Chris Mathis, the President and CEO of Springboard Atlantic, is stepping down from the organization that promotes and coordinates the commercialization of technology at Atlantic Canadian post-secondary institutions.
Mathis told the group’s annual general meeting last month that he would be moving on to other opportunities. Springboard, which is in its 12th year, is now searching for Mathis’ replacement.
Springboard works with 19 colleges and universities across Atlantic Canada to try to amplify the economic impact of their research and development capacity. The organization, which landed $9.2 million in funding from the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency this year, acts as a dating service between industry and academia. It also offers funding and other support for faculty and students creating new companies out of intellectual property developed at the institutions.
“It’s time to look for the next adventure,” Mathis said in an interview Thursday. “It’s a good time to step down, given that we are funded to 2020, and the central staff are awesome, the network is doing well based on the results we are seeing.”
Mathis, who has held the position for six years, was vague about his own plans – he will assist Springboard Chair Brian Lowe and the board with the search for his replacement. Then he will look for a new role in helping a company or companies to scale and develop IP.
He was much more anxious to discuss the transformation Springboard has undergone since 2011, when Springboard had a part-time administrator and smaller role in the economy.
“We redefined the organization, its governance, its long-term strategic goals, including being inclusive of all forms of R&D and striving for sustainable operations,” said Mathis. “We built a transparent communication and trust base with the member institutions and the network of industry liaison and tech transfer officers – these being the real key to sustained engagement with the private sector.”
Springboard devotes a lot of energy to tracking its progress and is proud that its members signed 6200 contracts – mainly research work – with private enterprise in 2014-2017. It exceeds the target set in 2014 by 24 percent.
Mathis said these engagements range in size and complexity, but overall they help companies, including Atlantic Canadian companies, to grow and perform more efficiently. Meanwhile, Springboard has also contributed to startup and other early-stage products.
“In the last 12 years, this program put out $4.8 million, and current revenues returned to the institutions amount to $1.9 million,” said Mathis, adding that most of this comes from licensing royalties of about 5 percent of revenue. “So we can approximate company sales of more than $30 million have been likely generated. That is a nice ratio.”
He added the number of startups coming out of the universities is increasing dramatically.
One statistic that has not increased in the last two three-year periods is the total research spending at Atlantic Canadian universities. It was just over $1 billion in 2014-17, the same level as in 2011-14. Mathis said R&D funding tends to come in cycles and he’s optimistic about the near future. There’s an upward trend in ACOA’s Atlantic Innovation Fund funding and there are new opportunities offered by the Ocean Frontiers Institute and the pending supercluster applications.
Overall, Mathis is optimistic about the organization and its mission.
“It’s been a real privilege being in such a unique regional role, meeting so many companies and faculty,” he said. “And closer to my heart is the network and central staff that I work with on a daily basis – a real pleasure.”