A tradition of discovery
In a laboratory at the University of Toronto in 1922, the experiments of Frederick Banting and a small team of colleagues led to one of the most important breakthroughs in modern medical history – the discovery of insulin. Nearly a century later, on that very site, a cutting-edge development known as the MaRS Discovery District was created to continue the tradition of providing a nurturing space for a new generation of scientists and entrepreneurs.
It has since become a launchpad for startups, a platform for researchers, and a home to innovators, while supporting the commercialization of their discoveries. In 2016, with the opening of the West Tower Expansion, MaRS became the largest urban innovation hub in North America.
Originating with 14 community leaders who together donated 14 million dollars, and with the support of government, the private sector, and the University of Toronto, MaRS opened its doors in 2005. The incubator brought together a curated mix of leading corporate, public, and community partners, with startups from four key sectors: Health, Cleantech, Fintech, and Enterprise.
In the last 15 years it has grown into a 1.5 million square foot complex with four state-of-the-art buildings connecting startup spaces, science labs, research facilities and corporate offices. Their current network includes innovative research institutes like Borealis AI, Vector AI, Ontario Institute for Cancer Research, CIFAR, and JLabs; along with tech giants like Autodesk and Paypal.
Today, over 1,200 MaRS supported startups continue to tackle some of society’s greatest challenges. They have contributed billions of dollars to the Canadian GDP and positively impacted an estimated 17 million lives.
Just one tangible example: Humera Malik founded Canvass Analytics in 2016 with the goal of revolutionizing the manufacturing industry through AI. Her product: a predictive platform that can reduce greenhouse gas emissions, maximize operational efficiency and improve production quality. More accurate than any human and 12 times faster than industry standard solutions, Humera’s software could save energy-intensive clients millions while also doing right by the environment. A breakthrough product ready for adoption.
Through its global network the MaRS Cleantech team connected her with a list of potential customers and investors from the automotive, aerospace and agriculture communities, took her to international forums and brought various speaking engagements across Canada.
Today, Canvass is growing rapidly and on track for global expansion. Among the company’s impressive roster of clients is Olam International, one of the world’s largest agri-businesses, and Hamilton-based Stelco, a leader in Canadian steel. Humera and her team have so far secured two rounds of VC financing: US$1.6 million from Canadian venture capital firm Real Ventures (housed in the MaRS Centre) and US$5 million from a group led by Google’s Gradient Ventures.
And she gave back: In September 2018, she was asked to judge the MaRS-run Women in Cleantech Challenge, a national competition that will award $1 million in prize money to the most promising female founder among six finalists.
Over the past five years I have witnessed the energy and commitment of the MaRS Discovery District as they mirror the best of Canada. They have opened their doors as a venue to celebrate science, to convene the entire ecosystem of actors in debate and discussion and to provide opportunities for members of the public, through cultural and educational activities, to become informed.
MaRS has become globally recognized as a catalyst for innovation and social investment in response to some of the most complex and urgent issues faced by society. In part due to the diversity of Toronto, MaRS continues to attract great minds and ideas. It is bold and ambitious. And that is what is needed to meaningfully improve lives. Stay tuned for a new initiative – Mission from MaRS.Sustainability