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Building a Health Innovation Pipeline in Southwestern Ontario: Connections

Michael Phillips (right), Vena Medical’s Co-Founder speaking at the opening of the Medical Innovation Xchange (MIX)

The recent global health crisis highlighted the need to support and develop health-focused technology companies and build a stronger health innovation and manufacturing pipeline in Ontario. With the support of a $10-million investment from the Government of Canada, through the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario (FedDev Ontario), announced last year, Velocity, through the University of Waterloo, the Medical Innovation Xchange (MIX), and Western University came together to build the Southwestern Ontario Health Innovation Partnership and establish a health tech innovation hub in the region. The goal for the hub: to connect health tech companies with mentorship, business advisory services and support for product development with access to labs and clinical trial spaces. Fast forward six months into the partnership and several promising companies have received dedicated support from one or more of the three partners. As a result, these resources are allowing them to grow and accelerate their path to market – and putting us closer to building a stronger, healthier Canada.

This article is part of a series around Building a Health Innovation Pipeline in Southwestern Ontario and focuses on the importance of assembling a local community of experts to increase survival rates and help shorten time-to-market for health tech start-ups. Read Creating Space for Innovation to learn more about why access to dedicated lab space can help derisk health tech star-tups, reduce costs and help retain critical IP in Ontario.

Building connections

Traditional incubators and accelerators often lack health expertise and connections critical to healthcare start-ups. And increased competition among venture capital firms could further reduce support for early-stage founders in health tech, who face longer paths to early revenue. Velocity, MIX, and Western University are uniquely able to derisk health tech start-ups. By providing connections, expert advice and facilities for product development, the Southwestern Ontario Health Innovation Partnership innovation hub increases survival and supports capital-efficient growth for health tech companies, building a stronger and more innovative healthcare supply chain in Ontario.

Hyivy Health, a Velocity company focused on developing pelvic rehabilitation systems for women, has been using the combination of the mentorship in hardware from Velocity and the medical device regulatory and quality mentorship from the MIX program.

 “The advice, guidance and support from the combination of mentorship from both MIX and Velocity have accelerated our development through medical device ideation to manufacturability while supporting us through the complexities of setting up a quality system, which can potentially pass certifications and audits in the highly regulated medical device industry. Together with the support of these two programs, we have reached our milestones and exceeded expectations in taking a product from design concept through to preparation for clinical trials.” 

Rachel Bartholomew, CEO of Hyivy Health

Vena Medical, which is developing the world’s smallest camera capable of going inside veins and arteries to help physicians treat stroke, was a Velocity resident before joining MIX. Vena Medical recently received its first Health Canada Medical Device License and was named one of the 10 most promising life sciences start-ups at the Texas Life Science Forum.

“We were really happy to graduate from Velocity to MIX. It was an easy and logical decision to move from the earlier-stage Velocity that helped us out with company formation, proof-of-concept and early IP protection to the later-stage and more specific MIX that allows us to handle things like ISO 13485/MDSAP certificates and regulatory clearances, like our Health Canada Medical Device License. We’re excited to enter the next stage of marketing and sales as we transition to a scale-up.” 

Michael Phillips, Vena Medical’s Co-Founder

By providing unique access to expert advice and connections, the Southwestern Ontario Health Innovation Partnership can derisk health tech start-ups. Founders can focus their energy and creativity on solving problems unique to their start-up and field, and rely on a supportive community to help walk them through ‘solved problems’ and avoid common pitfalls. This expertise is particularly critical in the heavily regulated health tech space.

“Through the Southwestern Ontario Health Innovation Partnership, we connect founders with subject matter experts in regulatory affairs, quality control, clinical strategy and go-to-market strategy. We are also building a scalable clinical pilot pipeline, a network of VC and partners, and expanding resources to support a growing number of health tech companies at all stages of growth. We want to make Waterloo’s Velocity Canada’s centre for early-stage health tech commercialization and innovation.” 

Moazam Khan, Velocity’s HealthTech Lead

By increasing survival rates, promoting capital-efficient growth and decreasing time-to-market for healthtech companies, the Southwestern Ontario Health Innovation Partnership is turning Southwestern Ontario into a thriving health innovation centre that will continue to attract innovators for decades to come.

“MIX is excited to have partnered with Velocity and Western University on creating SOHIP, as it affirms our vision to have Canada, and specifically our local ecosystem, established as an internationally recognized hub for medtech and health innovation. We know that with partners like Velocity and Western University, their affiliates and their track records of success, we will be successful. When health systems look for centres of health innovation, we want them to look first at our region. To achieve this goal, MIX is dedicated to providing world-class mentorship and service to the ecosystem.”

Elliot Fung, Executive Director at Medical Innovation Xchange (MIX)

By connecting the expertise of the demand side of the health innovation pipeline with the growing Ontario supply side, including through Western’s Medical Innovation Fellowship program, the Southwestern Ontario Health Innovation Partnership can foster connections from the very first moments of a startup’s life until it reaches significant scale, potentially avoiding costly delays and deadly setbacks for health tech entrepreneurs.

“Western is excited to leverage its existing health innovation ecosystem to create a connected community across Southwestern Ontario in partnership with Velocity and MIX. The translation of fundamental discoveries to benefit society is very often aided and accelerated by interaction with industry partners, which is why we engage private sector partnerships and high-quality personnel in the region, capitalising on the community’s collective capacity for job creation and commercialization in health innovation.”

Souzan Amstrong, Director of the Western’s Medical Innovation Fellowship.

Western University brings the strength of the Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry, the clinical trial capacity at Robarts Research Institute and discoveries of the Lawson Health Research Institute as well as the business acumen of the Ivey Business School.