MaRS is the world’s largest urban innovation hub, a place where today’s moonshots become tomorrow’s breakthroughs. It’s a launch pad for startups, a platform for researchers and a home to innovators.
Located in the heart of Canada’s largest and the world’s most diverse city, MaRS Discovery District is uniquely placed to lead change. We bring together educators, researchers, social scientists, entrepreneurs and business experts under one roof.
Founded by civic leaders, we have a mission that is equal parts public and private — an entrepreneurial venture designed to bridge the gap between what people need and what governments can provide.
MaRS is home to entrepreneurs and a bridge to the business world. We aim to help companies bring their breakthrough ideas to market and thrive on a global scale.
WE BRING TOGETHER PARTNERS WHO MIGHT NOT OTHERWISE CONNECT TO COLLABORATE ON NEW SOLUTIONS TO COMPLEX CHALLENGES.
The past year has featured many high points, as well as some challenges, most notably the loss of our remarkable co-founders, Dr. John Evans and Joseph L. Rotman.
MaRS also faced intense media scrutiny when our new West Tower development became an issue in the provincial election campaign. But these challenges did not go unmet.
They sparked a renewal process that has seen MaRS expand its relationship with the innovation community in Ontario, carve out new areas of expertise, and forge fresh alliances with corporate partners and government agencies, both at home and abroad.
MaRS is more than a building, it’s building on Dr. Evans’ vision for the future. Great minds may not think alike but they like each other’s company; a brilliant idea in isolation is not enough to create a real breakthrough.
MaRS is a leader in the trend toward urban innovation districts, which allow entrepreneurs access to corporations, investors, mentors, university institutions and labs to test their concepts. We are where inspiration meets realization.
But as Arnold Toynbee, the great British historian, once said, to flourish, centres of creativity require “challenge and response.”
MaRS faced a major challenge when its partner, Alexandria Real Estate Equities Inc., paused construction on the building during the global financial crisis, jeopardizing completion of the West Tower project.
Rather than narrow its gaze, MaRS responded by reaching out to the Ontario government, securing a new loan agreement and rallying to find new tenants whose ranks now include such iconic firms as Autodesk, Facebook Canada, Etsy, Airbnb and JLABS, a division of Johnson & Johnson Innovation.
The University of Toronto — a new anchor tenant — also announced it has acquired a 20% equity stake in the West Tower to advance discoveries and entrepreneurship, particularly in the field of biomedical innovation. A co-founder of MaRS, the university has chosen the tower to house its renowned research teams working on new drugs, regenerative medicine, infectious diseases and advanced computing, all with a view to speeding the commercial application of their discoveries.
Bottom line: MaRS expects to be very close to full occupancy by next March, and thus repay its government loan in full, on schedule.
Photo: Etsy / Jillian Botting
Innovation doesn't just happen. As the Toronto Discovery District’s commercialization hub, MaRS gives entrepreneurs what they need most: a home with access to networks and capital. This community keeps our most promising talent here, and supplies established businesses and institutions with a steady stream of creativity.
This fresh thinking is a function of time, place ... and people. Throughout the year, MaRS welcomes thousands of visitors to a wide range of events — from intimate meetups and thought-provoking talks by such guests as media maven (and Steve Jobs biographer) Walter Isaacson and best-selling author Nilofer Merchant, to large-scale conferences and hackathons that draw thousands of programmers — some as young as 8 years old — making MaRS the unofficial “ground zero” for coding in Toronto. In fact, the monthly “We are Wearables” event at MaRS has become the largest meetup of its kind in North America.
As well, MaRS was involved in several outstanding programs that brought the innovation community together to share new ideas and technologies:
MaRS HealthKick: Canada’s largest showcase of early-stage health startups, featuring a Dragon’s Den-style pitch competition for 300-plus investors and healthcare executives. Several companies secured financing following HealthKick, including Profound Medical, which has developed a unique, and less invasive approach to treating prostate cancer.
MaRS Mornings: This free monthly breakfast series features talks by experienced entrepreneurs such as Dan Debow of Salesforce.com (co-founder of Rypple and Techvibes Angel of the Year), Michael Serbinis of LEAGUE (co-founder and former CEO of Kobo) and Ariel Garten, founder and CEO of InteraXon.
Accessibility Innovation Showcase: This one-off event — tied to the Parapan Am Games — featured platforms and devices that improve the lives of people with disabilities, and attracted 5,000 participants, including Paralympian pioneer Chris Waddell and Sir Philip Craven, president of the International Paralympic Committee.
- Diana Pliura, founder and CEO, MyndTec Inc.
MaRS reaches out to the world. Every week we attract leading global thinkers, entrepreneurs and innovators to Toronto to share their expertise.
And the world reaches back. More than 200 delegations from Asia, Europe and Latin America have visited MaRS since March 2014 — a veritable who’s who of high-profile innovation seekers, including representatives of:
• Venture capital firms in Silicon Valley/San Francisco who participated in the C100 Venture North event during the Toronto International Film Festival
• Shanghai Technology Innovation Center and Hong Kong Science & Technology Parks Corporation
• More than 40 social-change labs in Australia, Asia, Europe and the Americas
• The Dutch royal family, specifically their Majesties King Willem-Alexander and Queen Máxima of the Netherlands
• The G7’s Social Impact Investment Taskforce, an international panel seeking to mobilize private capital for public good
MaRS is viewed as a model by smart cities looking to spark innovation of their own.
In fact, we played an instrumental role in Toronto being named “Intelligent Community of the Year” in 2014 by a New York-based think-tank. Our mega-district approach (bringing together researchers, startups, labs and corporate partners) is widely considered a blueprint for the future.
As much a facilitator as a place, MaRS has also played global matchmaker:
• We initiated two agreements signed during the Ontario Premier’s trade mission to China in 2014: The first, between the Advanced Energy Centre at MaRS, the Water Technology Acceleration Project and the China Energy Conservation and Environmental Protection Group, connects Canada’s best energy and water technologies with one of the largest energy enterprises in the People’s Republic; and the second pledges MaRS and the Shanghai Technology Innovation Center to collaborate on creating and growing startups in both countries.
• We signed an agreement with StartupDelta, a Netherlands-based innovation hub, to identify and support new technologies in Europe and North America.
- Nic Morgan, co-founder and VP, Business Development, Morgan Solar
As a home to entrepreneurs and a bridge to the business world, MaRS helps companies bring breakthrough ideas to market and thrive on a global scale.
Partnerships are key, and building our corporate network has been a priority. The creation of our new FinTech cluster and the Advanced Energy Centre, along with expansion of the MaRS Centre for Impact Investing, has led to strategic alliances with:
• Virgin Unite Canada
• Ontario Power Generation
We work with corporations willing to leverage their global reach to assist startups seeking footholds in foreign markets.
Corporations, in turn, are embedding teams at MaRS to boost creativity, scout talent and rekindle their entrepreneurial flames. Our new corporate innovation district — called the MaRS C Suite — is where commerce and creativity will converge. With CIBC as the Suite’s lead sponsor and tenant, MaRS is attracting forward-thinking companies that, like our founders, believe passionately “the future matters.”
To deliver innovative programs and services, we also work with many government partners and agencies. One of the programs we deliver is the Business Acceleration Program (BAP), which is funded by the Government of Ontario and delivered through the Ontario Network of Entrepreneurs (ONE). MaRS is a member of ONE, which connects it with 16 regional innovation centres throughout the province.
One key initiative this year involved a significant expansion of the Green Button standard, a program driven by MaRS Data Catalyst and the Advanced Energy Centre that helps consumers better manage energy usage.
- Jodi Glover, founder and CEO, Real Tech
Entrepreneurs are a sociable bunch; they enjoy interaction as well as transaction. A chance to meet like-minded individuals is a major reason startups join MaRS Venture Services, whose
main goal, of course, is to help them accelerate by providing expert advice, market intelligence and access to capital, as well as connections to talent and customers.
This year, MaRS launched a new, tailored approach to Venture Services — developing expertise in key sectors that are growing rapidly, capital intensive and involve large-scale customers.
As well, our Health and Cleantech sectors were revitalized this year, and the focus of our Technology sector shifted to supporting “disruptive technologies” in areas where we have local expertise. Renewed energy was injected into Work & Learning, and we launched the FinTech cluster, connecting financial services in Toronto with startups in areas as wide ranging as payments, peer-to-peer transactions, alternate lending and crypto-currencies.
In addition to advising high-impact startups and engaging corporate partners, Venture Services collaborates with other innovation hubs, so our work complements initiatives across the province.
MaRS serves 1,000 venture clients, who in turn:
• employ over 5,000 people;
• raised $547 million in capital (2014); and
• generated $280 million in revenue (2014).
Note: Figures drawn from the 2014 Venture Client Annual Survey, which represents a subset of MaRS clients. For details, see marsdd.com/survey-methodology.
Based on feedback gathered through our 2014 survey, 85% of the MaRS-supported accelerating ventures that sought private financing in Canada last year were successful.
While starting companies is crucial, growing them is what fuels the economy and creates new jobs.
In addition to connecting ventures to Canadian, U.S. and international investors, MaRS has investment programs of its own.
The Investment Accelerator Fund (IAF) was launched in 2007 and is financed by the province. Administered by MaRS, it provides up to $500,000 in seed money to startups in sectors deemed a priority in Ontario, including advanced materials and manufacturing, information technology, cleantech and life sciences. Current status (as of March 31, 2015):
• 91 investments (up 13.2% in the past year)
• $42.3 million invested
• $388 million in follow-on leverage (9.2x invested capital)
ArcTern Ventures (formerly MaRS Cleantech Fund), launched in 2012, is privately backed and focuses on high-potential, early-stage cleantech companies. It provides roughly $1 million as an initial investment (with follow-on funding), has access to companies in the MaRS pipeline and will return a portion of its proceeds to MaRS. Current status (as of March 31, 2015):
• $30 million (fund size)
• 10 investments made
• $30+ million in follow-on leverage
JOLT, launched in 2012, is an accelerator program that has invested in, and provided mentorship, advice and incubator space to, early-stage technology companies that have attracted $10.5 million in follow-on capital. Current status (as of March 31, 2015):
• 23 investments made
• $11.3 million in total funding raised (includes JOLT Fund investment)
- Cameron Piron, President & Co-Founder, Synaptive Medical
MaRS is creating a vanguard of entrepreneurs working to improve society for future generations and making a difference beyond our borders.
We are where creativity meets complexity. We bring together partners who might not otherwise connect. But what truly distinguishes us is that we serve a greater purpose: MaRS is not just about creating billion-dollar companies, but touching a billion lives.
We look to the future and anticipate the impact of social, political, economic, environmental and technological change.
MaRS supports several programs that serve this greater mission and have in the past year embarked on some exciting projects:
MaRS EXCITE (Excellence in Clinical Innovation and Technology Evaluation), which promotes better health innovation and adoption, completed a clinical study and economic evaluation for MyndMove, a medical startup that uses electrical stimulation to help patients suffering from paralysis. Its experts participated in The Catalyst, a landmark report by the Ontario Health Innovation Council (OHIC) that recommended six measures to improve health innovation in the province, including the creation of a $20-million pre-market fund.
MaRS Solutions Lab engaged 40 partners in 19 initiatives, both in Canada and the U.S., addressing economic as well as social challenges. Solutions Lab goes beyond the realm of think-tanks because some problems cannot be solved simply by thinking; they require the kind of vision produced when the public and private sectors are both at the table. The lab started two exciting projects this year: one that addresses effective regulation of the sharing economy, and another which is part of the McConnell Foundation’s five-year WellAhead initiative to address youth mental illness.
MaRS Centre for Impact Investing signed an agreement with Virgin Unite Canada and Mindset Social Innovation Foundation to create a national impact venture fund. Called the MaRS Catalyst Fund, it will invest in early-stage companies that are for-profit but measure their returns by broader social criteria — job creation, better housing and environmental protection. MaRS experts also continue to serve as Canada’s lead on the G7’s Social Impact Investment Taskforce.
- Lily Tse, Founder & CEO, Think Dirty
At MaRS we understand that you can’t offer people jobs from the past — and that creating the employees of the future requires fundamental changes to how and what our children are taught, as well as the ways in which skills are introduced to the workplace.
Traditionally, MaRS has offered courses primarily to budding entrepreneurs, but this year’s audience was much wider. The Entrepreneurship Programs and MaRS Solutions Lab teams designed a pilot project with 13 Toronto public schools. Using our Toolkit for K-12 teachers, we added entrepreneurial thinking to the curriculum of 2,000 students.
The result has been increased enrolment in, and online engagement with, the following programs:
• Studio [Y] taps into the “hacking your career” movement. Launched in 2014, it helps entrepreneurial youth direct their own career paths while doing social good. Interest in the program tripled this year.
• MaRS Future Leaders camps enable youth between 13 and 18 to learn from successful entrepreneurs, as well as test an original business idea. Enrolment nearly doubled over the past year.
• Entrepreneurship 101, funded by the Business Acceleration Program, offers an introductory entrepreneurship course, both online and in person. This free, 30-week series attracts thousands of participants, and traffic for the online entrepreneur’s toolkit, a trove of articles, videos and workbooks, increased more than 30% this year.
‘‘Innovation is a fundamentally human quest for progress — to find new and better ways of doing things. This is both a moral and economic imperative for Canada’s future — fully harnessing our creativity and ingenuity to prosper by generating high-value jobs for our children right here at home. I am optimistic. At MaRS I see amazing capabilities and global ambition in a new generation of fast-growing businesses.’’
- Ilse Treurnicht, CEO, MaRS Discovery District