Elevate Toronto took the city by storm this month, sending a strong message to the world: Toronto is ready. We are ready to be global leaders in tech and innovation, and we have the diversity, drive, and talent to make it happen.
Over three days, the festival welcomed more than 5,000 attendees, who shared their knowledge and vision for the future of tech in Canada and beyond. AI, FinTech, blockchain, design, and health were some of the main areas of lively, collaborative discussion.
Elevate Health showcased that it’s our time to revolutionize healthcare through a patient-centric, ecosystem approach to improve patient outcomes, achieved through adoption and convergence of mobile, biometrics, AI and blockchain technology.
The event brought speakers and attendees from across the industry, from Cyclica, Bowhead Health, Carrot Insights, KPMG, MedStack, MaRS Health, Osler, the Ministry of Health, and MediSeen, to share wide-ranging insights about the current and future state of health innovation.
“We have a thriving healthtech ecosystem in Toronto whose story is not widely shared.”
– Alex Norman
Alex Norman, co-founder of Elevate Health, shared that the decision to feature a Health track was an easy one, affirming that “we have a thriving health tech ecosystem in Toronto whose story is not widely shared. This, in part, is due to the ecosystem having a unique group of stakeholders,” he said. “We felt it was time for our health tech sector to get the attention it deserves as it is as a large (or larger) story than FinTech and other sectors we always hear about.”
As an entrepreneur in the space, I attended Elevate Health to learn from the disruptors who took the stage, and engaged with the hundreds of attendees who share a passion for advancing healthcare; many of whom are a driving force behind Toronto’s digital health ecosystem. I was encouraged to meet several VCs and angel investors, who are bullish on the space as well.
I believe that Toronto is poised to become a global leader in digital health. I was in the FinTech space in 2012, as it was on the precipice of a massive breakthrough, and I see a lot of similarities in the digital health space in 2017.
Below are a few reasons why Toronto’s digital health ecosystem is poised for a similar breakout.
The ingredients are all here
As Ying Tam, head of MaRS Health and organizer of Elevate Health described Toronto: “We have ground-breaking science, innovative technologies, and leading platform solutions. We need to explore the future of health and the opportunities that the future of health presents to researchers, innovators, and entrepreneurs.”
His was one of many dynamic voices to call for innovation and support for those who are driving change in the healthcare sector.
These ingredients have already catalyzed into a number of successes, Tam exclaimed, “such as the acquisition of QHR, significant financing activities (over $200 million) for Highland Therapeutics and Blue Rock, and the international sales traction of Synaptive Medical.”
The pieces are aligning
The digital health ecosystem is gaining recognition, locally and internationally. Health innovation is a priority for the provincial and federal government and they are lending active support accordingly. In a single-payer system like Canada, that’s a critically important factor.
Toronto is a vibrant centre of entrepreneurship, diversity, healthcare, and tech innovation, and as such, is well-positioned to capitalize on the convergence of those four elements to become a digital health powerhouse. We are ready for home-grown companies to bring fresh ideas and creative healthcare solutions to market, and structures are quickly assembling to help them succeed and scale.
Already, emerging medical technologies are generating vast amounts of patient data that present new opportunities for the development, integration, and deployment of enablers like AI and blockchain. Elevate Health attendees, including key leaders from various health organizations and the government, expressed openness and excitement about the impact these technological advancements have on improving care and continuity across all patient pathways.
Momentum is building
Medical platforms such as patient record systems and e-prescribing tools are becoming far more secure and accessible thanks to the adoption of blockchain technology, with Canadian innovators like SecureKey and Bowhead Health leading the way.
During her keynote, Dr. Rhea Mehta, CEO of Bowhead Health, noted that there are “strong advances being made in data management systems security using blockchain technology, and in personalized healthcare using artificial intelligence.”
— Gary LeBlanc (@IkkumaGary) September 13, 2017
Mehta noted that old legacy healthcare platforms are a barrier for integration of newer, interoperable technologies. “Properly architected, encrypted systems and our culture of collaboration provide an opportunity to overcome this hurdle,” she said.
AI technologies have countless applications in the healthcare ecosystem that will dramatically advance patient care, such as monitoring a patient’s heart rate and other vitals — wherever they are and in real time. With the patient now a direct data source, AI can assess and determine — with high accuracy — the cause of an illness and recommend the best course of treatment, such as the type of medication that should be prescribed, or whether a hospital visit would be required.
Anna Goldenberg, scientist in the Genetics and Genome Biology at SickKids, highlighted that “new AI technology can actually outperform medical professionals in diagnosing some conditions, such as skin lesions. Anything that reduces the number of people affected each year by medical errors is deeply valuable.”
Moreover, healthcare professionals, hospitals, and provincial and federal health organizations are more receptive than ever to support and scale new ways of delivering more secure and accessible patient care, which AI and blockchain provide.
On a provincial level, to support home-grown health innovators, the Ontario government created an Office of the Chief Health Innovation Strategist (OCHIS) and its $20 million Health Technologies Fund to improve patient care through the adoption of cutting-edge health tech, led by Elevate Health keynote Bill Charnetski.
“The province is committing to transforming the culture of the healthcare system, enabling it to be more receptive to adopting innovations. We have a very receptive healthcare provider community willing to try and adopt innovative solutions.” said Janella Brodett, stakeholder and communications lead at OCHIS. “The challenge is to figure out how to get all the pieces to fit and work together – this will come out as we mature as a system and see more collaboration start, grow, and scale.”
There’s immense support from a community of leading organizations that actively supporting health innovators, like VentureLab, JLabs, CDL, MaRS, OBIO and OCHIS in Toronto and Communitech in Waterloo.
The movement toward adopting patient-centric health innovation is certainly not limited to Toronto.
Canadian entrepreneurs are developing game-changing solutions and business models to drive healthcare transformation across the country. Lydia Lee, KMPG health industry lead and Elevate Health speaker, shared that “we are the ultimate collaborators in Canada. We have a rich concentration of providers, scientists, researchers and businesses that provide a wonderful place to innovate.”
Naheed Kurji, president and CEO of Cyclica, added, “Our government invests in grants for healthcare technology and scientific research, and we have additional support infrastructure for entrepreneurs and innovators from regional centres, MaRS, Communitech, Hacking Health and others. The government can foster this atmosphere of innovation in Canada, by continuing to support entrepreneurs who will help Canada can stay ahead of the curve.”
— Nirusan (@NirusanRaja) September 13, 2017
In addition, the support of Canadian benefactors like Peter Munk will also help to drive health innovation that will set Canada apart on the international stage.
Munk’s recent donation this week of $100 million to the Munk Cardiac Centre (PMCC) in Toronto will accelerate achievement of its goal of developing a world-class, AI-driven platform for digital cardiovascular care, in partnership with the Vector Institute and U of T’s Rotman School of Management, to drive research and commercialization efforts respectively.
This is precisely the kind of collaboration that defines Canada’s commitment to world-class leadership in advancing patient care.
It’s our time
For those aspiring to create and scale a startup that improves patient lives… go for it! We’re all here to support you.
For those that are already making headway, as OCHIS’ Charnetski alluded, patience is a virtue and stay the course!
Real change in healthcare will only come with clear vision, dedication and ecosystem support to drive adoption and scalability. Opportunities like Elevate Health provide the ideal forum to exchange ideas, encouragement, share wins, learn from missteps, and rally behind those who act.
We are on the cusp of breakthroughs to empower patients.
As Balaji Gopalan, CEO of MedStack, said: “It takes both the central network of service providers working in our uniquely Canadian healthcare system, and an ecosystem of scrappy innovators to meet the care needs of today.” With Elevate Health and groups like HealthTO, we have a collaborative platform to bring key stakeholders to the table to drive better patient care.
Saurabh Popat, senior policy advisor of digital health at the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care, was encouraged to enthusiasm from attendees at Elevate Health. “It is very impressive in many ways. Not only did the event feature some of the most innovative leaders in our digital health ecosystem, it also spoke to many of the healthcare challenges and opportunities that we face each day. The digital health ecosystem in Ontario is vibrant and we are on the cusp of significant breakthroughs to empower patients and solve significant healthcare system issues.”
So, the time is here. We are ready. The door is opening and the opportunity to drive health innovation across the ecosystem and make a significant social impact to improve the lives of millions of – or even billions – is now. There’s significant opportunities emerging in Toronto’s health innovation ecosystem from digital health, MedTech, wearables, life sciences and genomics, while leveraging analytics, AI and Blockchain that will dramatically improve patient outcomes and save lives.
It’s impactful and meaningful work.
If Elevate Health was any indication, healthcare innovators, researchers, entrepreneurs, investors, and government are aligning with the goal of accelerating innovation that supports patients first. We are surely going to do more than make a little noise together: we’re going to disrupt the face of healthcare across our great country – and the globe.
How do you Elevate Toronto? Collaborate for a better tomorrow.
I’m excited for what’s in store.
Photo via Twitter