Opening the doors to innovation

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October 23 marked a major milestone for our Strategic Plan with the grand opening of our centre of , Now at Southlake.

More than 100 eager and engaged community partners and entrepreneurs joined us to celebrate the opening. Channeling their excitement for the future of innovation here in Newmarket, Gary Ryan, Chief Innovation Officer, proclaimed that: “Today is all about what happens when you get a bunch of creative people together whose desire is, at a minimum, to figure out how to change the Canadian healthcare paradigm.”

As part of our Strategic Direction to Seek and Share Better Solutions, Southlake’s Research and Innovation team launched CreateIT Now in partnership with the Town of NewmarketventureLABSeneca CollegeYork University, and York Region, to foster innovation in the healthcare sector and serve as a catalyst for a health tech business cluster in Newmarket.

Located in the Southlake Village and structured as a health care focused business incubator, CreateIT Now offers the business advice one would expect from such an organization, and can now offer access to working space, meeting rooms, the ultra-high speed Ontario Research and Innovation Optical Network (ORION), and, most importantly, access to the Hospital—something you don’t often find in business incubators, but is crucial to the success of healthcare startups.

In Ontario, up to 90 percent of health care startups fail in large part because they don’t have access to the health care system while developing their product. “With no early adopters, no first sales, and no foothold in Ontario’s complex procurement system, too often these companies don’t get their products to market,” says Pat Clifford, Director of Research and Innovation.

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This sobering reality spurred Southlake to focus their innovation efforts on helping entrepreneurs get into the market. “We were concerned that devices and technologies that could have a real benefit for our patients might be lost if these businesses don’t succeed,” says Dr. Dave Williams, President and CEO. “To counter this, we focused on developing a business incubator and launched CreateIT Now at Southlake.

The incubator is working with a range of entrepreneurs, eager to evaluate the effectiveness of their ideas and see if their product can solve some of the challenges of our complex healthcare system. For example:

  • SterileCare is a fresh startup based in Newmarket developing a better way to avoid infections.
  • Inideo, founded by Southlake interventional cardiologist Dr. Sylvan Plante, offers a cardiac specific electronic medical record.
  • Kronos is a Winnipeg-based social networking company bringing its technology to link healthcare providers and improve clinical communication in the hospital environment.

To begin laying an innovation pipeline, three years ago, Southlake and ventureLAB collaborated to develop the Healthcare Ecosphere—a Dragons’-Den-style innovation pipeline that has start-ups pitch their products to Hospital and ventureLAB staff as a way to quickly connect with entrepreneurs.

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In the first two years Southlake chose to work with 14 companies through the ecosphere process. “The ecosphere showed us there are many promising companies using technology in ways that could make a difference for our patients, but they’re challenged to break into the healthcare sector,” says Ryan, “so it also proved there is a demand for a community-hospital-based incubator.”

The incubator has found more demand than initially expected, having now worked with more than 40 client companies whose devices and technologies are at every stage of development—most coming through word-of-mouth referrals.

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While it is attractive to innovators to get into a healthcare setting, the hospital is also benefiting from the ecosphere as a way to procure innovation. “It is working both ways,” says Pat Clifford, Director Research and Innovation. “We open our doors through the ecosphere to companies with interesting technologies and we also look to companies through an innovative procurement process that can solve problems for us. In so doing, they prove not only to us, but the Ontario and Canadian acute care sector, the solution works.”

Opening our doors to startups isn’t just benefiting the healthcare sector though. Barriers to start ups not only frustrate entrepreneurs, but also contribute to a national innovation gap. While Canada ranks third in per capita spending on research amongst Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) states, the country ranks 13th when it comes to commercializing that research.

“It’s a big gap, but we see CreateIT Now as our part to filling it,” Ryan says. “With a large global market for medical devices, which is estimated to reach US$440 billion by 2018, we see plenty of opportunities to leverage our hospital to commercialize innovative devices and technologies, and drive our economy.”

William Charnetski, Ontario’s Chief Health Innovation Strategist, echoed Gary’s sentiments during his keynote at the incubator’s opening, saying the current innovation climate is “one of those times in history where (we are) on the cusp of something; People now are talking about using healthcare as an economic driver in this country.”

With CreateIT Now in its new home, Southlake is seizing the moment to show that Hospitals can be a driver of the economy. “CreateIT Now is a model for hospitals of the future,” says Williams. “Fostering healthcare technology is a catalyst to a more sustainable healthcare system. By working collaboratively with startups we can play a role in shaping the technology to best benefit our patients and the healthcare sector, while also creating opportunities for Canadian companies to attract investment, create jobs, and close down the innovation gap.”