incubator for entrepreneurs.


It must be successful because Niagara needs that now more than ever.

So says Jeff Chesebrough, Brock’s director of innovation and incubation, and CEO of nGen.

It needs to contribute to Niagara’s economy which has been so badly hit by the economic slowdown and the loss of well-paying manufacturing jobs over the last decade, he said.

“There is a huge amount of pressure to make this successful. There are only two ways this can go, we either have job creation or we don’t. We don’t take that lightly. This is a serious situation.”

The stakes are high and Chesebrough said he feels them very personally.

“I would love for my kids to have the option to live here when they grow up,” he said. “Right now, I don’t think that’s going to be the case. There just aren’t the jobs.”

Chesebrough said the complex, which welcomed its first researchers in May, will help the university, but it also needs to help create a community of entrepreneurship around it.

“It’s not necessarily just the companies within this facility, it’s what the eco-system around the facility becomes and people want to be near it because of the sharing and collaboration that can be leveraged.”

The $112-million facility is touted as a way for the school to boost knowledge in chemistry, health sciences, psychology and child and youth students. It will also be home to four Canada Research Chairs and dozens of faculty and graduate student researchers when it is completed this year.

Those research chairs are “high-performing” researchers whose work could make be commercialized or lead to other opportunities, said Ian Brindle, Brock’s former vice-president, research, and current special adviser to President Jack Lightstone.

Until the complex opened this year, researchers were working out of “broom closets,” he said.

“Brock was under-resourced in space and has been almost since it was built,” he said. “We can do things here that we couldn’t do before.”

The lack of space simply wasn’t the only problem. Bridging the gap between the researchers and investors has never been easy. But now, with the Cairns Complex, the all of the resources will be available.

“We put the companies together with the people who have the toys and do the work,” he said.

Brindle said the school will need to strike the right balance between research that must be done and research that can be commercialized.

Both are important and one must not take priority over the other, he said.

“One of the things that is important about research is you can’t stop,” he said. “Some of it’s not going to work. You have to accept that.”

Chesebrough said this is Niagara’s future.

“At the end of the day, we’re all here for job and wealth creation,” he said.