Some of the most innovative applications of technology to new health solutions are advancing towards commercialization at the University of Waterloo. This includes products from wearable monitors that call emergency services in the event of a heart attack to prosthetics with sockets that dynamically adjust to fit their users.
Thanks to a unique approach that combines high-calibre learning with an extensive support infrastructure for innovative ventures, the Ontario university known globally as a leader in math, engineering and computer science is also increasingly recognized as a driving force that enables health tech startups to go from idea to seed funding and beyond.
“The University of Waterloo is well known as a technology innovation school, but we also recognize the importance of leading at the intersection of technology, health and society,” says Catherine Burns, the university’s associate vice president, health initiatives, and professor in systems design engineering. “So, the question is, how do we do that in a uniquely Waterloo way?”
A big part of that answer can be found in the university’s flagship incubator, Velocity, which has supported more than 400 startups since 2008 and has an enterprise value of $26-billion (U.S.).
With an increasing number of health-related ventures being started, Velocity – which has worked with 70 health tech companies since 2016 – has launched an initiative focused specifically on health technology. Funded in part by the Government of Canada through the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario (FedDev Ontario), Velocity Health pairs the entrepreneurship expertise at Velocity with leaders in health care, health research, and other universities and business accelerators.
“As the flagship entrepreneurship program at the University of Waterloo for the last 15 years, Velocity has gained the knowledge and built effective processes to transform ideas into products that we want to get into people’s hands,” says Adrien Côté, executive director at Velocity.
A big challenge for health tech startups is understanding the regulatory processes for medical and health-care technology. Through Velocity Health, founders have access to experts who can guide them through the regulatory landscape, says Mr. Côté. Also, among the diverse set of resources available to founders are those related to business operations and fundraising.
“There are two distinct sides to advancing health tech: inventing a solution and developing a product, and the clinical and economic validation to prove that it is useful in the course of care so it can be adopted,” he says. “There are Velocity team members who have experience launching viable health technologies, and they work directly with our startups and lead the Velocity Health initiative.”
“We know that health care in Canada and in other parts of the world is in crisis, and that the right technology can make a positive impact,” says Dr. Burns. “With Velocity Health, we have a real opportunity to make a big impact and shape how health care is delivered. This is very true to the Waterloo spirit – we always want to work on high-impact problems and deliver game-changing solutions.”
Velocity will further expand its footprint in the ecosystem when it relocates this year to the Innovation Arena, a soon-to-be-completed hub in Kitchener that will offer collaborative spaces for businesses, founders, researchers and community partners.
Advertising feature produced by Randall Anthony Communications. The Globe’s editorial department was not involved.