Grooming Entrepreneurial Talent for Great Health Returns

Ontario has one of the highest concentrations of neuroscientists in the world, creating an opportunity for a thriving industry around the development of neurotechnologies to treat brain disorders. However, a study of Ontario’s ability to develop a neurotechnology cluster highlighted two obstacles; a lack of access to capital and insufficient managerial talent.

To have real impact on the neurotech cluster and to overcome these obstacles it was important to support the development of neurotechnologies and help shorten the gap between research, diagnosis, treatments and early intervention. OBI has focused its resources on developing talent and making early strategic investments in key gaps through the commercialization pipeline. By bridging those gaps, OBI contributed to the development and sustainability of NeuroTech Ontario – a growing neurotechnology industry that will add value to the economy and play a crucial role in developing new health interventions.

By the creation of several commercialization-related programs, OBI supports the development of entrepreneurs and their neurotechnology ventures.  OBI’s ONtrepreneurs Program (Ontario Neurotech Entrepreneurs) enables early-stage entrepreneurs to commercialize innovative ideas that will improve the lives of patients with brain disorders by providing financial support, mentorship, business training, and connections to OBI’s vast research and industry networks. This program not only helps to get innovative ideas get off the ground, it also supports the development of passionate entrepreneurs to build successful careers outside of academia – addressing the lack of access to capital and insufficient talent gap.

OBI further supports neurotechnology ventures by addressing the challenges associated with the funding gap that many small enterprises face.  OBI’s Neurotech Early Research and Development (NERD) Program de-risks investments in new neurotechnology by closing the funding gap and enabling Ontario-based neurotech companies to be more competitive for follow-on private investments.  OBI also facilitates the clinical validation of neurotechnologies by connecting its companies to its extensive research network to test and refine their innovations.

Since 2011, OBI’s ONtrepreneurs program has supported a total of 45 ONtrepreneurs with $2.25 million, which have subsequently generated $24.83 million in follow-on investments, 29 patents and patent applications, 68 Full-time equivalent (FTE) jobs, and brought 11 products to market. The NERD program has provided support to 11 companies with $2.7 million in investment, resulting in $13.5 million in follow-on investments. A little support goes a long way, reaping an 8.1 return on investments.

The significance of these programs does not lie in the numbers alone, but in the cluster ecosystem that OBI is supporting. It’s about nurturing an environment where a pipeline of support is available to entrepreneurs and companies so that Ontario innovation can thrive.

Here are just a few examples of the successes seen by companies supported through OBI’s ONtrepreneurs and NERD program, as well as other resources and supports.

  • iMerciv recently won $100,000 in the Telus Pitch Competition for their wearable device that helps people with visual impairments detect obstacles
  • GaitTronics collaborated with OBI’s cerebral palsy research program to refine and clinically validate its device – the SoloWalk – that helps people with cerebral palsy to stand and walk. With mentorship and direction, a SoloWalk unit has been purchased by Three To Be, a neurological charity, and donated to the Whitby Abilities Centre so people with cerebral palsy can fully participate in play and physical activity in a way that would not be possible without this new robotic innovation
  • Sound Options Tinnitus Treatments Inc. developed a clinically validated treatment that uses personalized sound therapy to treat tinnitus (chronic ringing in the ears). Their products are currently available in 60 Canadian clinics and they have received FDA clearance to enter US markets.

iMerciv, GaitTronics,  or Sound Options Tinnitus Treatments Inc., aren’t just case study examples of ideas turned into neurotechnologies, these are examples of new tools and treatments arising out of research that promise better health in communities. By helping entrepreneurs through the early sticking points of developing a company and getting a product to market we are building Ontario’s economy and improving access to tools and treatments that can improve care.  Each of the 65 companies OBI supports represents opportunities for patients living with brain disorders to lead better, healthier lives through new neurotechnologies.

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