In August, the Government of Canada made some investments, through FedDev Ontario, in the province’s innovation and startup support ecosystem.
FedDev Ontario committed $2 million to the Ontario Centre of Innovation (OCI) to support the relaunch and expansion of OneEleven’s programming, and $10 million towards the creation of a new University of Waterloo and Western University-based healthtech innovation hub.
FedDev Ontario’s $2 million investment comes after a period of turmoil for OneEleven.
Established in 1987, OCI, formerly known as Ontario Centres of Excellence (OCE), is a not-for-profit organization that delivers much of the Government of Ontario’s innovation programming. OCI currently oversees Toronto tech incubator OneEleven.
OneEleven, which was launched in 2013, serves high-growth companies that have already received initial seed financing and early-stage incubation support and are ready to pursue larger funding rounds. To date, OneEleven has served companies like Borrowell, Wealthsimple, and Tulip.
According to FedDev Ontario, the OCI investment will enable OneEleven to augment its programming and extend its reach to high-growth small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in smaller communities outside Toronto through a new digital membership project. OneEleven has committed that at least 25 percent of project participants will be located outside of the Greater Toronto Area, and half will be women-led or owned companies.
The $2 million investment, which FedDev Ontario claims will support 30 high-growth, scaling firms and 450 jobs across Southern Ontario, will also leverage nearly $1.2 million in private investment.
“As an original founding partner of OneEleven, OCI understands first-hand the vital role OneEleven represents to Canada’s innovation ecosystem,” said Claudia Krywiak, OCI’s president and CEO. “Now, with the pandemic’s acceleration of new technologies and the incredible influx of tech talent across Ontario, OneEleven’s role is more important than ever. Thanks to FedDev’s support of new scale-up programming, the reach of this impact can be expanded dramatically at a time when it is needed most.”
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The investment comes after a period of turmoil for OneEleven, which began when the innovation hub announced it would be permanently shutting down in April 2020 due to economic impacts caused by COVID-19. During the summer of 2020, multiple organizations in Toronto’s tech ecosystem sought to acquire OneEleven from Oxford Properties. In August 2020, BetaKit reported that OneEleven would return under OCI control. Matthew Lombardi, who now leads OneEleven, spoke with BetaKit earlier this year about the relaunched OneEleven’s new focus.
The federal investment in OneEleven also follows internal concerns about federal spending on accelerators that were recently raised by the Government of Canada’s innovation agency, Innovation, Science, and Economic Development Canada (ISED). According to a March ISED briefing note obtained by The Logic, ISED questioned the “failure” of Canada’s publicly funded startup accelerators to support themselves without government financing, and asked whether Canadians are seeing a return from these investments.
The Logic reported that, in the briefing note, in a section laying out the challenges these types of programs face, ISED listed “a failure of [accelerators and incubators] to develop models that do not rely largely on continued support,” weak brands, trouble supporting operating expenses, misaligned incentives resulting in “trade-offs” between service delivery and the pursuit of government funding, as well as other questions about the public’s return on investment.
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Around the time of its OCI investment, FedDev Ontario also committed $10 million to develop a healthtech hub in the Waterloo-London region. The regional development agency characterized the area as “equipped to be a leader in this critical field,” given the strength of its innovation ecosystem, post-secondary institutions, and research hospitals.
The initiative seeks to combine digital tech acceleration strengths of Waterloo Region with London’s research hospital-based assets. The investment, which is for the University of Waterloo, in partnership with Western University, the City of Kitchener, and Medical Innovation Xchange, aims to support the growth of 135 businesses and commercialize 150 new health-related products, services, or processes.
Backed by a total of $40 million in funding, the new hub will connect early-stage and scaling healthtech firms in Southwestern Ontario to services ranging from mentorship and business advisory, product development support, and access to specialized labs and clinical trial spaces at Western University and the University of Waterloo’s planned Innovation Arena, which will house Velocity.
This move came weeks after FedDev Ontario announced an $845,000 late July investment in a rural innovation hub in Owen Sound, to enhance service offerings and business programming at the Sydenham Campus Regional Skills Training, Trades and Innovation Centre.
Feature image courtesy of Matthew Lombardi of OneEleven