The University of Toronto is collaborating with the University Health Network, the Hospital for Sick Children and Sunnybrook Research Institute on a new program that aims to leverage the expertise of entrepreneurs and business leaders to advance the commercialization of emerging medical technologies and regenerative medicine research.

Funded by the Government of Ontario, the Entrepreneur-In-Residence program will support projects displaying high potential for clinical impact and spin-off company formation, spanning areas ranging from regenerative therapies and medical devices to AI-powered clinical tools and apps for patient care.

The one-year pilot program is being launched with the help of a $300,000 grant from Intellectual Property Ontario (IPON), a provincial agency established in 2022 to provide IP resources and support to researchers and businesses.

“The Entrepreneur-in-Residence program will help take medical innovations developed in academic and hospital environments and translate them into the commercial arena, generating economic opportunity for the region and expanding clinical impact globally,” said Leah Cowen, U of T’s vice-president of research and innovation, and strategic initiatives.

“The University of Toronto is grateful to IPON for its support of this initiative, which stands to strengthen existing networks of knowledge exchange and collaboration between the university and its partner hospitals.”

 Jill Dunlop, left, Ontario’s minister of colleges and universities, said post-secondary institutions are critical incubators of innovation and commercialization (photo courtesy of IPON)

The program will see Entrepreneurs-in-Residence – individuals with a track record of launching science-based ventures and shepherding projects from proof-of-concept to incubation, acceleration and seed funding – liaise with U of T’s Innovations & Partnerships Office and IPON to generate and protect IP. It is designed to add capacity and scope to U of T’s thriving entrepreneurship and commercialization ecosystem, including existing Entrepreneur-in-Residence initiatives such as those offered by the Temerty Faculty of Medicine and Medicine By Design, an institutional strategic initiative (ISI).

“In today’s global knowledge-based economy, Ontario’s post-secondary institutions are critical –  not just as centres of learning, but as incubators for innovation and commercialization,” said Jill Dunlop, minister of colleges and universities, in a recent announcement of new IPON-funded initiatives.

“Through the province’s support of IPON, our government is ensuring the social and economic benefits of publicly funded research stay in our province so that Ontarians and the Ontario economy benefit from these new discoveries and innovations.”

Dunlop also spoke at an April 8 event with Christine Allen, a professor in U of T’s Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy with an extensive track record of translating and commercializing lab discoveries. 

Christine Allen, far right, is a professor in the Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy and the founder and CEO of Intrepid Labs (photo courtesy of IPON)

At the event, Allen highlighted the growth of her startup, Intrepid Labs Inc., which she co-founded with Alán Aspuru-Guzik, a professor in the departments of chemistry and computer science in U of T’s Faculty of Arts & Science and director of the Acceleration Consortium. The company marries Allen’s prowess in drug formulation and development with Aspuru-Guzik’s expertise in AI and advanced computing to accelerate the development of next-generation medicines. In the fall, the company closed a pre-seed round of US$4 million.

“The availability of top-notch talent in AI and life sciences made Toronto a great place to launch our company,” says Allen, who is Intrepid’s CEO, noting all four of the startup’s co-founders are from U of T.

She added that U of T is a powerhouse for entrepreneurship and intellectual property, ranked second in North America for university-based startups, and that companies with founders or co-founders from U of T make up a significant percentage of some of the fastest-growing companies in Ontario.

“This is the beauty of being at the University of Toronto and having the MaRS Discovery District across the street and all the hospitals around us. It’s such a rich environment,” she says. 

“We can do this in Toronto.”

Allen stressed that a thriving lab-to-market ecosystem is critical to inspire the next generation of entrepreneurs. 

“Students are increasingly seeking out roles in the private sector,” she says. “For them to see other students and faculty members [found startups] helps them realize that it’s possible for them to start companies, too.”