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Ground broken for new Innovation Arena in downtown Kitchener | Waterloo News

The University of Waterloo and Velocity are officially expanding their presence in downtown Kitchener today with a groundbreaking event at the new Innovation Arena building on Waterloo’s Health Sciences campus. 

The new site is part of Waterloo’s expanding pipeline for health innovation in southwestern Ontario, thanks to funding from the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario (FedDev Ontario), Ontario’s provincial government, the City of Kitchener and philanthropic gifts.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford attended the groundbreaking ceremony and announced the province’s investment of $7.5 million in the Innovation Arena.

The Innovation Arena will feature collaborative spaces to inspire partnerships and facilitate exchanges between businesses, founders, researchers and community partners. The space will also be the new home of Velocity, Waterloo’s signature entrepreneurship program. The new, purpose-built space will allow Velocity to streamline commercialization, fast-track entrepreneurs, and support the global economy.

“It’s great to see the Team Ontario spirit in action with the University of Waterloo, the private sector and all levels of government coming together to build this world-class facility,” said Premier Ford. “As we continue to grow our province’s life sciences sector, the new Innovation Arena will accelerate the development and commercialization of made in Ontario innovations, create new jobs and help to attract investments to Kitchener and Waterloo.”

“The Innovation Arena is driven by a community that has a common vision, a bold strategy and the talent, research and ideas to deliver on possibilities,” said Vivek Goel, president and vice-chancellor of the University of Waterloo. “Momentum in the Waterloo region and the city of Kitchener is building to support technology-inspired innovations in health care and delivery. The Innovation Arena will also play a crucial role in expanding the impact and scope of Waterloo’s flagship incubator, Velocity.” 

The $10-million FedDev Ontario investment supports a new partnership between Velocity, Western University and Medical Innovation Xchange to build a southwestern Ontario Health Innovation network.

This partnership will strengthen the Canadian tech ecosystem, specifically in the health and medtech sector, by supporting innovators and entrepreneurs from start to scale, providing companies with business, clinical, regulatory, and fundraising expertise and access to labs, facilities, and equipment. Parts of the funding will be allocated to lab equipment for Waterloo’s Innovation Arena.

“Canada has made a remarkable recovery from the COVID recession – and Budget 2023 is building on this momentum to bolster a strong healthcare system and a thriving economy,” said the Honourable Filomena Tassi, Minister responsible for FedDev Ontario. “By supporting projects like this one, we are fostering made-in-Canada health technology solutions, creating highly-skilled jobs and building a better Canada for everyone.”

“Today’s groundbreaking celebration is an important step forward as we work to anchor innovative health tech firms right here in the Waterloo Region and southwestern Ontario,” said the Honourable Bardish Chagger, Member of Parliament for Waterloo. “Our government will continue to support strategic partnerships like the southwestern Ontario health tech innovation cluster, which promotes economic growth and builds on our region’s strengths while helping Canada remain a world leader in innovative health technologies.”

The investment follows the City of Kitchener’s announcement of $8.5 million and another $1.5 million from local entrepreneur, angel investor and community leader Mike Stork towards the construction of the Innovation Arena. The 90,000-square-foot facility, located within Downtown Kitchener’s Innovation District, will co-locate start-ups and early scaling companies and create connections to local small/medium-sized enterprises and organizations that are part of the commercialization continuum.

The Innovation Arena is also expertly designed to foster collaboration with the core purpose of streamlining commercialization pathways for businesses and fast-tracking the delivery of health technologies and solutions for Canadians. The space will feature shared product development labs and collaborative office spaces to inspire partnerships and facilitate exchanges between businesses, founders, researchers and community partners.

“Innovation in health care to improve the quality of life of the residents we serve is a priority for the City of Kitchener and cities around the world, and that’s why City Council’s first major investment from Kitchener’s Economic Development Investment Fund (EDIF) 2.0 was $8.5 million towards the University of Waterloo’s Innovation Arena to support our growing health technology start-up and scaleup ecosystem,” said Kitchener Mayor Berry Vrbanovic. “Today’s groundbreaking for this new facility shows what is possible when all three orders of government work together with the private, not-for-profit and academic sectors to create new local businesses and jobs, expand the local innovation ecosystem, and create an investment environment that serves as a gamechanger for Kitchener, Ontario, Canada and beyond.”

Through this project, the University of Waterloo and its partners expect to create 730 skilled jobs, support the development and growth of 135 businesses and commercialize 150 new health-related products, services or processes. It will also help anchor a growing number of health-tech firms in southwestern Ontario, contributing to regional growth while attracting international start-ups to Waterloo.

Velocity’s expansion to the Innovation Arena will deepen its ability to support health-tech, deep-tech and software companies and double the number of companies it can assist annually.

Velocity, which started as a dorm residence on the University of Waterloo campus in 2008, has seen its companies create over 5,000 jobs, with over 100 companies settling in southwestern Ontario. Velocity companies now have a total enterprise value of just over USD $26B.

A 2019 study by Deloitte found that the economic impact of the University of Waterloo’s entrepreneurship programs included over $80 million to Waterloo Region’s GDP in 2018/19.

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