McMaster president Patrick Deane speaks at the Association of University Research Parks conference in Hamilton Wednesday. (Julia Chapman/CBC)

Some of the most important conversations about innovation at universities and research centres are happening here in Hamilton.

McMaster Innovation Park is hosting the annual Association of University Research Parks Canada Conference.

Carol Stewart, president of the AURP, said this year's theme of commercialization and collaboration is a challenge for all university research centres, regardless of how different each one is.

"All research parks are totally different," said Stewart. "But [commercialization] is something we all deal with at the research parks on a day-to-day basis."

Over the three-day conference, business developers and industry liaison officers from universities across the country will talk about how to take ideas and university research into innovation with economic benefit.

Stewart said this is one of Canada's downfalls.

"It's clearly defined that we do research really, really well in Canada ," said Stewart. "so when it comes to [research and development], it's the 'D' we need to work on [that means] building those bridges and allowing the researchers and the entrepreneurs to connect in the industry."

At the technology transfer session Wednesday morning, the topic was how universities fit into this picture.

Erin Skimson, director of business development at the University of Guelph, said universities are where the sparks and ideas happen, but turning those ideas into a product is time consuming and expensive.

"That's where in Canada, we are still trying to figure out univerities' role," she said. "We're missing the ecosystem on the development of ideas that leads to commercialization."

Part of the challenge is getting innovators and entrepreneurs in the same place at the same time.

"Interestingly, in the high-tech era of productivity and communication the interesting thing that we're reminded about here is the important of face-to-face contact," said Patrick Deane, president of McMaster and keynote speaker at the conference. "The physical interactions and collaborations that translate into commercialization in the long run."

Fitting that Deane made these comments in the Innovation Park, right down the hallway from the Innovation Factory office, an incubator-like organization that strives to do just that.

"The dialogue I think is the most important thing and the innovation factory is so important," he said.

 Deane spoke to Hamilton's innovations in health sciences, materials, manufacturing and the McMaster's contribution in sourcing ideas.

"You can quantify our impact in some way and people enjoy doing that and we contribute to the community in the Hamilton area," said Deane. "Beyond that is much more we can do and I think with this particular venture, we're at the start of our potential."

The conference continues all day today and tomorrow.