The Ontario Centres of Excellence, a government innovation agency, is taking over Toronto’s OneEleven startup hub after a months-long power struggle over its future.
Both Oxford Properties Group, which is OneEleven’s landlord and long-time backer, and the federal-provincial agency confirmed Tuesday that Oxford would transfer OneEleven’s brand and intellectual property to OCE after talks that stretched back into the spring.
Technology news websites The Logic and Betakit reported the OneEleven takeover on Monday evening. Oxford spokesperson Daniel O’Donnell said Tuesday that the brand transfer would come at no cost, and that any financial terms would be for a lease agreement. Neither party confirmed the agreement’s value.
OneEleven was launched in 2013 as a non-profit and rose to become one of Canada’s most well-known startup hubs. The OCE, an agency that funds commercializing new technologies, was one of its original founders, alongside Ryerson University and the Ontario Municipal Employees Retirement System pension fund, better known as OMERS.
It became a for-profit startup hub in 2018, with its chief backers shifting to OMERS and Oxford Properties Group, the pension plan’s real estate wing.
But after the pandemic struck, OneEleven said in April that the prospect of future financial constraints was forcing the hub to shut down permanently, leaving dozens of startups uncertain about their future and 15 staff laid off – despite a staff proposal to keep the hub both open and cash-flow-positive, sources told The Globe and Mail in June.
Numerous suitors approached Oxford about the OneEleven brand, including Paramount Fine Foods founder Mohamad Fakih, who hoped to keep the startup hub private rather than government-funded, like many of Toronto’s other prominent startup organizations.
OCE has offices in the same Oxford building on Toronto’s Front Street West as OneEleven. Oxford said it would lease one floor to run OneEleven, as opposed to the two it operated on prior to the pandemic. Oxford plans to eventually tear the building down for a development called Union Park, but does not expect to break ground until 2023.
The government agency said in an e-mailed statement that it “looks forward to working closely with all of our partners to support the revitalization of an important element of the local tech community and we will share further news in the coming weeks.”
An OCE spokesperson said in June that the agency had been approached by several OneEleven companies “to explore opportunities to restore the community and maintain continuity.” Oxford said at the time that about a third of the hub’s desks for startups had been vacated since the April shutdown announcement.
OneEleven’s alumni include Canadian financial technology companies Wealthsimple Inc. and Borrowell Inc.
“Our involvement with OneEleven has always been driven by our desire to assist Toronto’s tech community and we are thankful a solution has been found to achieve this goal,” Mr. O’Donnell said in an e-mailed statement.
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