Photo of the MaRS Discovery District building. CC via Flickr by the City of Toronto.

The University of Toronto has recently announced a major collaboration with Janssen Inc. and the Ontario government to launch the Johnson & Johnson Innovation incubator (JLABS) in Toronto. The brand new 40,000 square foot space at the MaRS Discovery District will launch in spring 2016 and will support researchers and entrepreneurs with lab space, mentorship programs, and potential investment opportunities. The incubator will focus on startups working with early-stage technologies in biopharmaceuticals, medical devices, and digital health.             

The recent collaboration will extend the Johnson & Johnson Innovation program for the first time outside the United States. The Toronto location will join similar ventures in San Francisco, San Diego and Boston. As a leader of biomedical research and innovation in Canada, the University of Toronto will in collaboration with the Ontario government invest $19.4 million to the program to support the province’s growing life science sector.              

JLABS @ Toronto will provide participating companies with access to talent and mentors, capital, and opportunities to work with large existing firms. In addition, the new space will be located at the West Tower of MaRS Discovery District, and will include a new digital prototype lab to develop new technologies in the digital health sector.             

The JLABS program is unique from other biomedical start up incubators in its approach. JLABS will focus on a flexible model with no strings attached, which means that there will be no equity or intellectual property taken from any start up involved in the program. The new program will join the existing entrepreneurial ecosystem at the University of Toronto, feature nine camps led accelerators under the Banting & Best Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, including the Hatchery and Creative Destruction Lab.             

The city of Toronto is in a unique position due to its prolific healthcare and life science community, led by multiple hospital partners, research centres, as well as hosting top scientists in the biomedical field. The recently announced Medicine by Design Initiative, which focuses on regenerative medicine therapies, will also collaborate with the new JLABS.              

Recently, Meric Gertler, the president of the University of Toronto, announced that in the past three years, the university’s students and faculty have created more startup companies than any other North American university. A further addition to the Toronto startup ecosystem, the JLABS program will continue to enhance the university’s place on the global biomedical sector. “This program represents a great opportunity for University of Toronto students, especially undergraduate-led startups,” said Professor Scott Mabury, U of T Vice-President of Operations. “A great deal of research at this university is completed by our undergrads, and I hope to see that they go on to lead successful companies in the biotech sector. I hope to see a strong representation of U of T at the JLABS incubator.”             

“Right now, most of the research happening in an academic institution stays in the lab. With this program, we hope to take knowledge from our research pipeline and translate them into viable businesses. In terms of the long term benefits, we hope to create more jobs in the life science sector and create more opportunities for entrepreneurship in Canada,” said Mabury.             

Construction of JLABS Toronto is currently underway, and is expected to reach full occupancy by spring 2016. The first cohort of the program will include 50 early-stage startups which will lease the space on a short-term basis. The new space will be modelled after successful JLABS programs in the United States, and the best practices of which will be adopted to accelerate the impact of this new collaborative workspace.

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