Celebrating Ontario’s Neurotech Cluster

By: Anna Han, PhD, OBI Management Fellow

Even the most innovative idea can lose its value if it has no applicability. Bringing scientific discovery into the market place is a very fascinating, yet challenging process that requires strong collaboration between many players. I recently witnessed the results of great teamwork in action – brilliant scientific discoveries turned into tangible products that address the needs of many Ontarians.

On the morning of February 10, 2014, the Ontario Brain Institute (OBI) hosted a celebration at the YMCA of Central Toronto.  This event was organized to acknowledge the achievements of research institutes and companies participating in the NeuroTech Ontario cluster initiative, a project supported by the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario (FedDev Ontario) in partnership with the Ontario Brain Institute.

The event started and ended with a networking session where the attendees connected with each other and viewed posters and displays set up by the participants. The participants included representatives from different OBI programs – OBI entrepreneurs and the FedDev Ontario-OBI projects.  I enjoyed viewing the displays, which included a virtual reality technology for brain injury assessment (KINARM); a home diagnostic tool for sleep apnea (ApneaDx); a tool to help individuals who are deaf experience sound through vision (Sense Intelligent); and a surgical navigation tool that creates a detailed 3D image of what lies beyond the surgical incision (7D Surgical).  There were many other great projects on display including OBI’s Neuroscience Asset Map and Brain-CODE. Although different participants attended with their various products and services in development, I could sense that they were all there with the same goal – to help advance Ontario’s neurotechnology cluster for better patient care and brain health. The room was full of passionate energy that was highlighted by a common interest and enthusiasm towards a shared goal.

The FedDev Ontario-OBI supported project, Thriver™, made a special announcement as they officially launched their product and revealed that they recently signed three channel partners: YMCA Academy, Scholar’s Choice, and Beyond the Classroom.  The software developed by Thriver™ provides an innovative online learning platform that targets children’s cognitive strengths and weaknesses.  It was great to see the six YMCA Academy students with tablet computers in hand, roaming the auditorium to demonstrate Thriver™ to guests.

The Neurotech Ontario celebration event provided a great opportunity for OBI and our partners, including FedDev Ontario and the Ministry of Research Innovation and Science, to recognize the meaningful progress that has been made in the last three years and to keep everyone motivated to achieve their goals. As a management fellow who recently joined OBI, it was truly amazing to see the milestones that the organization has achieved to drive Ontario towards becoming a globally competitive neurotechnology cluster. I have always been interested in how discoveries in the laboratory are transformed into more useful products and services. This event reinforced the importance of collaboration between people with a shared goal in driving successful commercialization of scientific ideas. Specifically, it demonstrated exactly how OBI’s integrated system works to promote and manage partnerships between researchers, clinicians, industry, patients, and their advocates. I believe that this kind of collaboration will speed up the process of science commercialization, bringing immeasurable value to the people of Ontario.

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