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Guidelines for Organizations Participating in Research Partnerships


NSERC offers a number of programs to support academic research in partnership with the private and public sectors. Although private or public companies are the most obvious means of exploiting research results commercially, other kinds of organizations may also be appropriate partners, particularly in early-stage or exploratory research, or research that contributes to the development of public policy.

Partner Eligibility Guidelines

The requirements for partnership grants under the Research Partnerships vary depending on each program and its objectives. Please consult individual program descriptions for more specific partner requirements.

As a minimum, any proposed partner—whether an established company, a start-up, an industry association, or a government department—must have a credible plan for exploiting the research results within Canada. The partner must show that it has the necessary expertise and resources to put the plan into effect, or the means and intention to develop this capacity, within an appropriate time frame.

Industrial Partners

  • An industrial partner is defined as a Canadian-based company that carries out research and development (R&D) and/or produces goods or services within Canada, deriving the majority of its revenues from the sale of these goods or services and not from government aid. Such partners must be able and willing to apply and exploit the research results for the economic benefit of Canada. Organizations without Canadian R&D and/or Canadian production of goods or services that are related to the objectives of the research project or program will not be considered.
    • Public utilities that operate on a fee-for-service basis (e.g., electricity, water treatment, and public transportation) may be accepted as eligible partners.
    • Canadian start-up companies (companies in the R&D phase) that have sound business plans and secure financial backing may be accepted as industrial partners. However, they must demonstrate that they have, or have the potential to develop, the capability to exploit the research results. University/college start-up companies must also refer to the Conflict of Interest Guidelines for Partner Organizations listed below.
  • Multinationals may be eligible if they have Canadian-based activities that meet the criteria above and if the funded activity leads to research results that will be exploited in Canada.
  • Foreign companies are not eligible as sole partners. However, foreign companies may be eligible, provided an eligible Canadian-based industrial partner (as described above) plays a major role in the project and the research results will be exploited in Canada.
  • An industrial partnership can consist of a single industrial partner, an industrial association or producer group, a formal or informal consortium, or a grouping of these. In the case of consortia, financial support to the project derived from industrial sources can be leveraged, and there must be active involvement in the research project from one or more member companies, or the consortium itself, if it can demonstrate the capacity to guide the project and disseminate the results for its member companies.

The eligibility criteria for organizations wishing to participate in the Training in Industry Program are described in the Guidelines for Organizations Participating in NSERC Industrial Training Programs.

Other Partners

For the Idea to Innovation Program, Canadian-based venture capital firms are eligible in Phase IIa through direct support of the research, or by investing in an R&D company in anticipation of developing the capacity to undertake commercial activity. Please see the program description for full details.

For the Strategic Project and Network Grants, government organizations are eligible as partners if they collaborate in all stages of the research project, provide guidance concerning the exploitation of the results and can apply the results in a way that strengthens public policy. Please see the program descriptions for full details.

If you are still unsure about the eligibility of a particular organization, contact NSERC.

Conflict of Interest Guidelines for Partner Organizations

In order to be eligible, the partnering organization must be at arm’s length from the applicant and co-applicant(s).

The partnering organization is not at arm’s length if the applicant or co-applicant(s):

  • has an ownership position in the partnering organization;
  • is employed by the partnering organization in any role, whether salaried or not;
  • is a member of a governing board of the partnering organization; or,
  • is related to a person who controls, or who is a member of a governing board that controls, the partnering organization (i.e., are connected by blood relationship, marriage or common-law partnership or adoption).

A researcher's own consulting company or sole proprietorship is not eligible as an industrial partner to collaborate on a project in which the researcher is the applicant or co-applicant.

All partnering organizations must be able to provide an objective assessment of the project progress. Therefore, the relationship between the partnering organization and the applicant and/or co-applicant(s) must be sufficiently independent that it is unlikely to have undue influence on: 1) how the research project is conducted; and 2) the determination of whether the stated objectives are being achieved or not.

A potential industrial partner (academic start-ups in particular, but not exclusively) may be considered independent of the academic researchers and the academic institution; therefore eligible as a partnering organization (with the exception of Engage Grants) if the conditions listed below are fully met. To be considered as an eligible participating organization, industrial partners who are in a potential conflict of interest situation but deem that they meet all of the conditions are advised to contact NSERC staff in advance of submitting an application. Industrial partners must be prepared, at application time, to provide a Statement of Partner Eligibility demonstrating compliance with NSERC’s conflict of interest guidelines.

  • There is significant investment in the industrial partner by sophisticated independent investors, indicating that there has been an objective assessment of the commercial potential of the research and the company's viability.
  • The industrial partner has its own facilities, physically separated from the university/college researcher's laboratory (e.g., located off campus or in a university incubator facility).
  • The industrial partner employs its own professional staff, apart from the university/college personnel; this staff must be able to receive and incorporate the results of the university or college research into the industrial partner’s operations.
  • The industrial partner is under the effective day-to-day management control of someone other than the applicant or co-applicant. This precludes the applicant or co-applicants from holding any internal or external positions (e.g., manager, executive, Chief Scientific Officer, etc.) that could influence any decision made by the industrial partner concerning the management of the project.
  • The industrial partner has established a Board of Directors with external members that are judged to be independent from the researchers (i.e., the majority of those members, including the Chair of the Board, must be at arm's length).
  • The applicant and/or co-applicants and their relatives (if applicable) do not have a combined controlling interest in the industrial partner (i.e., combined or sole ownership must be less than 50%). 

Note: The university or college, the applicant, and the co-applicant(s) have the responsibility to adhere to and comply with conflict of interest requirements included in the This link will take you to another Web site Tri-Agency Framework: Responsible Conduct of Research, university and college policies, and the This link will take you to another Web site Agreement on the Administration of Agency Grants and Awards by Research Institutions; and with NSERC’s Policy on Intellectual Property, which includes:

  • The commercial activity of the industrial partner conforms to the university or college's established policies relating to the disclosure of commercial interest and conflict of interest.
  • The university/college is prepared to ensure that the academic interests of students and postdoctoral fellows are protected.

Contributions from Non-Eligible Organizations

Contributions to project costs by non-eligible organizations (e.g., government departments) that are not in a conflict of interest situation, are welcome but are not taken into consideration when determining appropriate cost-sharing ratios. Direct or indirect support of a project by an ineligible organization cannot be leveraged, and eligible industrial partners that receive and pass along such support must demonstrate that their total contribution includes significant amounts from their own resources.

Guidelines on Eligibility and Value of In-Kind Contributions

The industrial in-kind contribution to a university-industry collaboration is documented in order to assess the level and nature of the partner involvement and the importance of its contribution to the success of the project. NSERC will recognize only those in-kind contributions that are considered essential to carry-out the work and which have been thoroughly documented and justified.

In-kind contributions considered essential to the research could be in the form of cash-equivalent goods or services that represent an incremental expense the industrial partner would not normally incur and which would have to be purchased by project funds if not donated. In-kind may also include the time of the industrial partner’s scientific and technical staff providing direction and participating in the project. In some cases the industrial partner may provide access to special equipment.

Contributions to the indirect costs of research—such as secretarial or accounting services, cost of time attributed to research management, general overhead costs at the industrial partner—or other indirect costs are not leveraged. While post-project activity at the industrial partner may be critical for the ultimate commercial exploitation of the results, these activities would not be essential to carry-out the immediate project and would not, therefore, be recognized by NSERC for the purposes of determining a cost-sharing ratio.

Regular industrial membership or subscription fees in industrial consortia, or payments to cover general operational costs or overhead charges to institutions eligible to receive NSERC grants, are not eligible as industrial contributions to NSERC grants programs.

Each case is considered on its merits, and while the aim of assigning a value to the in-kind contribution is to arrive at equitable cost sharing, quantitative assessments may prove difficult. NSERC exercises discretion in making the final decision.

The Eligibility and Value of In-Kind Contributions

This list is not all-inclusive. If in doubt as to the acceptability of a particular item, consult NSERC.

Category Accepted Not Accepted
Access to Unique Databases
  • Incremental costs of access
  • Cost of developing the database and collecting the data
Analytical and Other Services
  • Internal rates or incremental cost of providing service
  • Commercial rates
  • Donated (used)
    • fair-market value
    • company book value
    • price for internal transfers
  • Donated (new)
    • selling price to most favoured customer (if stock item)
    • cost of manufacture (if one of a kind)
  • Loaned
    • rental equivalent based on depreciation
    • rental equivalent to highest-volume rate
  • List price or discounted list price
  • Rental equivalents exceeding accepted values had the equipment been donated or sold
  • Development costs
Faculty Remuneration
  • Payment to the university/college for release time from teaching duties
  • Payments to the grantee as consulting fees or honoraria (additional to normal salary)
  • Unit cost of production for commercial products
  • Selling price to most favoured customer
  • Price for internal transfers
  • Cost of production of prototypes and samples
  • Development costs
Patents and Licences
  • Licences acquired from third parties for use by the university/college
  • Patent protection
  • Licensing fees paid to the university
  • Actual salary cost (including benefits) for scientific/engineering and technical (up to a maximum of $100.00 per hour)
  • Salary overheads, external charge-out or consultant rates
  • Salary and costs of administrative support staff
  • Salary and costs of management activities not directly related to scientific and technical contributions to the project
  • Cost of training and support (at the university/college site) for software by industrial partner personnel
  • Most-favoured-customer cost for one licence per software package
  • Cost of equivalent commercial product (where donated software is not commercially available)
  • Development costs
  • Travel costs to meet with university/college personnel
  • Conference travel
Use of Facilities
  • Internal rates for logistical support, food, and lodging for university/college personnel working on company premises or on field work
  • Internal rates for use of specialized equipment by university/college personnel or use of process or production lines
  • Internal rates for value of lost production resulting from downtime
  • Space for company activities outside the scope of the specific proposal
  • Equivalent commercial rates
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