The world is getting that much smaller as countries expand their reach across the globe, fueling collaboration to stem the gaps in innovation and research. MaRS Innovation is one of these organisations that are crossing the cultural divide to build a brighter future for tomorrow.
Within the last few years, MaRS Innovation has built a partnership with the Korea Health Industry Institute (KHIDI) which is a South Korean government-affiliated organization in the healthcare and R&D area which sought to invest in innovative biotech research within North America. After hearing advice that they should investigate the Toronto region and meet with MaRS Innovation, they immediately saw the mutual benefits and began working together for a common cause in June of 2016. Later that year, Raphael (Rafi) Hofstein, the president and CEO of MaRS Innovation flew to Seoul where KHIDI and MaRS Innovation signed an MOU to begin the journey forward.
Like MaRS Innovation – which is a non-profit organisation that acts on behalf of their member institutions, including 15 of Toronto’s top universities, institutions and research institutes to bring the most promising research breakthroughs to the global market – KHIDI represents the 10 largest hospitals in South Korea that aim to commercialise the outcome of their research.
The two organisations agreed on three main elements when they signed their MOU in November of 2016: one, to identify complementary scientific projects; two, to determine which scientific technologies would lend themselves to company creation; and three, to create a fund that will support these fledgling companies once they are up and running.
By that time, they had already identified 10 candidates for the Seoul community of university hospitals, which resulted in remarkable success and led to more operational sessions soon thereafter. The matchup between the Ontarian and South-Korean technologies has been supported by the Ontario and the South-Korean government, respectively. Assessments are being held in the two sides of the ocean and the parties strongly believe that funding will continue to be allocated for this promising binational initiative.
“In less than two years it’s become a very dynamic relationship,” says Rafi Hofstein. “Whenever we go East, we stop there. Whenever they come West, they stop here. Needless to say, there are some cultural differences to bridge over, and that really has to be done face to face. What’s beautiful about this relationship is that we made a point of getting together on a regular basis. When they came last year on their North American tour, we announced the second cohort. So far so good as they say, because the two cohorts, the Canadian and the Korean, are actively pursuing science and complement each other’s expertise.”
Additionally, they invited Dr. Christopher Yip from the University of Toronto (UofT) who oversees international partnerships and is associate vice president of UofT. Thus far, Yip has sought after partnerships with India and China, but after being introduced to the two largest university hospitals in Korea, he sees this as a promising opportunity for binational partnership.
This collaboration has provided the companies with the funds they need for their joint activities and has had such an overwhelmingly positive response that MaRS Innovation has started visualising the third cohort, which Rafi thinks will reflect the growing trend of artificial intelligence, machine learning and big data processing in health care.
MaRS Innovation recently returned from Seoul after addressing their second commitment in the MOU, namely incorporation after research for the more promising research breakthroughs. With MaRS Innovation’s exceptional portfolio of over 50 companies, 10 in the first and second cohort, they have identified at least three projects that will undoubtedly turn into companies soon. It will be a joint venture between the two groups. They are in various leading areas of healthcare namely, drug development, molecular diagnostics and drug delivery. The next step of the journey will be the most challenging part of the MOU – a bumpy but crucial part of the path – and that is access to capital. MaRS Innovation met in recent months with several financial groups from the two sides of the ocean, and discussion are underway relative to jointly support the nascent companies.
“We wanted to have the freedom to invest in Korea and in Canada,” says Rafi. “We had to be very selective in terms of who was eligible to make investments outside South Korea, and I think we did a good job on that. But much more intriguing is the non-government financial players who stood out to be promising ventures that may move to the next level and facilitate further discussions.
Rafi adds, “I can not hide my excitement. I find the Koreans to be the right people in terms of willingness to do business with us here in Canada. I’m very pleased with everything we have accomplished so far, and I truly believe that it’s just the beginning of something that is going to be very fruitful and productive.”
“Moreover”, suggested Rafi “in the wake of Samsung opening their AI Centre in the MaRS Discovery District, Toronto will undoubtedly be gaining more international momentum as eyes across the world see this bustling city as a destination for innovation.