The Big Read

Can Kitchener-Waterloo forge a new identity as a medtech hub?

In a hollowed-out warehouse across the street from Kitchener’s preeminent startup accelerator is the shell of what used to house the Ontario Seed Company. The 90,000-square-foot space doesn’t look like much now. But by 2023, the old greenhouse will start a new life as a different sort of incubator. 

In November, Kitchener City Council approved a plan to put $8.5 million toward the University of Waterloo’s $35-million Innovation Arena, a state-of-the-art research and development hub meant to churn out products to facilitate the digital transformation of Canada’s health system. 

“Health science is an area of growth; it’s an area that we’ll see increased pressure on government spending over the coming decades, and as a result, there will be lots of opportunities for startups to work in this space,” Kitchener Mayor Berry Vrbanovic told The Logic. “We’re already seeing it happen.”

The arena will serve as the new headquarters of the university’s startup incubator, Velocity. UW is projecting it will house 50 to 75 startups and 50 scale-ups in the space, generating a combined $95 million in private-sector investment and more than 800 jobs.

The centre adds to a densifying network of innovation accelerators in a southwestern Ontario region that’s worked hard to renew its identity as a tech hub in the wake of BlackBerry’s decline from its former heights. With its most recent generation of startups falling short of the lofty expectations their boosters had for them, Kitchener-Waterloo is now banking on medtech to help it stand out among the country’s tech ecosystems. And with the COVID-19 pandemic casting a halo around the health sector, the timing couldn’t be better.

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