Tapping into Vaughan’s emerging world-class healthcare hub with Mayor Del Duca

Mayor Steven Del Duca said he’s “planting a flag” to bring global healthcare innovation to Vaughan.

In 2021, Vaughan welcomed Ontario’s first net-new hospital since the 1990s and Canada’s first smart hospital. The Cortellucci Vaughan Hospital sits on more than 80 acres of otherwise undeveloped land. Vaughan Mayor Steven Del Duca—along with Council colleagues, Mackenzie Health, York University, and ventureLAB—has a plan to turn that open land into a world-leading medical innovation hub.

And he wants you to join them.

With an open call for all academics, startups, and medical practitioners, Mayor Del Duca is “planting a flag” that he hopes will further accelerate Vaughan’s economy, provide much-needed services for residents, and attract a medical school to the region within 10 years.

Speaking with BetaKit, Mayor Del Duca and Raphael Costa, the Director of Economic Development for the City of Vaughan, explained more about what people can expect from the new healthcare hub.

A blank canvas

Right now, the vacant lands surrounding Cortellucci Vaughan Hospital aren’t much to look at, but Mayor Del Duca is excited about their potential.

“There are not a lot of other places, including in Toronto, that can actually point to a blank canvas like this,” said Mayor Del Duca. “I say that respectfully of my colleagues and friends in Toronto or Markham or Waterloo or Mississauga.”

The 82-acre parcel is currently home to the hospital, but four parties have come together to create the Vaughan Healthcare Centre Precinct (VHCP): the City of Vaughan, Mackenzie Health (the organization that operates Cortellucci Vaughan Hospital), York University, and innovation incubator ventureLAB. Strategic plans for the precinct envision multiple additional facilities that will include spaces for health research and education, the commercialization of innovative health solutions, and collaborations between researchers, practitioners, and entrepreneurs. Mackenzie Health also has approval from the Province to develop a new, 256-bed long-term care facility at the site.

Mayor Del Duca told BetaKit that he wants to see the VHCP become something Vaughan can point to that says, “this is where we as a city are making the investment to create an ecosystem around healthcare innovation.”

“We as a city are making the investment to create an ecosystem around healthcare innovation.”

The hope is that the VHCP will bring more economic opportunity to the region via startups, medical care, and academic research. But Mayor Del Duca has one particularly ambitious additional goal: he wants the VHCP to become the future home of a yet-unannounced York University Medical School.

“Creating that economic impact, that healthcare impact, potentially that public health impact, that research impact—that will really ensure that Vaughan stays on the map as it relates to everything in healthcare, medical innovation, MedTech, life sciences, that whole cluster,” said Mayor Del Duca.

To achieve this ambitious goal, Costa said the four-partner working group is engaged not only with local stakeholders but also with international institutions to learn best practices that can be brought to Vaughan. In particular, he highlighted the organization’s work with multiple health innovation stakeholders in Portugal and the Denver Catalyst HTI facilities, two world-leading healthcare hubs.

From Costa’s perspective, the great thing about the VHCP is not only what it can do for healthcare or the organizations operating from within the precinct, but for the entire community.

“We are not just doing this from a pure investment attraction or business expansion standpoint; this is a full community development project,” he said.

Vaughan Mayor Steven Del Duca.

An open invitation

Noting the diverse portfolio of players involved in building the VHCP, Mayor Del Duca said he is “throwing the doors wide open” to all types of contributors.

“We want to invite everybody who’s got an interest in helping us build out a truly exceptional physical space,” the mayor added.

But with the resources offered by nearby Toronto or Kitchener-Waterloo, startup founders might question why they should choose Vaughan as their home base. When asked, Mayor Del Duca cited Vaughan Transit’s connectivity to the TTC, GO, and 400-series highways. Next, he added that Vaughan has the privileged position of having some of the lowest property taxes in Ontario and that the city has signed onto the Ontario Housing Pledge, which he said will result in thousands more housing units of all types. Finally, Mayor Del Duca noted that Vaughan’s population is growing, and existing resources (like the new Cortellucci Vaughan Hospital) mean residents get access to world-class healthcare services in their own community.

Costa also noted the additional support available for startups through a City partnership with ventureLAB. The organization is already known for its support of the semiconductor industry, but Costa said the accelerator’s flagship Hardware Catalyst Initiative program now also supports MedTech startups with a facility in Vaughan. Costa noted that the lab is located within one of Sterling Industries’ facilities, which means that startups have access to support from an industry-leading medical device manufacturer and benefit from access to its clean room facilities.

“You can live, work, and play safely, comfortably and prosper in a city like Vaughan,” said Mayor Del Duca.

Innovation cross-pollination

Mayor Del Duca told BetaKit that he has a clear vision of success for the VHCP in the next 10 years. In particular, he wants to see both a new medical school and ventureLAB thriving in the VHCP, and a network of support for innovative companies coming out of Vaughan. This, he said, will lead to better overall economic, healthcare, and community development for the city.

That vision might be hard to picture for anyone driving by and seeing an empty plot of land beside a hospital, but Mayor Del Duca said that he sees a lot of parallels to Vaughan’s downtown core development. He noted that, in 2017, the city’s downtown core—the Vaughan Metropolitan Centre (VMC)—was a small handful of buildings and a lot of underutilized land. Now, the area has multiple high-rise commercial and residential buildings, and a variety of mixed-use developments in the works, including space for additional amenities and open greenspace, that anchor the VMC area.

Mayor Del Duca hopes the same thing will happen in the VHCP, with new buildings anchoring the area as a global hub of healthcare innovation.

“I want to see Vaughan’s future healthcare precinct populated with other physical structures,” he said. “But more important than the physical structures, the cross-pollination that you can achieve within a physical space when there’s a cluster of interest, investment, knowledge, innovation—that’s all physically located in one area.”

Stefan Palios

Stefan Palios

Stefan is a Nova Scotia-based entrepreneur and writer passionate about the people behind tech. He's interviewed over 200 entrepreneurs on topics like management, scaling, diversity and inclusion, and sharing their personal stories. Follow him on Twitter @stefanpalios.

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