U of T to transform regenerative medicine thanks to historic $114-million federal grant

The University of Toronto is set to cement its position as one of the world’s leading centres for the design and manufacture of cells, tissues and organs that can be used to treat degenerative disease, thanks to a $114-million grant from the federal government.

“Our government is investing in research and innovation to create jobs, strengthen the economy and improve the quality of life of Canadians,” said the Honourable Ed Holder, Minister of State (Science and Technology). “This legacy investment in Medicine by Design will harness Canada’s strengths in regenerative medicine to treat and cure serious injuries and diseases that impact every Canadian family while creating new opportunities for Canadian health-related businesses.”

The final pitch: Impact Centre closes the chapter on its flagship Techno program

Techno final pitch event

Few businesses survive with the mantra: “But we’ve always done it this way.”

In true entrepreneurial form, the Impact Centre—the University of Toronto’s oldest campus linked accelerator—has once again embraced the characteristics of disruptive thinking. After five years of their flagship Techno training program and the successful launch of 100 startups, Impact Centre has announced their most recent set of graduates will be their sixth and final cohort.

The intense summer Techno training program will be repositioning itself to offer a new and improved roster of services.

“We have had an incredible five years with Techno, but it’s time to re-imagine our offerings in order to fit the current market needs,” said Cynthia Goh, director of the Impact Centre. “This doesn’t mean our students will be left behind. We will still offer our Techno business à la carte services and our graduates have each set a plan with us and will continue to work towards successfully commercializing their business ideas.”

Making the unexpected ordinary

In 2010 when the Impact Centre initially launched Techno, an intensive four week program that teaches science and engineering students the components of creating a healthy and profitable business, it was a novel and unique venture.

Since then, entrepreneurial programs similar to Techno’s model have become increasingly popular across the country and beyond. In an effort to provide cutting edge programming that supports today’s innovative thinkers, the centre is in the process of identifying a new market opportunity and finding a better way to nurture our entrepreneurs.

“As scientists, we are always trying to make things better. Our experience with Techno over the past five years has helped further our understanding of how to support early-stage technology companies,” said Goh. “We now want to apply these insights into new sustainable programs that will further our mission to translate new fundamental scientific knowledge to help improve quality of life.”

Goh has a track record of spearheading programing that advances entrepreneurship in Canada. In addition to creating Techno, she was also recognized in 2014 as the winner of Startup Canada’s Entrepreneurial Effect Award for founding MaRS’ Entrepreneurship 101 program, identified as one of Toronto’s startup focal points.

Needless to say, the startup ecosystem anxiously awaits Impact Centre’s next move.

The impact

By integrating science into viable technologies, the Impact Centre teaches its students how to take their knowledge out of the university laboratory and into society. Notable businesses that have come out of Techno include: Dan Hosseinzadeh, CEO at PathCore

  • PathCore Inc.: Operating systems to help pathologists automate the diagnosis of cancer and other diseases (pictured right, photo by Jennifer Roberts).
  • Kinetica: High-performance damping and isolation technologies to improve the safety and resilience of buildings, bridges and other infrastructure.
  • Attodyne: Designs and manufactures state-of-the-art picosecond lasers for micro machining materials processing and research.

“Over the five years of Techno, we’ve worked with over 100 companies bringing science to benefit society,” said Richard McAloney, Impact Centre’s director of technology and entrepreneurship management. “Some of these companies have raised significant capital, made sales and been featured in national media. However, even for the companies that did not grow past the lab bench and initial pitch, the skills and network that they gained from the program will help them in future endeavours.”

The month-long intensive program cumulates in a pitch event showcasing their graduates’ refined product or service in a six minute presentation.

This year’s pitch event took place on July 10, featuring a record 24 teams presenting their diverse technologies, ranging from medical and assistive devices to wastewater pollution sensors and robotics (learn more about this year’s cohort).

Looking to the future

Over the last few years, the entrepreneurial landscape has altered dramatically. There are more resources and opportunities available than ever before dedicated to helping foster entrepreneurship across Canada.  U of T alone has 9 different accelerators, coordinated by the Banting and Best Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (BBCIE). Each accelerator aims to support students and faculty across multiple disciplines and areas of interest. (For more information on entrepreneurship visit www.entrepreneurs.utoronto.ca)

Keeping the wealth of support available at U of T and the GTA in mind, the Impact Centre is currently working towards identifying a new program model that will stay true to Goh’s innovative style.

“The Impact Centre have been pioneers, leading boldly from the front ever since day one,” said Karen Sievewright, managing director of BBCIE. “Science and technology is such a fast-paced environment that, as an accelerator, if you don’t keep your finger on the pulse of what today’s startups need in terms of support, you’re going to get left behind. The Impact Centre understands this and I have no doubt their revamped program will address the unique challenges today’s top entrepreneurs face.”

While the chapter has been closed on the summer Techno program, this isn’t the end of the centre’s entrepreneurship support programs. Armed with a passionate staff and what seems to be a never ending supply of talented and motivated students, the Impact Centre’s new program will be one to watch.


This startup combines genomics with one of technology’s hottest fields: Deep learning

Meet Deep Genomics, a privately-held company that seeks to harness the power of deep learning to transform medicine

It’s the first startup in the world to combine more than a decade of world-leading expertise in the fields of both deep learning and genome biology.

Its goal: to transform the way genetic diseases are diagnosed and treated.

Launched July 22, Deep Genomics was spun out of research at the University of Toronto and its founders say it will transform genetic testing, pharmaceutical development and personalized medicine. The company is already grabbing headlines around the world. (Read the Washington Post story. Read the Globe and Mail story.)

iamsick.ca’s grand challenge

How can a Canadian digital health startup like iamsick.ca improve healthcare access for pregnant women living in rural parts of The Philippines?

“You begin by collaborating with another U of T startup… add some sweat and perseverance… along with financial support from Grand Challenges Canada… and soon, you’ll be improving lives beyond our borders.” – Ryan Doherty (President & co-Founder – iamsick.ca / PhD candidate – Medical Biophysics )

It isn’t surprising that remote areas of the world have limited access to healthcare. When it comes to maternal health, this means limited access to obstetricians and diagnostic services that you would see in larger metropolitan areas. In the Philippines, it can be as extreme as 44% of pregnant women giving birth without access to a doctor.

Last Spring, we teamed up with another U of T startup, Sonola Imaging Technologies, whose specialty is creating portable ultrasound hardware, and prepared a Grand Challenges Canada proposal to build a maternal health ultrasound mHealth app & web platform.

Nurses and midwives in remote satellite clinics will use Sonola’s portable ultrasound device and our android app to record ultrasound images. These images would then be easily accessed & viewed by physicians at major health centres in nearby cities.

Last October, Grand Challenges Canada awarded us with a grant to support the project.  So, while working on the iamsick.ca website and mobile apps to help Canadians navigate the healthcare system and book online appointments with their doctors, members of our team have been hard at work on this global health project.

Our team is designing & developing the android app & web infrastructure, while Sonola is building the hardware that will be used to capture the ultrasound images. By working together, our two early-stage Canadian start-ups will create a system that will hopefully redefine maternal health access in rural parts of the Philippines.ultrasound-diagram

The ultimate goal of this project is to create a low-cost and scalable product. In contrast to traditional ultrasound machines, we are using readily available hardware, such as low- to mid-range Android phones and chip sets. In the future, this system could eventually be used to monitor pregnant women living anywhere in the world – whether it’s here at home in Canada, or in regions of the world with high maternal mortality rates. The potential impact of telemedicine systems like these are endless.

As for our system, we’ll finish building it this summer and pilot it in the Philippines before the end of the year.

If you have a bold idea for a innovative technology or process that will help tackle a global health challenge, please check out the Grand Challenges website and take part in their next call for proposals.


NBA’s Ben Gordon signs on to U of T wearable tech sports coaching startup, Onyx Motion

Onyx Motion is partnering with NBA shooting guard Ben Gordon in a bid to raise the calibre of digital basketball coaching offered by the company’s first-of-its-kind-tech, a smartwatch app that offers on-court skills guidance.

“We’re hoping to build a motion marketplace – a library of data, moves and audio tips from pro players,” said Onyx Motion co-founder and Chief Executive Officer Marissa Wu, a 2013 engineering science alumna.

When the SpaceX rocket blew up his experiment, this U of T engineer saw it on Facebook

Aaron Persad was on a teleconference call June 28 with his employer, a company that does contract work for NASA, when he saw the news on his phone – it was about NASA, and it wasn’t good.

Persad, a post-doctoral fellow in U of T’s Thermal Dynamics and Kinetics Lab, learned from a Facebook posting by a friend that an unmanned SpaceX spacecraft carrying supplies to the International Space Station had blown apart two and a half minutes after liftoff from Cape Canaveral, Fla.

Ideas to impact

It takes more than a great idea to launch a product. A new fellowship sponsored by the Health Innovation Hub (H2i) at the Faculty of Medicine is helping entrepreneurially minded students take their health-focused projects from ‘concept’ to ‘commercially viable’ prototype.

H2i is a health-centric business accelerator that’s part of a network of entrepreneurship programs at the University of Toronto. The Health Commercialization Awards support student creativity to improve health care and the ways it is delivered.

Supergreen: Turning renewable natural gas waste into fertilizer with U of T startup, CHAR Technologies

The problem with ‘green energy’ solutions is that some of them aren’t so much ‘green’ as they are ‘green-ish’ or ‘green-er’ than alternatives.

Take renewable natural gas. It’s seen as a clean and carbon-neutral alternative to fossil fuels. But as a form of energy rising from decomposing organic materials in landfills, natural gas starts out quite dirty.