A university is like an iceberg. Here’s how …
THE SPECTATOR’S VIEW
Most Hamiltonians, unless they are blissfully unplugged, have a sense of how important major institutions such as our hospitals, college and university are to our community.
Take McMaster University for example. On the surface, it’s impressive. Twenty-five thousand undergrad students. Something like 4,000 postgraduates. Six academic facilities. A major presence downtown. A major centre of research in key areas such as health sciences and engineering.
But impressive as those factoids are, they don’t tell the whole story. Not by a long-shot.
The influence of major institutional players like Mac goes much further than many people realize. This is true, to one degree or another, of all our key institutions. But today let’s talk about Mac.
The Spectator’s Natalie Paddon this week told a story that illustrates the point.
Sometime in the next year or so, Mac and its partners will bring forward 40,000-square feet of space designed to help researchers turn their research into market-ready business and innovation. Call this an incubator, if you want. It provides a safe and nourishing environment for researchers and entrepreneurs to spend time bringing research to market. Typically, these startups are small, possibly a handful of people or even less. Left on their own, they would struggle, especially since this sort of work is necessarily burdened by regulations, clinical trials and administrative demands. With few resources and limited finances, some, perhaps even many, might fail.
But put them in an incubator to cushion the hardships and complexities. Then put them in a supportive environment with the right technology and infrastructure with a bunch of other startups. They share the cost of administration. They can share the cost of technology, which could easily be prohibitive to individual startups.
This is hardly a unique recipe. It is already at play in some Hamilton industrial parks and at the McMaster Innovation Park. But we don’t necessarily link it with an institute of higher learning.
Some of the businesses will graduate from incubator to market. They will provide jobs, hopefully locally, and they will be jobs of today and the future, not of yesterday. They will pay taxes, easing the burden on the residential ratepayer. The university, and its partners, could rightfully be described as proud parents.
In this way, Mac and other key institutions are like icebergs. What’s above the surface is impressive enough, but what you don’t see can be even more so. The university isn’t perfect. There are so-called town and-gown challenges. But when we consider the overall value of a player like Mac, we need to consider what is behind the scenes as well as in plain sight.