What incubators and tech ecosystems can offer health startups

Access to connections with industry and market know-how is critical for ventures looking to scale beyond a Series A funding round. Startups operating in the health and life sciences space — where innovations may take years to see the light of day — commonly require support navigating a heightened regulatory environment and evolving end-user or beneficiary expectations. Young healthcare companies also need reliable sources of ecosystem knowledge as they enter crowded markets with powerful incumbents and attempt to court potential partners. That’s why the need for more specialized incubators to develop capabilities, talent and opportunities for deeply technical fields, like healthcare, which improve lives and help solve the world’s toughest problems, will persist.

Bring innovation under one roof — literally or digitally

Achieving results with the incubator model of innovation depends on geography, environment and access to informed industry resources. For instance, Y Combinator continues to churn out high-impact startups. Techstars employs a market-adaptable model that dives deep on key global industry verticals, with domain experts as partners.

In Toronto, for instance, MaRS Discovery District provides critical startup and innovation infrastructure under one roof (Disclaimer: JLABS is a resident and partner of MaRS). All three incubators employ subject matter advisors that support new companies and help them navigate crowded markets with well-known competitors.

Look to the public and nonprofit sectors for partnerships

Successful incubators also benefit from business-friendly public and academic sectors. In Canada, the government champions open immigration policies that present technology startups and talent with an opportunity to draw success from the world’s best people.

Universities in Toronto, Waterloo, Montreal, Edmonton and Vancouver churn out educated computer and data scientists with design to use their talents for noble pursuits. The onus is on local companies to attract and retain them. That’s where incubators can play a crucial role. The country’s academic scene complements the incubators by partnering with startups to conduct research — especially in the fields of healthcare, biotechnology, clean energy and artificial intelligence.

Keep your friends close and fellow startups closer

The healthcare industry still struggles with diversity in leadership: less than 1 percent of CEOs in the life science industry are women; minority ownership of STEM companies is only 8 percent. Incubators can help change that by bringing diverse groups together to share ideas and build technologies.

Supporting early-stage innovators with a place to work and resources to run their business ultimately benefits the global life science ecosystem overall.

In general, a key feature of incubators that helps sell the model to prospects is proximity to fellow entrepreneurs and subject matter experts. That’s why it is especially important for incubators to understand the nuances of the industry or technology they select. Incubators with focused offerings — specializing in launching healthcare startups with hefty or opaque go-to-market requirements, for instance — will have a better chance of success if they deliver quality services to a smaller, more targeted brand of startup that aligns with their expertise. Incubators fail when they over-extend and over-promise offerings — something to avoid at all costs.

Indeed, supporting early-stage innovators with a place to work and resources to run their business ultimately benefits the global life science ecosystem overall. I believe this will persist and the next generation of startups that launch to tackle the world’s biggest — and smallest — healthcare issues will need financial, regulatory and technological support to achieve their goals.

Thanks to advances in both medicine and technology, the opportunities to make a real impact on the world will continue to grow. Achieving results through incubators will require focus on quality of services, expertise of subject matter advisors and access to potential partnerships with industry, academic and public sector peers.

The goal when launching, and sustaining, an incubator for science-driven fields like healthcare should be to enable innovators to deliver much-needed healthcare solutions that reach people all over the world. Importantly, incubators should aim to help entrepreneurs do so at the speed of innovation experienced by other industries like transportation or finance. Ultimately, by removing operations, facility management, technical support and equipment needs common among independent companies, incubator-resident entrepreneurs can focus their time and money on what matters most — world-changing health innovation.

Canadian Tech: Only 5% Of Companies Have Female CEOs, Report Says

The new figures suggest that there is less representation of women at the helm in the country's tech sector than in the broader Canadian corporate world.

TORONTO — A new report says just five per cent of Canadian technology companies have a female founder and a similar fraction have a woman as CEO, figures which suggest the industry’s gender diversity is lagging other sectors.

The study, co-authored by PwC, the MaRS Discovery district and non-profit MoveTheDial, also showed that women comprise 13 per cent of the average Canadian tech company’s executive team while 53 per cent of firms do not have any female executives.

The new figures released on Wednesday, based on research and analysis of more than 900 companies, suggest that there is less representation of women at the helm in the country’s tech sector than in the broader Canadian corporate world.

Jodi Kovitz, the founder of MoveTheDial, says that as technology becomes intertwined into every aspect of modern life, it is “critical” that both men and women, and other diverse views, have a voice in shaping its decisions.

Tanya van Biesen, the executive director of women's advocacy group Catalyst Canada, says there seems to be a "bro" culture in some technology companies that is "at best ambivalent, and at worst, aggressive towards gender inclusion."

“Otherwise, we will not have solutions that are reflective of our actual population,” she said in an interview. “We have a long way to go in tech, in terms of advancing women to the leadership table.”

The study comes less than a month after the Canadian Securities Administrators released its latest review of female representation, which showed that at least 62 per cent of companies had at least one woman in an executive officer position.

The CSA’s review of more than 600 issuers also found that 14 per cent of total board seats were held by women.

That’s compared to eight per cent of board seats at Canadian technology companies, according to the report released Wednesday, which Kovitz says is the first, comprehensive study of its kind.

It also comes after some Silicon Valley tech giants faced accusations of sexism and discrimination, some of which have led to legal action.

Last week, three female software engineers sued ride-sharing company Uber for allegedly discriminating against women and people of colour. In August, a male engineer at Google wrote a memo which attributed biological differences between men and women as the reason why “we don’t have 50 per cent representation of women in tech and leadership.” The memo, which was denounced by Google CEO Sundar Pichai, went viral.

Tanya van Biesen, the executive director of women’s advocacy group Catalyst Canada, says there seems to be a “bro” culture in some technology companies that is “at best ambivalent, and at worst, aggressive towards gender inclusion.”

“That whole (technology) ecosystem seems very unfriendly to women and somehow seems to be lagging the thinking of even some of our oldest industries, like natural resources and banking, which is really surprising,” van Biesen said.

As we see more women in those ranks, and as we see more women starting these companies, then naturally that will have an impact on that next generation of women.

Women comprised 23 per cent of directors in the utilities and pipelines industry, and 16 per cent in financial services, compared to nine per cent in technology, according to the most recent gender diversity report by law firm Osler.

The chair of the Ontario Securities Commission, Maureen Jensen, said last week that it might be time to strengthen its measures to get more women on boards after little progress. The OSC does not have the authority to impose a specific target or quota for gender diversity, but she said the regulator is looking at options such as requiring companies to set a target and disclose progress meeting it.

Maithili Mavinkurve, co-founder of Canadian artificial intelligence company Sightline Innovation, is optimistic that the needle is moving as she encounters more female founders every day.

“As we see more women in those ranks, and as we see more women starting these companies, then naturally that will have an impact on that next generation of women,” she said.

There’s A Reason North America’s Tech Talent Is Heading To Toronto

Toronto recently made waves on the web with the news that the Ontario capital had become North America’s fastest-growing tech market.

According to the CBRE’s 2017 North American Scoring Tech Talent report, Toronto added 22,500 new technology jobs to eclipse tech hotbeds New York (5,370) and San Francisco (11,540) combined. In doing so, Toronto leaped from 12th to sixth in the overall annual ranking.

Bill Morneau, Canada's finance minister, tries on a virtual reality helmet during an artificial intelligence demonstration at the Vector Institute inside the MaRS Discovery District in Toronto, Ont., on March 30, 2017.

Those familiar with the red-hot tech job market in Toronto weren’t surprised.

“Absolutely I think that Toronto’s tech scene is booming,” said Lara Torvi, manager of media and community relations for MaRS. “We shouldn’t make the mistake of perceiving Toronto as less mature or smaller than we actually are. We are quite a hub and I think it’s just going to increase. We’re at a tipping point where we will become one of the world’s leading hubs for innovation.”

How did Toronto get here? Let’s take a closer look at the circumstances that have helped Toronto become a serious player in the tech industry.

Local talent

Torontonians, give yourselves a hand — the first reason Toronto is flourishing is you.

Analysts say that the city’s diverse workforce of highly skilled tech talent is a draw. CBRE’s report further found that the quality of labour locally is “very high,” scoring significantly better than far more highly paid talent in cities including Dallas, Minneapolis, Miami and Phoenix.

“We are recognized as one of the most diverse cities in the world, and I think that the way Toronto recognizes the fact that diversity boosts innovation is really good for business,” Torvi said.

Toronto’s other big advantage? We’re (relatively) light on the wallet.

The institutions

Having the University of Toronto, York University and a variety of other top educational institutions is a boon both for creating tech jobs and training tech talent.

CBRE’s analysis found a 35 per cent growth overall in tech degrees in the Toronto area between 2011 and 2015, with a 47 per cent boost in computer engineering degrees.

The University of Toronto alone houses 10 start-up accelerators, including the Creative Destruction Lab.

Then, of course, there’s the aforementioned MaRS network, which works with more than 1,000 ventures, employs more than 6,200 people, and has raised over $3.5 billion in capital.

“We’re considered the largest urban innovation hub at 1.5 million square feet,” Torvi said. “We have some of the leading centres for research and development in areas like artificial intelligence, stem-cell research, data science, cyber-security, and even blockchain and cryptocurrencies.”

People work on laptop computers at the MaRS Discovery District building in Toronto, Ont.


Toronto’s other big advantage? We’re (relatively) light on the wallet.

Out of all the tech talent markets included in CBRE’s study, Toronto was the second-cheapest to operate in with a $26 million total cost (only Vancouver did better), compared to $57 million for the Bay Area.

Unfortunately for those working in the field, Toronto’s talent was also much cheaper than the competition, particularly considering their high level of performance. The average tech talent wage in Toronto was $62,400, a far cry from the $123,200 brought home on average in Silicon Valley. Even the U.S. city with the lowest average wages, Oklahoma City, saw employees make an average salary of $74,400.

Still, observers expect that the more competitive Toronto’s tech talent scene becomes, the faster salaries will rise.

“As we look to Toronto as that hub, and as organizations are continually looking to invest in our infrastructure and talent, the focus of employers will shift to competitive pay and perks, efficient hiring methods, frequent reviews and positive corporate culture,” said Nima Mirpourian, branch manager for Robert Half Technology in Toronto.

“Those are important points to help combat the war for top talent in tech.”

Canada’s comparatively welcoming attitude toward immigrant workers has been a huge help.

Government immigration policy

As certain other countries competing for tech talent have tightened their borders, Canada’s comparatively welcoming attitude toward immigrant workers has been a huge help for companies recruiting the most talented people.

In June, a new federal program gave Canadian companies the option to bring in foreign workers in as little as two weeks. It’s a $7.8-million two-year pilot run as part of the government’s Global Skills Strategy. The government also recently announced that the Start-up Visa Program, which allows foreign entrepreneurs to get permanent residency if they move their companies to Canada, would be extended.

These policies are still new, but both could increase Toronto’s surging tech job numbers even further in the future.

“I think we’re just starting to see the results of some of those policies,” Torvi said. “There’s a lot more activity and excitement to come.”

See also:

10 high-paying jobs that will survive the robot invasion

3 Canadian cities to watch for tech jobs

What a coding bootcamp can do for your career

The money revolution: why you should consider a career in FinTech


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