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Program developers and designers at Ryerson University’s Digital Media Zone during the Great Canadian Appathon, a 48-hour challenge open to post-secondary students throughout the country.

Galit Rodan/The Globe and Mail

A project that started in one room at Ryerson University three years ago will now be a bridge for Canadian start-ups looking to expand to India, as well as Indian start-ups looking to enter the Canadian market.

The Digital Media Zone at Ryerson has partnered with the Bombay Stock Exchange (BSE) in a new initiative to expand the reach of the digital economy in the two countries.

As one of Canada's largest incubators, the Digital Media Zone at Ryerson has created 784 jobs and launched a total of 92 start-ups, covering everything from photo sharing to the development of moving Exo-Legs, for use in rehabilitation and as a replacement for wheelchairs.

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The DMZ has existing partnerships with several schools in India, including the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay, Indian Institute of Technology Madras and Indian School of Business Hyderabad. These successes and the DMZ's educational connections in India attracted the attention of the head of the BSE, Ashish Kumar Chauhan. After visiting the DMZ, he offered the university office space in one of the world's most expensive locations: the Bombay Stock Exchange.

Sheldon Levy, the president of Ryerson, says the yet-to-be-named incubator will allow Canadian companies hoping to break into the market in India a "soft landing." If a company can make it in India, the experience will function as a trial run for expansion into Asia.

"This is a phenomenal opportunity for Canada," he said.

The DMZ is home to 345 innovators and 63 current start-ups. While Ryerson does not collect any royalties from the technologies or businesses created at the Toronto centre, it hopes the Mumbai location will generate profits.

In Canada, an arm's-length organization, Ryerson Futures Inc. (RFI), pools funds from private investors to provide capital to start-ups. At the Mumbai location, RFI plans to be more hands-on in the development of the businesses, assisting in raising funds and developing start-ups for eventual entry into Canada.

"Everyone wants to be the next Silicon Valley," Dr. Levy said. He says the DMZ model could be adopted by other postsecondary institutions. "This has got to be a grander ambition than one university," he said.

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