Special Report: Creative City

Hamilton's Role in Southern Ontario's Innovation Ecosystem

Hamilton should focus on its existing strengths while at the same time increasing its integration with Waterloo-Guelph-London.

By Abdallah Al-Hakim
Published June 10, 2011

Over the past year, I have paid close attention to the commercialization efforts ongoing in Hamilton. The process of commercialization, which involves taking an invention or discovery from the university to the market place, is both socially responsible and economically beneficial. Hamilton is an important piece in the puzzle that includes Waterloo-Guelph-London in transforming the Canadian economy from resource-based to knowledge-based.

Countless articles have been written about the potential of Hamilton and the fact that it holds many of the key ingredients to become another Waterloo. While I agree with the main premise regarding Hamilton's untapped potential, I do not agree that Hamilton could or should be another IT or mobile technology centre such as Waterloo.

Instead, Hamilton should focus on its existing strengths while at the same time increasing its integration with Waterloo-Guelph-London.

Existing Strengths

Through McMaster University, the city possesses key strength in the areas of life science/medical research and engineering science. The University hosts the Centre for Probe Development and Commercialization (CPDC), runs the excellent Xerox Centre for Engineering Entrepreneurship and Innovation (XCEEI) program, has excellent research institutes such as Thrombosis & Atherosclerosis Research Institute (TaARI).

Moreover, the city recently scored a major coup by getting the Ottawa-based Materials Technology Laboratory (CANMET-MTL) to move its research facility to McMaster Innovation Park (MIP).

Another important tenant of MIP is the Innovation factory, which is a catalyst for building a viable entrepreneurship ecosystem in the city. This, combined with Hamilton's considerable population size (>500,000 people), geographical location and strong historical ties to the industry, gives it a number of advantages over other cities in the region.

The point here is that Hamilton should capitalize on these strengths and where it lacks key resources then it should venture and setup collaboration with other major centres in Ontario. In my opinion, successful startups coming out of the Hamilton region will likely need to integrate life science, engineering and IT components to offer a competitive global product.

The recent awarding by the Ministry of Research and Innovation of close to $3 million to Dr. Herb Shellhorn, a microbiologist at McMaster University, to commercialize water testing products represents an example of this integration of science, engineering and IT.

According the press release, the objective of the funding "is developing and commercializing inexpensive, next generation sensing systems to monitor water quality. These systems, which will be able to detect virtually any known contaminant, will test water quality on-site and use wireless networks to alert public officials of any problems".

This funding announcement caught my interest not only because of its significant monetary commitment but more importantly the outlined parameters to achieve success will require a synergy of microbiology, engineering and IT technologies. It is my hope that this represents a model for future projects coming out of Hamilton.

Demonstrate Benefits

For the general public to support building a vibrant entrepreneurship ecosystem, the city needs to demonstrate the economic benefits of a knowledge-based economy. The classic biomedical focus on driving drug discovery in academia could be lucrative, if successful, for the universities in the terms of licensing fees, however, the chances of growing successful biomedical startups in Canada are low.

To actually grow the tax base, the city should promote technologies that address problems in the agriculture, energy and water sectors. A startup built on these types of technologies will have a better supporting ecosystem and with the proper Go-To-Market strategy could become a successful story.

One recent example is McMaster's Automotive Research centre at MIP, which brings together private and public sector groups to develop new technologies such as hybrid engines, batteries and lightweight materials. Also, I heard from university sources that talks are ongoing to setup a wastewater research facility as a public-private partnership.

The interesting part about these two deals is that the University is leveraging Hamilton's ties to the industry to connect them with the university's leading edge research. These types of initiatives, in my opinion, increase the likelihood of success for startups and could perhaps one day produce a RIM like company in the agriculture, energy or water sector.

Bringing it Together

It is an uphill battle for Hamilton to become a commercial innovation hub. One woe that is common to many other hubs is the lack of capital. Obviously this is an important issue and the city can do more to attract investments and venture capital to Hamilton.

The industry-university partnership model is also an important cornerstone and should be expanded and supported by the city.

Finally, encouraging Hamilton's Diasporas to become more involved and excited about Hamilton's future would surely help in the transformation of the city.

a version of this essay was published on Abdallah's personal website

Abdallah Al-Hakim has a PhD in Biochemistry from the University of Dundee, Scotland. Currently he is a research fellow at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto where his research focuses on understanding how cells respond to the damage caused to DNA by radiation, chemicals and other factors. He maintains a personal website.


View Comments: Nested | Flat

Read Comments

[ - ]

By Ted Mitchell (registered) | Posted June 10, 2011 at 17:24:46

As much as I am a cheerleader for MIP and would like to work there, the first thing I would like to see is some practical innovation, such as:

How about a route between Mac and MIP that feels and is safe to walk and cycle?

Obviously this task is beyond the brains at Mac and the city to figure out. Cause if you can't do this, what can you do?

Permalink | Context

By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted June 13, 2011 at 10:40:38 in reply to Comment 64809

MIP is very pedestrian friendly. Don't you see how the city put that nice traffic light to connect their parking lot to their front door? See, they care about pedestrians after they get out of their cars.

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By route (anonymous) | Posted June 10, 2011 at 19:01:13

Once rail trail extension is done this would make a nice 5km loop. ie., shows two routes between MAC and MIP


Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By nrg (anonymous) | Posted June 10, 2011 at 19:03:30

McMaster has expertise in energy research too. Lots of potential links to renewables, nuclear engineering, biomass, climate change, and spin off green industries.

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By Noted (anonymous) | Posted March 20, 2013 at 19:10:21

Showing how quickly an esoteric technology can become mainstream, Mike Lazaridis and Doug Fregin, who together founded BlackBerry, are establishing a $100 million venture fund for technologies that employ practical applications of quantum physics....

Mr. Lazaridis said the fund would initially focus on building things like sensors and actuators (a type of small motor), as well as new algorithms that could be used by others. Applications are likely in both health care and energy, among other fields, he said.

Noting that there is a big prize being offered to build a medical tricorder like the one in “Star Trek,” he said, “It’s not possible to do this without the sensitivity that a quantum sensor would have.”

Mr. Lazaridis did not announce any investments, but indicated that such announcements would soon come. Investment in a quantum computer, which he called “the holy grail” of applied quantum research, is not planned soon, but he did not rule out other breakthroughs.

“This is happening much faster than we thought,” he said. “The buzz is here.”


Permalink | Context

View Comments: Nested | Flat

Post a Comment

You must be logged in to comment.

Events Calendar

There are no upcoming events right now.
Why not post one?

Recent Articles

Article Archives

Blog Archives

Site Tools