The road to manufacturing a first product leads many startups to China – but figuring out where to go once there can be daunting.
That’s what Bin Liu, the CEO and co-founder of mobility device startup iMerciv, discovered when he first sought out a Chinese supplier to make the plastic casing for his company’s BuzzClip, a wearable sensor for blind and partially sighted people.
“It’s pretty easy to find a [Chinese] manufacturer, but it takes awhile to find a reliable one,” says Liu, a University of Toronto engineering alumnus.
Now, U of T’s Impact Centre accelerator is hoping to make it easier for startups following in iMerciv’s footsteps to forge business connections in the country of nearly 1.4 billion.
The entrepreneurship hub, one of nine on campus, recently announced their intent to create a “soft landing program” in partnership with Chinese investment firm Diantou.net. The program, based in Nanjing, will provide technology, legal, marketing and other services to technology startups eager to gain a foothold in the huge Chinese market.
ImmunoBiochem Corporation completes a new round of financing led by angel investors and the company’s founding investor. The corporation has expanded its operations and is now located at Johnson & Johnson, JLABS, in the heart of Toronto.
The company is focused on solving tumour heterogeneity by targeting a class of proteins in the tumour microenvironment with antibody drug conjugates (ADCs). This is an anticancer therapeutics class that combines the selectivity of targeted biologics with the potency of highly cytotoxic small-molecule drugs. One of the highest priorities of ImmunoBiochem is to transform the lives of patients who have triple-negative breast cancer – an extremely aggressive disease that has poor survival rates and does not respond well to major therapies.
“We have now validated our approach in vivo in xenograft animal models of aggressive triple-negative breast cancer,” says Dr. Anton Neschadim, CEO of ImmunoBiochem. “With strong preclinical data demonstrating exceptional efficacy and safety, we are now seeking to complete preclinical development and accelerate these new therapies into the clinic.”
ImmunoBiochem in partnership with the Centre for the Commercialization of Antibodies and Biologics (CCAB) and the University of Toronto, developed fully-human antibodies for the treatment of breast cancer and solid tumours.
When it came time to develop his legal startup’s sophomore product, Benjamin Alarie did exactly what successful entrepreneurs are supposed to do: He listened to his customers.
The University of Toronto law professor co-founded Blue J Legal in 2015, using machine learning algorithms to predict the likely outcomes of future tax law cases. He focused on tax law because it was his area of research expertise and represented a potentially huge market.
Then something unexpected happened.
“We would be talking to lawyers at big law firms about employee classification from a tax law perspective, and someone would ask if we could come and show the labour and employment law group,” recalls Alarie, who is the company’s CEO.
“We would say, ‘Yeah, sure we’re happy to do that. But you should know [the AI algorithms are] being trained on all the tax case law, not employment law.’”
Paul Santerre recently flew to Boston to help launch a cerebral catheter that incorporates an anti-clotting polymer additive created by Interface Biologics, the company he co-founded nearly two decades ago based on his University of Toronto lab work.
It was the sort of business trip that should be routine for the U of T biomaterials professor, given that Interface, by his count, has previously made five such announcements.
But that didn’t dampen the enthusiasm of one of the university’s most prolific entrepreneurs.
“For Interface Biologics to be entering the neural area is big,” says Santerre, who has appointments in U of T’s Faculty of Dentistry and the Institute for Biomaterials and Biomedical Engineering. “A lot of imaging tools are starting to rely on catheter technologies to peer into spots where they can’t get the resolution they need with an MRI.
“This is an innovative product in an area that’s going to be a game-changer. It sets the stage for the next phase of growth for this local company of ours.”
There are bound to be critics, but deep learning “godfather” and head Google researcher Geoffrey Hinton says his latest contribution to the artificial intelligence, or AI, field could be just as important as his earlier, pioneering work.
“History is going to repeat itself,” Hinton, who is also a University Professor Emeritus at the University of Toronto and the chief scientific adviser at the Vector Institute for artificial intelligence research, told the New York Times this week.
Called a “capsule network,” Hinton’s new approach aims to make it possible for machines to easily recognize objects from different angles or perspectives – something the neural networks Hinton pioneered several years ago can’t do without a lot of practice.
The contribution is outlined in a recent paper co-authored with Sara Sabour, a fellow Google researcher who did her master’s in computer science at U of T.
Tony Lacavera has been at the forefront Canadian innovation and entrepreneurship since launching his first startup while still an undergraduate student in computer engineering at the University of Toronto.
Now, the serial entrepreneur and author says he doesn’t like the direction in which the country is heading – and he has some clear ideas of how we can change it and win on the global stage.
“I love Canada – there are so many great things about this country that I’d like to see survive. But I have a fear, and a knowledge, that we’re on a trajectory that’s not going to take us there,” said Lacavera, who founded and was the CEO of Wind Mobile. “We suffer severely from a tall poppy syndrome where we cut down our biggest and best and brightest.”
The critical first step, he said, is to change the Canadian mindset, which he describes as overly humble, modest and risk-averse. To do that, we need to start loudly and proudly celebrate Canadian successes, he added. “We have this egalitarian mindset here in Canada – we don’t like to pick winners. But we don’t have a choice anymore.”
Just like the purposeful gait of their child-sized robotic exoskeleton, the entrepreneurs behind University of Toronto startup Trexo Robotics are propelling their young business forward one step at at time.
Co-founders Manmeet Maggu and Rahul Udasi this week took first prize in a pitch competition organized by the philanthropic arm of Sunnybrook Hospital in partnership with U of T’s Health Innovation Hub, or H2i, incubator, among others.
The judges, including representatives from private equity funds and medical device companies, were won over by Trexo’s vision to help children living with physical challenges swap their wheelchair for a walker-like device equipped with robotic “Iron Man” leg attachments.
“The prize is going to be really helpful in enabling us to reach a commercial point,” said Maggu of the roughly $35,000 that Trexo will take home.
“The next batch of products we make, I’ll be taking one back to India for my nephew.”
When it comes to the heavily regulated medical space, Robert Brooks says entrepreneurs should steer clear of the launch-it-now-fix-it-later approach favoured by the Mark Zuckerbergs of the world.
“The Silicon Valley idea of ‘move fast and break things’ doesn’t work well in health care,” says the University of Toronto engineering alumnus and CEO of SensOR Medical Laboratories, referring to the Facebook CEO’s original mantra.
It was one of several words of wisdom dispensed by Brooks and fellow U of T entrepreneur Marek Pacal, who founded diabetes detection startup Optiggx, to nearly three dozen attendees at a Health Innovation Hub, or H2i, event this week. The event, held at Autodesk’s offices in the MaRS Discovery District, served to kick off H2i’s HealthEDGE Initiative, which is designed to encourage the creation and prototyping of solutions that address real health-care challenges through workshops, mentorships and a pitch competition.
The University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management is getting into the technology game.
The business school today launched the Rotman Financial Innovation Hub in Advanced Analytics, or FinHub, in an effort to spur financial innovation and entrepreneurship using potentially disruptive technologies like machine learning and blockchain.
In addition to creating new classes for students, FinHub will encourage research into financial innovation in parternership with U of T’s Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering and department of computer science, as well as promote engagement with the financial industry.
“There’s a lot of disruption in the financial services industry,” said Peter Christoffersen, a Rotman professor of finance and the TMX Chair in Capital Markets.
The television show 30 Rock once joked Toronto is “just like New York but without all the stuff.” But the same can’t easily be said when comparing the two cities’ startup scenes.
At least, that was what Huda Idrees took away from her recent visit to New York City as part of Toronto Mayor John Tory’s two-day trade mission to promote the idea of a cross-border tech corridor to rival Silicon Valley.
Idrees, a University of Toronto alumna who is the founder and CEO of health records startup Dot Health, says many seemed shocked to learn Toronto added more tech jobs between 2015 and 2016 than New York City and Silicon Valley combined.
“It was quite a surprise for most of the people there,” says Idrees, a U of T engineering grad who worked at several local startups before launching her own.
“That’s because, to them, Toronto probably feels like, ‘Yeah, it probably has a tech sector, but it’s probably not very big.”