York University as key player in cutting-edge entrepreneurial arena

Innovation York’s Cheryl Giblon discusses York as a vital player in Ontario’s high-tech entrepreneurial arena, opening a new accelerator space with IBM Canada in Markham in late 2016.

A highly inventive entrepreneurial space for York University in Markham opened in December 2016: the IBM Innovation Space – Markham Convergence Centre (IBM-MCC). York, ventureLAB, the National Research Council – Industrial Research Assistance Program and the Markham Board of Trade came together with IBM Canada to build upon years of collaboration.

This innovative space is part of the IBM Innovation Incubator Project, a $54 million initiative from the Province of Ontario, IBM and Ontario Centres of Excellence to help advance ‘made in Ontario’ innovation through rapidly accelerating commercialization. It is located in the IBM Canada headquarters at 3600 Steeles Avenue East.

Cheryl Giblon

Cheryl Giblon

In the following Q&A, Innovation York’s Industry Liaison Manager Cheryl Giblon discusses this initiative that strengthens York’s profile as a key player in the province’s cutting-edge entrepreneurial field.

Q: What’s unique about the IBM-MCC?

A: This collaboration focuses on creating value for entrepreneurs, providing 360 degrees of support – from helping companies get a business number to developing a business plan, executing on collaborative research projects and accessing IBM’s infrastructure.

The Markham Convergence Centre (MCC) ecosystem was founded five years ago − Innovation York was a key co-founder − but last year, we saw an opportunity to invite IBM into the fold, and move the MCC onto their campus.

The IBM-MCC unites startups, entrepreneurs, funding agencies and research experts from partner organizations in one space to help bolster the research, incubation, development and commercialization of business ideas, and to help companies scale up faster and drive economic growth in York Region and the Greater Toronto Area.

“We offer a fantastic accelerator space for small-to-medium enterprises and start-ups from York alumni, staff or faculty; and companies collaborating with York researchers.” – Cheryl Giblon

Q: Could you describe the Innovation York facilities and how they help to spark entrepreneurialism?

A: We offer a fantastic accelerator space for small-to-medium enterprises and start-ups from York alumni, staff or faculty; and companies collaborating with York researchers. We have offices and collaborative desks, and hoteling desks in the atrium area. The atrium space is also used by entrepreneurs who are associated with ventureLAB and IBM. Companies that work at IBM-MCC benefit from interactions with tenants and other entrepreneurs, as well as having an easy point of access to York University.

IBM Innovation Space - Markham Convergence Centre, interior

IBM Innovation Space – Markham Convergence Centre, interior

Q: How could a start-up company get involved?

A: Any interested start-up can apply. We look for companies that would benefit from being in the facility with easy access to core tenants including Innovation York, and IBM infrastructure and engineers with whom the start-up can interact.

Q: Could you give us an example?

A: Studio1Labs is a fabulous example. This is a startup now residing in the IBM-MCC that has developed a functional bed sheet made of fabric sensor technology that no longer requires wired attachments to the body to monitor patient health.

This came into being as a result of the owner entrepreneur’s lung infection and his military experience in which he became interested in efficient triaging. He and his partner developed this product to speed a patient’s comfort and recovery. One example of the bed sheet’s capability: as you breathe, your body moves, and this device can tell if there’s a change in your respiration.

“Many researchers, entrepreneurs and companies would never have thought of engaging with a York University before, but now they understand how innovative we are and the comprehensive support we can offer.” – Cheryl Giblon

Q: How did York and Innovation York help Studio1Lab, and how could these parties help to assist future entrepreneurs?

A: Studio1Labs’ founders, University of Waterloo graduates, developing their technology independent of any university, but decided to incorporate in early 2016 and engage with York University for assistance.

Introduced to the company during one of our industry-academic collaboration events, Innovation York began to work with Studio1Labs helping them to find research collaboration opportunities. As a result, Studio1Labs is now working with Laura Nicholson from York’s School of Nursing, Faculty of Health to assess the sensitivity of the sheet to measure breathing. They have worked with our nursing simulation lab to assess the effectiveness of the sheet on mannequins, and they are going to embark on a sleep study with adults as well. York researchers will eventually be working on building algorithms for the entrepreneurs that will allow for predictive analytics.

Innovation York also introduced Studio1Lab to York’s Advanced Disaster, Emergency and Rapid-Response Simulation project, and the company is now working together to explore how their technology could make triage in emergency situations more efficient.

In addition, Innovation York supported Studio1Labs through the LaunchYU program. The entrepreneurs successfully graduated from LaunchYU’s 2016 AccelerateUP program, and they continue to engage with Innovation York mentors and support services.

IBM Innovation Space - Markham Convergence Centre, interior

IBM Innovation Space – Markham Convergence Centre, interior

Q: How would you say this bolsters York’s reputation for cutting-edge innovation and collaborative entrepreneurship?

A: Innovation York’s evolution growth in scope and visibility in recent years has definitely broadened our reach and value proposition. We are really focused on long-term impact, whether that’s translating research outcomes or supporting experiential education opportunities.

The research and entrepreneurial ventures we work with are truly innovative and cutting edge. We try to give them the support they need to be successful. Many researchers, entrepreneurs and companies would never have thought of engaging with a York University before, but now they understand how innovative we are and the comprehensive support we can offer.

To learn more about Innovation York, go here: www.innovationyork.ca. For more information on Studio1Labs, go here: http://www.studio1labs.com/. To read about the IBM Innovation Space – Markham Convergence Centre, see IBM: http://www.ibm.com/ibm/ca/en/canadian-innovation.html.

By Megan Mueller, manager, research communications, Office of the Vice-President Research & Innovation, York University, muellerm@yorku.ca