February 5, 2010
Photo by Mark Ferguson
By Colleen MacPherson
Tricoll Services Inc., Agrivita Canada Inc. and 621602 Saskatchewan Ltd. are not likely familiar company names to most people, but they do have one thing in common – an ownership interest by the University of Saskatchewan.
Nine corporations in which the U of S has either a direct or indirect interest recently provided an annual reporting of activities to the Board of Governors, a process required under the university’s Policy on Centres which governs subsidiaries. According to Judy Yungwirth, director of Corporate Administration, incorporated entities are an important part of how the university manages its affairs
“There needs to be a good business reason for setting up a corporation,” she said, one being the opportunities they present for the university to advance its strategic directions and priorities.
“Subsidiaries are intended to offer new areas of activity for the university,” Yungwirth explained. By creating access to funding and investment from various agencies and business groups, partnerships with industry, limitations to financial and legal liability, and income tax considerations, subsidiaries can often do “what’s not easily undertaken within the university structure.”
As an example, a grant germane to a U of S research project may not be available to a registered charity, which the university is, but is available to a registered company, even if the university is a shareholder.
Yungwirth went on to describe the history and role of nine corporations currently on the books.
621602 Saskatchewan Ltd.
This company was established in 1997 to participate in real estate investment activities, primarily maintaining the lease on the Peterson Soil Mechanics Building. Because the U of S, as a registered charity, is subject to certain restructions under the Income Tax Act, Yungwirth said the subsidiary “made for a smoother transition of the lease arrangements” which are a revenue source for the institution. The company has no employees and a bank balance of about $11,000.
Agricoll Research Investments Inc.
Agricoll was set up in 1991, prior to the university’s establishing its Industry Liaison Office, as a vehicle for investing in research, education and technology transfer related to the agriculture industry, Yungwirth said. In addition to providing financing to commercial spin-off operations like the Prairie Swine Centre Inc., Agricoll has been involved in private sector partnerships related to the College of Agriculture and Bioresources. The company, which has accumulated over time cash and investments totaling about $1.5 million, is currently in what she terms “a quiet stage” waiting new business opportunities.
Tricoll Services Inc.
Tricoll, set up in 1992, is a wholly owned subsidiary of Agricoll but is currently inactive. Yungwirth said Tricoll was part of a joint venture between a number of U of S colleges (Commerce, Western College of Veterinary Medicine and Agriculture) and a private sector firm to engage in technology transfer and educational services as part of a Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) project. The company was necessary because project funding required participation by the private sector and could not go directly to the university, she said.
Prairie Diagnostic Services Inc.
This non-profit company was set up by the university and the Province of Saskatchewan in 1998 to join together veterinary diagnostic labs operating at the WCVM and in Regina. Its mandate is to provide diagnostic testing services, animal health surveillance in the province and to support U of S teaching and research.
Yungwirth said the Regina lab was closed in March 2009 to increase efficiency so the operation is now centered in Saskatoon. “This company has had lots of successes and is really an important part of teaching and learning within the WCVM.”
Saskatchewan Food Industry Development Centre Inc.
Known as the Food Centre, the non-profit company came into being in 1997 with the university, the provincial government and the Saskatchewan Food Processors Association as members. The centre is the primary occupant of the Peterson Building and operates the adjacent Food Centre Pilot Plant. Its goal is to support growth in the Saskatchewan food processing industry through training, technical service, interim processing, and product and process development.
The company’s successes include bringing 229 new products or processes to market, providing service to 137 clients and “incubating” 125 private companies, 15 of which have moved to their own facilities around Saskatchewan.
The company employs 15 full-time and up to six part-time staff.
PSC Elstow Research Farms Inc.
A subsidiary of the Prairie Swine Centre, PSC Elstow was set up in 1998 to take advantage of scientific and research development tax credits available when a provincial grant was used to build a 600-sow farrow-to-finish production and research facility near Elstow. But in late 2008, operations were suspended and PSC Elstow went into receivership, a reflection “of the state of the pork industry. The company,” she explained, “was based on a financial model that only worked when the industry was doing well.”
The shut-down of the operation was carefully planned, she said, to ensure employees and local suppliers were fully paid out. The land and buildings have been sold, the company has no assets and poses no risk to the university.
Agrivita Canada Inc.
A non-profit corporation established in 2007, Agrivita exists for the sole purpose of pursuing an Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada grant to support the Canada AgriSafety Applied Research Program in the Canadian Centre for Health and Safety in Agriculture.
Journal of History Company Ltd.
This company has been around since 1966, Yungwirth said, and was set up to produce a bilingual, Canadian journal in a structure that shielded the university from legal liability related to publication. That purpose was served when, in March 2009, the journal was caught up in a class action suit against publications that have been digitized. The U of S journal, along with all academic journals, have since been dropped from the suit.
Yungwirth said the journal’s board of directors plans to examine the structure of other U of S publications.
Pan-Provincial Vaccine Enterprise Inc. (PREVENT)
Established in 2008, PREVENT includes representation from VIDO, UBC and Dalhousie, and is focused on the commercialization of vaccines – promoting investment, moving vaccines toward market and conducting proof of concept clinical trials. Yungwirth said the company received a five-year federal commercialization grant that will allow it to establish revenue streams from commercialization to support further activity beyond the grant period.