Taylor: What do insulin, peanut butter and the electric wheelchair have in common?

Well known Canadian innovations such as insulin, peanut butter, the electrical wheelchair, maple syrup, and the Canadarm used for Space Shuttles all underwent research and development to be brought to life and become the products they are today. Every day Canadian scientists and engineers are hard at work experimenting with different ideas that can change the world (because really, what would the world be like without peanut butter!?). Helping many of these scientists and engineers pursue their ventures is the Agency's Scientific Research & Experimental Development (SR&ED) Program. As the largest source of research and development (R&D) funding in Canada, SR&ED uses tax incentives to encourage businesses of all sizes to conduct research and development in Canada. So far, this program has provided more than $3 billion in tax credits to over 16,000 businesses annually. To continue supporting Canadian businesses, SR&ED has improved their services and tools by making them simpler and easier to use.

For the past two years, Taylor has spent her days digitizing tools and resources used by R&D companies to help them confirm their eligibility to receive SR&ED's financial support. Taylor told us, “businesses need to know whether their work qualifies for SR&ED support. Knowing the stakes, we were so excited to launch the new Self-Assessment and Learning Tool (SALT) which greatly simplified the process for potential claimants to understand if they will qualify.” Using SALT, claimants know almost immediately whether they are likely eligible for SR&ED's support, and can also receive an estimated amount their business may be able to receive from the program.

Before its current version, SALT required applicants to fill out two lengthy and text-heavy PDFs. As part of this process, claimants reported that they found it difficult and quite time consuming to fill out the forms. In fact, many people reported that they would just give up and not complete their SALT forms, and application to SR&ED. This meant that fewer R&D corporations who may have had very exciting and innovative ideas for the Canadian economy received the tax credits they might have qualified for. Due to the complex application process, SR&ED's financial resources were less accessible for the very people that they were created for. To improve this process, Taylor's team was asked to revamp SALT, and this time users were involved in its creation.

During the 14 months spent preparing for the launch of the first phase of SALT, Taylor describes the use of iterative usability testing. This type of testing identifies a variety of real users from the public to provide feedback on a certain product or tool. In this case, the newly designed SALT application was tested by a diverse group of people. “We took real feedback from users to help guide our tool and to help identify what worked well with the user in mind,” says Taylor. Prioritizing the needs of the users was so important for Taylor and her team that they conducted 10 rounds of testing, and went to great lengths to understand what would improve the process. This included making sure the word choices were deliberate and the layout of the application worked well.

Taylor pointed out that the changes to the before-and-after of the new application were dramatic. “With our first design iteration, users told us they felt overwhelmed having to scroll through 34 questions in the eligibility criteria section.” And so Taylor and her team got to work. With the help of different teams in the Agency, Taylor's team was successfully able to reduce the original 34 questions to 7 new succinct ones. The eligibility section of SALT was then simpler and less time-consuming for users to fill out. “Potential claimants could now easily check if they were likely eligible for SR&ED's tax incentives and the process was no longer overly demanding” explained Taylor.

By keeping the needs of Canadians in mind and taking into account their perspectives and feedback, SALT truly became a tool for the people. The soft-launch for SALT in November 2021 was highly successful and met with positive feedback from users. Indeed, this project was a “huge win” as Taylor states. “I look forward to using what I have learned throughout this process for the new initiatives that we have been launching,” adds Taylor.

Taylor's story is one of many showcasing the extra steps that SR&ED takes to ensure that businesses conducting R&D are able to access potential financial support. By making tools such as SALT user-friendly and easy-to-use, R&D businesses can continue pursuing their discoveries and ideas that may benefit the Canadian innovation economy. And with such life-altering Canadian innovations of the past (just like our beloved peanut butter), the future is certainly looking bright!

This story is part of a series to celebrate Small Business Week 2022.

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