By Rebecca Yu, Head of JLABS @ Toronto
This past year has been arguably the most exciting in history for Toronto’s life science community, with a new energy that’s percolating from the city’s core. There’s no question that Johnson & Johnson Innovation JLABS has been the catalyst for this.
It was just one seemingly short year ago that the first international JLABS location opened its doors right here in the scientific and medical heart of Toronto.
Toronto was a clear choice for Johnson & Johnson’s newest no-strings-attached life science incubator, given its vibrant mix of academic hospitals, world-class research institutes and top scientific talent. Indeed, almost all of the right ingredients were in place to spark a surge of entrepreneurship.
The missing puzzle piece was something that Johnson & Johnson Innovation knew JLABS could provide: The venture-funding connections and business expertise to transform promising early-stage ideas into real solutions for patients.
So on May 11, 2016, Johnson & Johnson Innovation took a calculated risk. We kicked off our first JLABS outside of the U.S., with a location strategically chosen within Toronto’s MaRS Discovery District and across from our partner, the University of Toronto. This location is vital to our success as it is close to our hospital collaborators, adjacent to the financial center of Canada, and home to a diverse cross-section of tenants such as MaRS Innovation, Facebook, Public Health Ontario, Autodesk, Centre for Regenerative Medicines, the Ontario Institute of Cancer Research and IBM Canada.
If JLABS @ Toronto were an experiment, our hypothesis one year ago was that this 40,000-square-foot location within Toronto’s premier innovation district would lend itself to amazing cross-pollination, providing the greatest opportunity for life science entrepreneurs who join JLABS.
Today, I’m happy to say that our hypothesis has been confirmed, with new evidence building daily from the 40-plus pharma, medical device, consumer and digital health companies residing at JLABS @ Toronto, including our featured residents, Eve Medical, Integra, Nanovista and TMi.
But while our tactical setup within the MaRS district has no doubt been a defining factor for us, our internal structure and programming has also played a key role in our residents’ ability to thrive.
For example, we have launched a formalized mentoring program that connects life science entrepreneurs with one-on-one support from a J&J investor or a hand-picked leader from Johnson & Johnson R&D. The mentors meet regularly with their mentees — either through our state-of-the-art Global Connect teleconferencing system or in person — to discuss start-up challenges and plan the next steps of company growth.
JLABS @ Toronto also has developed an Investors Hub, where venture investors visit our location monthly to meet with our resident companies and discuss capital needs. And we’ve turned our stylish space into a lively gathering place for more than 60 events that serve to nurture the Toronto life science community. (For more facts and figures, check out this infographic.) We openly welcome students, potential collaborators and even other pharma companies into our space on a regular basis.
So, as we celebrate the one-year anniversary of JLABS @ Toronto, it occurs to me that we are celebrating so much more.
We are honoring the proven power of no-strings-attached collaboration, and the entrepreneurial energy that’s finally being harnessed in this amazing city of Toronto. Moving into our second year, we hope to expand this success to other parts of Canada that would benefit from these resources, and to continue to bring new health care innovations to life here in our hub of life science innovation.
Happy Birthday, JLABS @ Toronto! I look forward to all of the great things to come.