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With limited capacity and seemingly unlimited global competition, innovative start-ups often require support in order to have a chance at success. On September 21st, IBM, the Ontario Centres of Excellence (OCE), and the Ontario Government launched a new model for cross-sectoral collaboration in entrepreneurial incubation. The IBM Innovation Space, located in a reclaimed Spadina Avenue building in Toronto, supports start-ups that require advanced infrastructure and technological support in order to get a proof of concept off the ground. “Access to the latest technology, including cognitive and cloud, as well as these kinds of resources and support, are so often out of the reach of start-ups – that’s why we created this space," said Dino Trevisani, IBM Canada President. “We want to help them innovate, get to market and expand more quickly to ultimately become the disruptors of tomorrow." 

The Innovation Space is the first initiative to come out of the IBM Innovation Incubator Project, supported by $22.75 million from the Government of Ontario’s Jobs and Prosperity Fund and $24.74 million from IBM. The Incubator Project is also supported by the Ontario Network of Entrepreneurs (ONE) and the SOSCIP Research Consortium, a research and development group that pairs academic and industry researchers with advanced computing tools to fuel Canadian innovation.

There are many examples of innovation hubs and incubators in communities across Canada, but for IBM Canada’s Senior Executive of Research & Development, Allen Lalonde, what makes this Innovation Space unique is the combination of integrated support from various sectors and existing incubators. “The kinds of capabilities necessary to truly build this as a game changing program, means that networking capability has to be plumbed together with the Province and with OCE.”  Together, these partners will provide Innovation Space start-ups with access to advanced IBM technologies, including a range of cloud, mobile, analytics, and social solutions, as well as mentoring, support services, education, and legal counsel from some of the best in the industry.


With access to the latest and greatest in computing and analytics technology, the type of start-ups currently inhabiting the IBM Innovation Space are naturally those with data or advanced technology at their core. Big Terminal, for example, is using the Innovation Space to develop a search engine powered by IBM Watson to aggregate, consolidate, and analyze an abundance of financial data from around the world. Nick Dyment, Big Terminal’s Director of Business Strategy and Operations, said the Innovation Space has allowed him to network on a regular basis with industry peers – a major advantage over a home-based office. Analytics 4 Life (A4L), another tenet of the Innovation Space, is a medical IT company that uses advanced signal processing techniques to extract, process, and analyze important data on patient health. The A4L team was able to enhance their technology solution’s 3D capability after working next to another Innovation Space tenet that specializes in 3D rendering - 4D Virtual Space, which uses IBM Watson and Bluemix to turn real estate floor plans into interactive real-time 3D environments.


For the Ontario Government, strategic investments in initiatives like the IBM Innovation Space multiplies the economic impact of funding. “The IBM Innovation Space demonstrates our commitment to increase innovation in Ontario by working collaboratively with the public and private sectors” said Brad Duguid, Ontario’s Minister of Economic Development and Growth. On the same day of the launch of the Innovation Space, the Province of Ontario released a new report highlighting the job creation and private investments supported by its Jobs and Prosperity Fund (JPF). $784 million in total government funding has been committed to 19 JPF projects from January 2013 to March 2016. Program investment details have also been added to the Province’s Open Data catalogue as part of its commitment to open government.

Governments at all levels recognize the economic development benefits of collaboration across sectors. The challenge is making the case to the private sector to support a broader community or industry-wide initiative. “We saw that the gap was companies like IBM not stepping up and making the investment” said IBM Canada President Dino Trevisani. “We couldn’t have made [the initiative] happen if we didn’t have the province’s support. Once entrepreneurs knew the province was involved, it created a stronger foundation for what we were doing.” The business case for IBM included the opportunity to work side by side with the province to identify market trends. “Collaboration with government helps us better understand where the market is going. When Premier Kathleen Wynne announced her business trip to Israel, for example, we said right away that we wanted to go. In that process, we discovered a new business prospect that is totally different from what you normally see and hear.” PSD