Connecting SFU and innovation: where the university and external community meet

Meet Nicky Dhaliwal. Dhaliwal joined Simon Fraser University in early 2018 and since then, has made significant strides in her role as the Strategic Initiatives Coordinator within the Office of the Vice-President, Research (VPR). As the project lead for the VPR Office’s strategic initiatives, she works to ensure the university is fulfilling its commitment to university-wide initiatives, specifically in innovation, entrepreneurship and community-engaged research. Much of the behind-the-scenes work that Dhaliwal takes care of supports programs that fit under SFU Innovates—the university-wide innovation strategy—which helps students and researchers mobilize their ideas for positive social and economic impact. Programs such as RADIUS, Coast Capital Savings Venture Connection® and SFU VentureLabs®—to name a few—offer students and alumni with support in the innovation ecosystem. 

Additionally, Dhaliwal facilitates opportunities between the university and external communities. She identifies resources and facilities available at the university to support business needs expressed by researchers, government and industry. Some of these resources and facilities include connecting the external community with faculty members and with the university’s core facilities and departments, such as 4D LABS and the Industry Engagement team. There are many valuable resources across the university that can serve the innovation and entrepreneurship community in a meaningful and beneficial way—and raising awareness about these opportunities is essential to Dhaliwal’s role. She attended the recent 2019 #BCTECH Summit—Western Canada’s largest annual innovation event—and played a key role in meeting with event attendees about what SFU has to offer in the realm of innovation, research and entrepreneurship. 
With #BCTECH Summit wrapped up, and the growing interest in changemaking, entrepreneurship and innovation at the university, SFU Innovates staff sat down with Dhaliwal to share more about how her role contributes to putting SFU at the forefront of the innovation community. 

Tell us about your role at SFU. What are your primary responsibilities? 

I help manage and coordinate activities for a number of high profile initiatives that are of strategic priority to SFU and specifically to the Office of the Vice-President, Research portfolio. In my role, I work closely with faculties and departments such as SFU’s Industry Engagement team and big data to identify university, industry and government partnership opportunities. It’s a combination of match-making, relationship building and program management, all in one. No two days are the same, and I love that about this role. 

Please share about your work experience before your current position at SFU. 

I moved to the lower mainland from the Okanagan where I completed my Master of Management and began my career in higher education at the University of British Columbia (UBC).  My role at UBC was an evolving one, but one that was very similar in capacity to what I am doing now. I gained significant experience in business and academic program management, strategic planning and even international relations. It was a natural transition to SFU, where I have been given the opportunity to not only grow my skillset, but also contribute in important ways. 

What university-wide initiatives are you responsible for? 

I collaborate with SFU faculty and staff on two large-scale university-wide initiatives: SFU Innovates and Community-Engaged Research. 

I have the privilege to work with an amazing team who advance and champion innovation at SFU, including SFU’s Industry Engagement Office staff and the Director of Entrepreneurship, Sarah Lubik. SFU Innovates offers programs and services for faculty, staff and community partners in business incubation and acceleration, intellectual property licensing, entrepreneurship education, social innovation and more. 

The Community-Engaged Research initiative at SFU embodies our vision to be the leading engaged university. It is also one of our research clusters within SFU’s 2016-2020 Strategic Research Plan. The project has been led by Susan O’Neill from the Faculty of Education. O’Neill has worked with a committee of faculty and staff dedicated to strengthening the capacity for collaboration between SFU and our communities for reciprocal exchange of knowledge and resources in the context of meaningful, reciprocal and productive research partnerships. The goals of the Community-Engaged Research initiative include—but are not limited to—establishing sustainable programs, platforms and networks to facilitate, support and recognize projects within the initiative; and providing meaningful opportunities and the space needed for community groups to collaborate with SFU researchers. 

What are you most excited and passionate about since joining SFU?

The university’s commitment to contribute positively to society through initiatives like SFU Innovates and Community-Engaged Research aligns to the values that I hold near and dear to my heart.  SFU is a place that nurtures bold ideas and simultaneously challenges pre-existing notions of what is good—and right.  Every day is a new opportunity for me to learn from truly inspiring people like Vice-President, Research and International, Joy Johnson, Susan O’Neill and Sarah Lubik, to name a few. They are living examples of changemakers. It is my hope that I can one day inspire others to live and work to support initiatives that are meant to make our world a better place. 

Do you have questions about innovation at SFU? Get in touch with Nicky Dhaliwal directly by emailing